A Guide to Ammunition Collecting

A wealth of useful information for new and experienced cartridge collectors.


It has always been difficult for newcomers to a hobby to bridge the gap from casual outsider to knowledgeable, committed insider. Many collectors are so self-absorbed that they have little patience to initiate beginners. In other cases, geographical distribution simply does not lend itself to easy communication between collectors, new or established. While clubs and newsletters are an effective means of spreading the word, the specialized jargon of collecting often shuts out the beginner.

It has also been observed that many new collectors destroy specimens by polishing, lacquering, poorly labeling or improperly storing their collections. This book attempts to provide guidance on those matters which will preserve the condition of rounds in the eyes of most of the collecting fraternity.

For the advanced collector, a standardized nomenclature and set of abbreviations should be of value.

This small book is the result of the ideas and input of many collectors. Most of the sections have been previewed by the membership of the Texas Cartridge Collectors Association and more recently by the membership of the Intemational Ammunition Association. Thanks to the many collectors who took the time to point out errors and improvements in those pre-publications.

Special thanks to Robert Buttweiler for the use of his Bibliography and to Jean Bonnebaight for developing the List of Clubs.

Dick S., Houston

Describing Cartridges Correctly

As your collection grows, you will come across cartridges that you cannot identify, even with the aid of a relatively comprehensive reference library. This is a common occurrence, even amongst advanced collectors - it's one of the intriguing facets of collecting that keeps us all going. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a number of experienced collectors close by, you are forced to describe a cartridge using its shape, composition, dimensions, and markings. Whether it is writing to another collector or to a cartridge collectors' journal or bulletin asking for someone to help identify a cartridge, many collectors don't provide enough details - making cartridge identification difficult or impossible. Even with the advent of digital cameras, a good description will clinch identification. The following is intended to provide a guide for the beginner (and a good number of experienced collectors!) on the type of information which can be supplied to help identify a particular round.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list and can generally be applied to metallic cartridges rather than early paper or patent ignition ammunition.

Basic Cartridge Shape

  1. Is the case rimless, rimmed, semi-rimmed, reduced rimmed, or belted?
  2. Is the case straight, tapered, or necked?
  3. Is it centerfire, rimfire, inside-primed, pinfire, or..?
  4. What shape is the bullet: pointed, round-nose, flat nose, or hollow-point?
  5. If no bullet, how is the case closed: crimped over wad, or multiple petal crimp, or..?


  1. What material is the case made of: brass, copper, steel, or plastic?
  2. Is the case lacquered, and if so, what color?
  3. What material is the primer made of. brass, copper, tin, zinc, or..?
  4. Is the bullet lead or jacketed; if the latter, is the appearance copper, cupronickel, brass, or tin, and is it completely jacketed?
  5. Does the bullet jacket take a magnet (apply magnet to bullet tip)?
  6. If the bullet tip doesn't take a magnet, does it take a magnet further down the bullet (indicating a steel core)?

Color Codes

  1. Does the case have a primer annulus color?
  2. Does the case have a case mouth seal color?
  3. Does the case have other colors or markings?
  4. Does the bullet have a colored tip or band?


  1. Is the bullet crimped into the case and if so how - continuous crimp, segmented crimp or stab crimp?
  2. Is the primer crimped into the case and if so how - ring crimp, segmented crimp, stab crimps?


  1. What is the headstamp?
  2. Is it impressed or raised?
  3. It is always better to draw a headstamp, even if it is a rough drawing.


  • If the case is empty, can you see inside the case and determine what type of primer was used (refer to the glossary for Berdan vs. Boxer differences)

Dimensions see diagram below)

  • Bullet Diameter
  • Neck Diameter
  • Shoulder Diameter (if necked case)
  • Head Diameter
  • Rim Diameter
- Chris Punnett, Editor, International Ammunition Journal

Cartridge Collecting Clubs

The following is a partial list of cartridge collectors' clubs. While the addresses were correct as far as we know at the time of going to press, please remember most of these are run by volunteers and the addresses may have changed.

Kansas Cartridge Collectors’ Association:
Contact: Vic Suelter, 2185 E. Iron Dr., Lincoln, KS 67455.
Newsletter (10-page): bi-monthly. Show: annual.

