Collecting Shotshell Boxes
Nomenclature of shotshell boxes is simple and widely agreed upon.
The first major distinction is between two piece and one piece boxes. Two piece boxes were made from two pieces of card board. A top part "slipped" over a bottom part. Usually a "wrap around" label secured the two parts. One piece boxes are printed, die cut, folded, and glued along one or two tabs. Prior to WW II only a few target shotshells were packed in one piece boxes. Since WW II one piece boxes have been used almost exclusively.
Two piece and single piece boxes
Left-UNION METALLIC CARTRIDGE COMPANY- Early 100 round box.
Right- AMERICAN - one-piece box. Founded in 1922 in Kansas City, Missouri
The second major distinction is size, or number of rounds in a box.
Shotshells have been packed in 3, 5, 10, 20, 25, 50, and 100 round boxes. The common uses were/are:
- 3 round: promotional samples
- 5 round: rifled slugs, large shot, or promotional samples
- 10 round: turkey, other specialty loads, or game loads during the Great Depression
- 20 round: game loads at competitive prices
- 25 round: game and target loads, 4 and 8 gauge new primed empties
- 50 round: 4 or 8 gauge new primed empties-boxes called "shoe boxes"
- 100 round: 10 gauge and smaller new primed with powder, new primed, or unprimed empties for hand loading.
Boxes with various number of rounds
- Left- WINCHESTER "SUPER SPEED" STAYNLESS- a five round box of slug loads, also available in various buckshot loads.
- Center- WINCHESTER LEADER- ten round box - These were only manufactured from 1930 1933, presumably to aid sales during the depression. The production of ten round boxes for civilian use was very limited by other manufacturers until the 1990's when they were used with Turkey Loads, Bismuth, etc.
- Right- 25 ROUND BOX OF LOADED UMC SHELLS - Once the automatic shell loading machine was invented by Frank Chamberlain, circa 1885-86, the need for smaller packaging was apparent. A loaded 100 round box was too fragile to handle and to ship. Legend has it that a Mr. O'Neil quartered a UMC 100 round box and took a quartered section to a bookbinder to be taped and glued. Thus the 25 'round, two-piece box was created. A label describing the contents; i.e. shot size, powder, etc., was printed and then glued around the box to keep the top and bottom together.
- Lower Left- 50 ROUND BOX OF 8 GAUGE ARROWS - NPE (New Primed Empty) shells - referred to as a "Shoe Box" because of its shape
- Lower Center- WINCHESTER "CHRISTMAS" BOX - presumably because these boxes were introduced around the Christmas season. Two different types of Winchester Christmas boxes are known.
- Lower Right- ROBIN HOOD INDIAN BLACK POWDER - Manufactured by Robin Hood Ammunition Company of Swanton, Vermont, this is an extremely desirable collectible.
The third distinction concerns what kind of company produced the product.
Simply put these are:
- integrated manufacturer (a major ammunition manufacturer selling under their own name(s))
- house brand loaded and packaged by commercial loader using a major manufacturer's empties, and
- house brand loaded and packaged by manufacturer using the "house brand" name(s).
Integrated manufacturer: Prior to World War Two some 42 companies had manufactured shotshells-not at the same times. Some of the companies ceasing operation before 1941 included Robin Hood, Union Metallic Cartridge Company (UMC), and U.S. Cartridge Company (USC).
Some integrated manufacturers (major ammunition manufacturers)
- Left- US CARTRIDGE COMPANY CLIMAX HEAVIES - This colorful one-piece box was one of five boxes in the series. US was acquired by Winchester in 1926, and US shells were continued to be made until 1936.
- Right- ALCAN - one-piece box manufactured by Alcan, Inc. of East Alton, Illinois. The company was formed in 1951 and produced shells until 1971.
- Lower Left- AMERICAN AMMUNITION COMPANY, end label marked "Steel Nitro."
- Lower Right- AUSTIN BANG - manufactured by Austin Powder of Cleveland, Ohio. This company was bounded in 1895 and was dissolved in 1909. Austin boxes are quite scarce and highly desirable.
House brand loaded and packaged: Prior to the Great Depression (roughly) many commercial loaders, especially in the three flyways, bought empties from United States Cartridge Company, Union Metallic Cartridge Company, Winchester Repeating Arms Company or other sources and loaded and packaged them with their own house brand labels. Lead shot companies, hardware distributors, gun shops, and other companies shared much of the shotshell market.
Four Examples of "House Brand" loaded ammunition
- Left- BLACHFORD CARTRIDGE WORKS - From Chicago, Illinois, these loaded shells were presumably from Winchester.
- Right- SELBY THE BLACK SHELLS - The shells were manufactured by US Cartridge Company.
- Lower Left- SQUIRES -loaded by Henry C. Squires of New York, New York, this is a "proprietary" box. The shells were manufactured by both British and American companies. The Squires top wad on the box label identified the shells. STAR BRAND - a "house brand" loaded by an association.
- Lower Right- STAR LOAD - a "proprietary" load. Used shells manufactured by others.
House brand loaded and packaged by manufacturer: Until restrictive legislation, chain and mail order retailers had significant shares of the shotshell market.
Seven examples of ammunition loaded by ammunition manufacturers using "House Brand" names
- Top left- CATRON - one-piece box, manufactured by Catron of Carmel, Inc., Carmel, California. Catron was in business only briefly during 1960 - 61.
- Top center- GAMBLE'S - distributed by Gamble Store of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The shells were most likely made by Federal Cartridge Company.
- Top right- HOLIDAY - house brand for Holiday Stores, Inc. of Minneapolis. The shells were made by Alcan. Distribution was discontinued in 1976-77.
- Middle left- NORTHWESTERN - from Northwestern Ammunition Company of Moses Lake, Washington. Active in the mid 1950' s, this company was only in business for two years. Only known in 12 gauge.
- Middle right- OMARK - Manufactured by Omark Industries of Lewiston, Idaho, these were never released for public distribution, but a few samples did get out of the factory.
- Bottom left- POINTER ~ These shells were manufactured for Sears ~ Roebuck & Company by a variety of American manufacturers. The shells were head stamped for Sears House Brand.
- Bottom right- TEXLOAD - manufactured by Vawter Ammunition Company in EI Campo, Texas, known in 12 gauge only. This company was in business briefly during the early 1960's.
Words to the wise:
As in any collecting specialty, it is best to "look before you leap."
Buy a copy of the Encyclopedia of Shotgun Shell Boxes - (see the Introduction to Collecting Shotshells page).
Visit collections. Go to cartridge shows.
Appreciate that rarity, that is how few were produced/have survived, and condition are paramount. In addition to integrity of basic structure, color, etc.
The special issues regarding shotshell boxes are whether two piece boxes are sealed or opened and whether any box is full (with original shells) or empty. Once opened some collectors are concerned about contents. However, some prefer empty boxes because they are easier to store.
Some collectors only collect shotshell boxes, perhaps by brand, gauge, or type of box. Many gun or decoy collectors desire shotshell boxes to display with their guns or decoys. Several kinds of collectors enjoy the graphics of shotshell boxes. Some like advertising that features dogs or birds. All these groups are competing for a sometimes limited number of boxes.
Have a curator's attitude. To preserve shape, cut pieces of styrofoam to exactly fill space not occupied by original shells. Wrap boxes in Saran wrap. Heat with a hair dryer to shrink tight. Store in drawers or no more than two high on shelves. Above all, keep out of sun or other bright light which will rapidly fade the colors and decrease the value.
Questions not answered above?:
Visitors are welcome to email the author with questions concerning shotshell boxes.
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