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Picture Page

November 2014

A look at the .45 Colt/Schofield boxes...........

Following the selection of the Colt Single Action Army revolver for cavalry use by the U.S. Army, the Ordnance Department contracted with Colt for 8,000 of the revolvers on July 23, 1873. By October of 1873, the Frankford Arsenal was manufacturing cartridges for the new revolver which used a copper Benet-primed case and a flat nose lead bullet. The boxes of these cartridges were wrapped in tan paper upon which the labels were printed, and the wrapped boxes were then given a coating of shellac to seal them. They were labeled for use in Colt's Revolver, Cal. .45, and included the weight of the powder charge (30 grains) and the bullet (250 grains, as well as the month and year the cartridges were packed. The rather sad box shown above was made in June of 1874. Boxes of these 'Colt'-length cartridges are uncommon, but examples can be found for every month from October of 1873 through August of 1874

In July of 1874, the Ordnance Department approved the purchase of 3000 Smith & Wesson Schofield revolvers. The Schofield had a shorter cylinder than the colt, so with the approval for the purchase of the Schofield revolvers, the Frankford Arsenal ceased production of the Colt cartridge and began preparing to produce the ammunition that the both the Schofield and the Colt could use. The resulting new cartridge also had a copper Benet-primed case that was .162" shorter than the colt case, loaded with 28 grains of black powder and a 230 grain flat nose lead bullet. The new cartridge was designated the .45 Government Revolver cartridge, and production was begun in early 1875. One of the 1875 boxes is  shown here.


The most common of these boxes are those dated 1878. These boxes tend to be found more often than the earlier boxes, and are often found unopened and in excellent condition.  


Begnning in 1880, the boxes were no longer given the protective shellac coating. Otherwise, the labels remained unchanged from the format used for prior years (1874-1879), and that label format continued to be used through 1881, when the last of the inside primed cartridges were produced. In 1882, the Frankford Arsenal began production of the externally primed cartridge case that employed a Boxer primer, which with only a few changes has been the standard for military small arms ammunition ever since. The Boxer-primed cases were intended to be reloadable as a means of reducing ammunition production costs, so the box labeling was changed to provide loading directions and cautions. Several variations were produced, one beginning in 1882 labeled '12 Revolver Ball Cartridges, Reloading, COPPER SHELL', one soon after labeled '12 Revolver Cartridges Model 1882', and then in 1884 the one pictured here.

The cautions on these boxes include the line 'Never load a primed shell without using a SAFETY-SOCKET'. What is being referred to is a a tubular section of steel (replaced later by a square block of steel) with a round recessed area to accept the head of the shell, in the center of which was a hole that was centered under the primer when the case was set in the recessed area.  This eliminated the possibility of the primer detonating during the process of seating and crimping the bullet in place.

The final version of the box is shown below; this box was made from about 1890 until production of the .45 Schofield cartridge ceased at the Frankford Arsenal, which I believe was October of 1892 or shortly thereafter based on the headstamps in my collection. Cartridges in the box here are headstamped  'F  11 91', indicating they were made in November of 1891. Headstamps were first used on these revolver cartridges beginning around February of 1883. Copper cases were phased out of production in late 1889, and were replaced by tinned brass cases like those shown with this box.


At least two variations of boxes of blank .45 revolver cartridges were produced at the Frankford Arsenal. The two I have in my collection are shown here. The first of these has a stamped date of 1889 and the second a date of 1891. I believe the primary purpose for these blanks was getting cavalry horses used to the sound of gunfire. I would imagine they had other uses, including making noise on certain holidays and and other occasions; beyond this, I can't think of any others.