Nebraska Cartridge Collectors:
Contact: Gary Muckel,(gmuckel@neb.rr.com) 6531 Carlsbad Drive, Lincoln, NE 68510
Newsletter (10-page): bi-monthly.

The Rocky Mountain Cartridge Collector Association:
Contact: RMCCA 7954 S.Wagon Wheel Rd., Morrison, CO 80465
Newsletter: ? Show: Annual

Sioux Empire Cartridge Collector Association:
Contact: Vesta Hobbs, PO Box 212, Norton, KS 67654
Newsletter (8-page): Bi-annual. Show: annual

Western States Cartridge Collectors:
Contact: Rick Montgomery, 924 Little Joe Lane, Hamilton, MT 59840
Newsletter (20-page): bi-monthly. Show: 2/year

Asociación Argentina Coleccionistas de Armas y Municiones:
Casilla de Correo N°. 28 - Suc. 1°B - 1401 Buenos Aires, Argentina
Weekly meetings

Australian Cartridge Collectors’ Association:
Contact: Warren Brown, 13 McCudden St., Griffith, NSW 2680, Australia
Newsletter (28-page): quarterly. Shows: annual and regional

Society for the Study of Cartridges, Czech Republic:
(Spolecnost pro Studium Náboju CSFR)
Contact: JUDr Jaroslav Bubák, Na Kréte 117, 26706 Hýskov, Czech Republic
Newsletter (32 page): quarterly. Show/Meeting: Annual

Aguila (Danish Shotshell Club):
Contact: Lars Malte (lm@hhs.dk), Årøsundvej 29, DK-6100 Haderslev, Denmark
Newsletter: quarterly. Show/Meeting: quarterly.

European Cartridge Research Association (English group):
Contact: Martin Golland, Chapel House, Deepdale, Barton-on-Humber, N.Lincs, DN18 6ED UK
Bulletin (16-page): monthly. Ctg meeting: 2/year

New Zealand Cartridge Collectors:
Contact: Kevan Walsh, 4 Milton Road, Northcote, Auckland 9, NZ
Newsletter (16-page): bi-monthly. Show: Annual and regional

Scandinavian Ammunition Research Association:
Contact: Morten Støen, Ånnerudstubben 3, N-1383 Asker, Norway, (mstoeen@online.no)
Newsletter: 3/year. Show/meeting: annual

Slovak Cartridge Club:
Contact: Mr. Jan Franzen, Brancska 7, 851 01 Bratislava, Slovak Republik
Newsletter (32-page): 2/year

South African Cartridge Collectors Association:
Contact: Will Reuter, PO Box 3356, Cramerview 2060 R.S.A.
Newsletter (20-page): Quarterly

Association for the Study & Research of .22 Cal. Rimfire Cartridges:
Contact: Richard Rains, S 4321 Bluff Road, Spokane, WA 99224
Newsletter (10-page): bi-monthly

Antique Reloading Tool Collector’s Association:
Contact: Tom Quigley, PO Box 1567, Castle Rock, WA 98611
Newsletter (30-page): 2/year


(Click here for a list of some common specialties among cartridge collectors)

How do collectors become collectors? There are those who suggest that a gene defect is involved. Actually, most cartridge collectors start out the same way. They start at a young age accumulating cartridges from friends or relatives where the only criterion is that the new acquisition be something they don't already have. Without guidance or access to books, clubs or related periodicals, few of these acquirers will ever become collectors. Most serious collectors have come across shooters or gun buffs who say .  you collect car-tridges? So do I! ", and found that the "collection" consisted of a gaggle of pickup items which featured a SPENCER!. A lucky few bridge the gap from "acquirer" to "collector" and find an almost unlimited field of interest opened to them.

Certainly there have been some notable general collectors in the past and perhaps there is a bit of the general collector in all of us. The plain facts are, that unlike many other collecting interests, there is so much breadth and depth to cartridge collecting that no individual person can hope to much more than scratch the surface of even the narrowest specialty. To the true enthusiast, this is the fascination of the field. While coin collectors strive to fill preordained slots in their albums, any cartridge collector can delve into his chosen specialty and unearth new or previously undocumented information without end.

The hobby of cartridge collecting has matured over the past thirty or so years. Some of the things that have occurred have been beneficial, some perhaps not so beneficial. Back in the 1920s, '30s and '40s, pioneer collectors could expect to occasionally find a treasure trove of goodies. General stores, old gunsmiths, attics and barns nearly always yielded some choice items, many of which were thought of as junk by the owner who was happy to get a few coins in return. Today most of those sources have been picked clean or categorically cease to exist. There have been an enormous number of books written about nearly all aspects of cartridge collecting (see bibliography) and price guides are available and regularly updated. The chances of finding a great bargain are rather low but it has been said of collectors that "they eternally are seeking the Holy Grail and find it just often enough to keep them hooked".

Most collectors, faced with limited assets and unlimited enthusiasm have resorted to becoming specialists in relatively narrow fields of interest. The IAA currently lists more than seventy specialist fields and those listed are far from being a comprehensive survey of possibilities. (see the following list).

So how are specialties chosen? There are probably as many paths to selection as there are collectors. Most are drawn to their specialty by one of several factors:

  • Influence of other collectors - Experienced collectors, taking a neophyte under their wing and helping him or her get started is a strong influence
  • Local interest - Note that the Midwest, shotgun country, is the capital of the shotshell collectors.
  • Serendipity - Accidentally acquiring one or a few extraordinary items in an area of interest often leads to heighten interest in a field.
  • Cross interests - Gun or accoutrement collectors such as Civil War collectors, frequently branch into the related cartridge interest.
  • The need for activity - Many specialists who find themselves stalled out in their chosen fields move into fields such as collecting headstamps and variations of a common caliber, simply to keep active.

By all means, the beginning collector should follow his natural instincts. Collect what you like or have access to, but before long you will almost inevitably zero in on some area which really "grabs you"

Tools of the Trade

As with most hobbies, cartridge collecting involves the acquisition of a small collection of tools. The number and quality of these tools is a matter of personal choice and the depth of your interest (and pockets). This section will deal with those tools and their uses. It is appropriate to mention here that the most useful "tools" of all - books - will be dealt with in another section of this book.

As a minimum, the collector will need the following:
  • A good light source
  • A good magnifying glass
  • A small, powerful magnet
  • A small weak pencil magnet
  • Micrometer calipers (both inch and metric types)
  • Marking pens
  • A notebook (see the record keeping section)
  • Some of the cleaning equipment mentioned elsewhere
A more advanced collector would probably add:
  • An accurate powder scale
  • A flashlight-type bore-scope
  • A jeweler's loupe
  • An inertia-type bullet puller
  • Chamber-casting material

These tools may be as inexpensive or as elaborate as you like. In general, the better the tool, the more useful the tool. Since the expenditure is minimal, well-made tools by reputable manufacturers are recommended.

The serious collector/researcher should consider:
  • A digital readout inch/metric caliper
  • French/English/French, German/English/German and Spanish/English/Spanish language dictionaries at the least.
  • A color chart
  • A medical otoscope
  • A photographic copy stand and a 35mm or digital camera with a good macro lens.

The following discusses these items and their uses in some detail.

Light Sources

The importance of a good light source cannot be overstated. The high intensity halogen lamps are best but any concentrated light source is acceptable. Bright sunlight is the best of all for inspecting cartridges.

Magnifying Lenses

There is no limit to the number of magnifying glasses available. From the traditional "Sherlock Holmes" style, to the inexpensive plastic types with built-in lights, to the headmounted binocular lenses favored by watchmakers. The selection is largely a matter of personal choice. The useful low magnification lenses will serve in most cases but a high powered loupe (10x to 30x) will be useful for fine details. Pocket microscopes with built-in visual scales are the ultimate tool in this category. The high-powered reading glasses (+325) available in drug stores are also helpful.

Hand Magnets

Hand magnets are again a matter of choice. The magnet you select should be powerful enough to detect a tiny iron anvil within a brass case but small enough to carry in your pocket.

A simple technique for determining the presence of a ferrous internal element within a cartridge is to lay the round on a hard level surface and see if the cartridge will roll toward the magnet. This system may work when the force is too small to detect otherwise.

A weak magnet at a bullet tip is useful for distinguishing between a steel jacket and a non-steel jacket with a steel core.

Hand Caliper

Inexpensive plastic calipers are available at the time of this writing in the neighborhood of $10. If you purchase a simple caliper, you will probably need two, one calibrated in the decimal inch system, another in metric. The least expensive types have Vernier scales and need a bit of practice to interpret. Next in sophistication are the dial indicator types which are easier to use and a bit more expensive. The best is the digital analog readout type, such as the Fowler, NSK MaxCal and Mitutoyo. These are a breeze to use and can change between decimal inch and metric at the touch of a button. By far this is your most useful tool. Don't forget to check your neighborhood pawn shop for used calipers or micrometers. If you buy a used one, be sure to check it for accuracy.


It will probably take several tries before you devise a record-keeping system which perfectly suits your collection. Several systems in use by advanced specialty collectors are shown in the section of this book which is devoted to record keeping. A pocket-sized loose-leaf notebook with numerous "rings" works better than the classic three-ring type as the pages will not tear out, and is a good place to start. Purchase a good quality notebook and place your name, address and phone number inside the cover. The difference of a few dollars is insignificant when you consider the hours you will invest in record keeping over the years.

A word of advice - start record keeping early in your collecting career and keep the records updated. If you wait until you have a few thousand rounds in backlog, you may lose patience.

Marking Pens

There are many marking pens on the market. The PILOT SCA-UF is suggested as it will write on anything, makes fine clear impressions and can be easily removed when desired by wiping with lacquer thinner (but will also come off with excessive handling). Never use India Ink on copper because it will indelibly stain the case with time.

Powder Scales

Again, there is an abundance of choices. We recommend a good powder scale calibrated in grains (437.5 to the ounc; 15.43 to the gram). Its capacity should be at least 1000 grain A magnetic braking device which dampens motion is a ni feature. Conversion to ounces or grams can be made with pocket calculator. Digital powder scales are nicest and now within reach of most collectors.

Bullet Puller

Inertia-type bullet pullers are available at any good gun shop or reloading supply house. They are easy to use an don't damage case or bullet (place soft material inside to as a cushion when pulling a lead bullet). Under no circumstances should they be used with rimfire cartridges or rounds suspected of having incendiary or explosive bullet If the round has a crimped bullet, you may not be able reassemble it properly. Seating the bullet a little deeper will break any chemical sealer, making it easier to pull.

Be sure to measure and record the depth of seating if you intend to reassemble the round.

Bore Scope or Otoscope

Inspection of the inside of a cartridge case is often rerevealing. The simplest tool is a penlight with a curved plastic lens, called a borelight, found inexpensively in most shops. The ultimate tool, however, is a medical otoscope Although these are rather costly, a notice left on the bulletin board of your local hospital or a call to your local ear-nose- throat doctor might yield a used one.

X-ray Equipment

It goes without saying that acquisition of X-ray equipment is beyond common sense for anyone except a laboratory operation. Your local dentist will often oblige if you bring a few rounds when you make your periodic personal visit. You might suggest that he turn up the power considerably when using a dental machine on cartridges. Don't forget to assure him that X-raying will not detonate the round. Most large cities have nondestructive testing labs with commercial X-ray capability. Best to bring several rounds -enough to fill an Xray plate; the cost will be the same for one or a dozen if they all fit on one plate.

Chamber-Casting Material

Every collector should learn how to take chamber casts. It is a simple process but requires that you procure a special alloy. This alloy has a very low melting point, actually lower than the boiling point of water. It has another unique characteristic. When it first cools, it shrinks slightly, allowing it to be easily removed from the gun's chamber. Later, when fully cooled, it re-expands to its cast dimensions. A material called "Cerro-Cast" can be obtained from Brownell's, Montezuma, Iowa. A one-pound ingot will last a lifetime.
The process is as follows:

  1. First remove the gun's bolt or open its breech.
  2. Plug the bore about an inch ahead of the chamber with a paper or cloth wad.
  3. The molten metal is then poured in the open chamber level with the breech face.
  4. Once hardened (instantaneously), it can be removed by knocking it clear with a cleaning rod or wooden dowel from the muzzle end.
  5. Be careful to avoid getting any material in the extractor mechanism as it will make removal a bit more troublesome.

A complete description of cartridge photography is beyond the scope of this section. The addition of a copy stand and reasonable 35mm camera body with a macro (close focus) lens and light brackets is highly recommended. The camera should have a cable release. With a little practice and common sense and thru-the-lens focusing, one can quickly become adept at the narrow field of cartridge photography.

The technology is improving all the time on digital cameras.

Tip: A dab of modelling clay will hold cartridges in place during set up and photography but may leave a stain on ground glass.


With a large segment of the population having access to computers, many collectors have recorded their cartridge data on hard drives or floppy disks. The European Cartridge Research Association has available a computer program called The ECRA Cartridge Data Viewer, with nearly 6,000 calibers in the database, which will help identify cartridges. For further information contact the Association (see club listings).

Cartridge Cleaning and Care

Let's face it, if you have been collecting cartridges for any length of time, you have an investment to protect. The investment is both financial and cultural. It is hard to justify spending today's hard-earned dollars on your hobby if there isn't much chance of preserving that investment and, as collectors, we have a moral obligation to be caretakers for these small elements of our arms heritage.

This section is intended to provide guidelines and suggestions for the preservation of your collection.

First let's address a few taboos.

  • Polishing and Lacquering: It is the position of most collectors that this is an unacceptable practice. As nice as a row of sparkling shiny brass tubes may appear in a drawer to the uninitiated, the act of polishing and lacquering has two distinct drawbacks:
    1. You will have reduced the desirability and sales value to some extent.
    2. You will have created a specimen which in no way resembles the round in its original state. Often critical markings or meaningful color tones are lost.
  • Affixing Labels: Gummed labels, clear tape (especially the nonpermanent type) and the like have contributed to the deterioration of more cartridges than any collector action except the above noted polishing and lacquering. A safe method of affixing identification data to cartridges will be discussed in the following section.

A few supplies are suggested for the collector:

  • Bronze wool in fine and medium grades. This can be obtained from good hardware stores or ordered from Brownells, 200 S.Front St.. Montezuma, IA 50171.
  • Sani-Wax liquid wax (available from grocery stores or good hardware stores or direct from the Sani-Wax Corp.*) (alternative liquid furniture waxes may also serve this purpose).
  • Pilot Pens. Extra Fine Point Permanent Marker, SCAUF (available from office supply stores - make sure of the type; it should have the above exact designation.)
  • Acetone, lacquer thinner or nail polish remover (no perfame, no oil type)
  • Toluene or MEK solvent (available from good hardware store.1
  • Acetic acid (available from drug stores) or white vinegar
  • Coarse paper towels
  • Cotton cosmetic puffs

The following tips will discuss how these are used:

  1. In general all cleaning activities should start with the most gentle methods and proceed to the more extreme. Caution and patience are the watchwords. If there is any question as to whether to proceed to a more extreme step, it is best to stop. Soap and water are a good place to start. A water-pik may be used to concentrate cleansing action.
  2. Brass-cased cartridges can be cleaned with bronze wool (which is softer than brass). It is an amazing fact that nearly all corrosion can be removed from brass without affecting the underlying patina. Bronze wool should not be used on copper-cased cartridges. Never use steel wool on any cartridge. Try soaking the bronze wool in SaniWax for an even gentler scrubbing of brass. The wax will leave a pleasing glow to the patina and provide longer term protection.
  3. Lacquer can usually be removed by gently swabbing the cartridge with acetone or, more effectively, toluene but not around any areas of color. Caution - use these products in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors, and wear rubber gloves! If polyurethane lacquer was used forget itl
  4. As noted above, never use identification labels on cartridges. At best they leave a gummy residue which is hard to remove and leaves unsightly marks and, at worst, may contain acid which will etch the case. It you wish to mark the cartridge, use the Pilot pen noted above. It will leave a clear impression which can be easily removed by wiping with acetone. Unfortunately excessive handling will also remove the pen markings. Alternatively, paper rings (of acid-free paper) may be made which will fit snugly around the case without adhesives being used.
  5. Cartridges stored in drawers should be cradled in acidfree corrugated paper which prevents rolling about. Rolling causes abrasions where the cartridge contacts the surface of the drawer.
  6. Storage of cartridges in some wooden drawers has been known to accelerate deterioration. This seems especially true with newly-built cabinets where the wood may have high degrees of tannin which is still viable. Oak seems to be one of the worst offenders. Older ones such as the ever-popular antique spool cabinets, are less likely to have the same effect. If you are storing in wood cabinets, it is well to check rounds occasionally, especially during periods of high humidity. If you see them frosting (developing a powdery coating) rub them down with coarse paper towels, burlap or fine bronze wool and coat them with Sani-Wax. If the problem persists, find another storage area.
  7. Split necks occur in highly-stressed brass for several reasons. Changes in temperature may cause progressive metal fatigue and result in neck (or occasionally shoulder or base) cracks. There is not much that can be done about this and certain types or calibers will almost inevitably crack with time. However, when green corrosion appears in the crack, there is another mechanism at work - a chemical reaction of the propellant with the cartridge case. This must be nipped in the bud, because, if allowed to be continued, it will destroy the round. If it is an easily replaced round, discard it and get another. If it is worth preserving, pull the bullet and flush the powder down the toilet. The case can be cleaned with bronze wool and the chemical action can be neutralized by soaking the case in alternate baths of dilute acetic acid (or white vinegar), and baking soda dissolved in water, flushing with hot water between baths and after the last bath. The bullet may then be reseated, being careful to reseat it to its original seating depth (it is a good idea to measure overall length first).
  8. A cartridge whose patina has been destroyed by cleaning can often be improved by carrying around in your pocket for a day or so, occasionally "fingering" it. The combination of natural oils in your skin and the gentle polishing action from the pocket lining should impart a soft
  9. patina. Make sure there are no hard objects such as change in the pocket.
  10. Copper-cased cartridges more often suffer from "grease corrosion" than any in-depth attacks to the metal. This is often best removed by scrubbing with a coarse paper towel. Save your old popsicle sticks as this wood is ideal for focused hard rubbing (with a bit of toweling wrapped around its end.) Sani-Wax can be used after cleaning.
  11. Fired brass shotshells are a problem unto themselves. They have often been stored for decades in moist environments without ever having been cleaned prior to storage and often have heavy encrustations of verdigris and black powder staining. These can be cleaned by boiling in dilute acetic acid and flushing in boiling water. Several treatments may be required. If stubborn, add a bit of salt to the water. Again, Sani-Wax is a good finish coat. Older paper shotshells are often found with dirt, oil, and other contaminates embedded in the paper. Many times this objectionable discoloration can be at least partially removed. Wet a paper towel with a light solvent, such as Coleman Fuel. Gently rub the dirty case with the solvent-soaked towel, and much of the contarnination will come off. Let the case dry, and then with finger tips rub a little neutral color shoe polish on the paper to replace the wax removed by the solvent. This will help prevent the case deteriorating any further.

Finally, caution is the watchword. Proceed with caution. It is better to under clean than to over clean. Be sensitive to annealing colors, bullet tip and primer annulus colors, paperpatched bullets and other unique features. Future collectors will revere your efforts and your heirs will receive top-dollar from your collection.

*Sani-Wax is a high quality liquid wax available from most good supermarkets.

Cartridge Boxes

Cartridge boxes are often found with split comers, tears, missing ends, loose labels, Scotch tape staining or in extremely dirty condition. Amazing repairs can often be made to these damaged boxes.

While on the subject, it should be mentioned that with some early boxes it was a common practice of manufacturers to recycle surplus boxes by placing a later label over an earlier one. If you have an early box and can see evidence of an underlabel, it may be well to steam off the upper label to reveal the label beneath. This effort often yields a rare early label in mint condition!

The following tips should prove useful in restoring old cartridge boxes.

  1. Never discard an old cartridge box. Parts can be used to replace missing ends or even to completely replicate a box upon which a sound label may be mounted. Ethical considerations dictate that boxes which have been extensively restored be so marked inside, in ink, with the date of restoration.
  2. Split-out comers can be reglued using Duco Household Glue. Other acetate airplane glues may work as well. Since cardboard is porous, rub a light coat of glue on the parts to be glued, allowing it to dry before applying a bonding coat. The box can be held together during drying with weak, thin rubber bands of appropriate size.
  3. Badly-warped boxes can be helped by splitting the corners and flattening them under a steam iron. If flimsy they can be stiffened by a light application of a spray starch. They should be protected from direct heat by a layer of damp paper toweling. The comers should, of course, be reglued after flattening.
  4. Old Scotch tape and staining can be removed with acetone solvent. Use rubber gloves and work outdoors. This is bad stuff!
  5. Labels can be cleaned to some degree with an artgu eraser, and solvents such as lighter fluid or acetone, u ing a cotton swab. Don't use this technique on early go over black labels.
  6. Black lettering can be freshened by the judicious use o fine-tipped India ink pen. Use tiny dots to stipple area rather than line and watch for bleeding in the pap Proper-colored fine-tipped pens can also improve sc boxes but go slow, there is no second chance.
  7. Never use rubber cement or any tape product in repairing boxes.
  8. Flimsy empty or partially full boxes can be strengthen by filling them with a carefully cut pieces of acid free paper. Wrap them carefully with Saran clear plastic wrap. Don't use shrink-wrap as it can do more damage than good. Saran is a bit more difficult to work with than Handy Wrap but gives much better results.

Cartridge Shows - General Information

For list of dates and locations of future shows click here.

There are a number of cartridge-only shows around the USA and abroad. Many new collectors are reluctant to have a table at a cartridge show, even a local one. While you may feel that you do not have enough "trade stock" to make it worth while, there are a several of reasons for making the effort to have your own table at a show.

Firstly, it allows people to see what you have and while you might think that your "dupes" are common, it is quite possible that someone visiting the show may need something you have. It also gives you a place to sit and rest up between "doing the rounds". Finally, it gives you a place to keep your collection catalog, notes, magnifying glass, and all the other accoutrements you will accumulate.

One word of advice if you do set up a table - take a table cover so that you can cover up if you need to step away for a snack etc..

What follows is a partial list of the better known cartridge shows and the approximate time of year they are held. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list. We suggest you keen an eye on forthcoming shows through the cartridge press, or click on the link at the top of this section for a list of future shows and locations.

March: Medina, Ohio (South of Cleveland)
March: Castle Rock, Washington
April: St Louis, The International Meeting (The Big One in the USA)
April: Leusden, Holland
May: Germany
June: Williamsport, PA
June: California
July: St Louis, local show
July: Colorado
July: New Zealand (usually North Island)
Aug: Sioux Falls, S. Dakota
Aug: Denver, PA
Sept: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Sept: Abilene, Kansas
Sept: Europe, (usually Holland, Switzerland, or Belgium.  The international meeting - rivalling the St Louis show in size.)
Oct: Medina, Ohio (South of Cleveland)
Oct: Leusden, Holland
Oct:  Australia (usually NSW)

Record Keeping

There is probably no other field of collecting where record keeping is as important as in cartridge collecting. Where a gun collector with even as many as a few hundred guns in his collection can probably keep his collection reasonably cataloged in his mind, there is no way even a beginning cartridge collector can memorize all of the features of his collection.

So what are the reasons for establishing and constantly updating records of your collection?

First and most obvious is the ability to continue to increase your collection without missing opportunities or without acquiring unwanted duplicates. A neat, concise record of your collection carried to cartridge shows, on visits to other collectors or Simply at hand when reviewing dealers' lists is an absolute must.

Second, unless you paid a lot for a given specimen, you will probably need to record its cost to be able to recall its price two years from now.

Third, since most of us regularly research specific fields of interest, we usually establish close relationships with kindred spirits of similar bent. Communications between collectors of similar interest are greatly enhanced if good records are kept. Comprehensive lists of the specimens in a category which can be exchanged with collectors of like interest will often result in benefits to both parties.

Finally, collection lists from advanced collectors are sometimes made available to less advanced collectors. These lists can be the basis for the otherwise unavailable checklists,  so necessary for cartridge collection building. Someday your list may be the one eagerly sought by followers in your footsteps.

What do you need to record? That question has as many answers as there are collecting categories. Some of the formats used by collectors are shown in this section. It quickly becomes evident that a workable format is one which depicts and records the variables of interest. Some can simply be described with a checkmark (headstamp, case material, bullet material, etc.); some suggest a sketch (shotshell case markings, bullet types for British sporting cartridges); some you either have or don't have (50 Crispin long, .44 Thuers, etc.), and no further details are required. A little thought and perhaps a few trials and errors will set you on the right path.

The system should be susceptible to easy expansion and should provide for insertion of new data in logical locations. If you are collecting .30-06 rounds, for example, you do not want to search a random list of several thousand rounds to see if you have a specific double-date blank. Logically, you would have a page for each year or even month with space to add new rounds on that same page. The easy access to computers or even word processors makes inserting of new data in logical locations a cinch.

The more portable the record, the better. Pocket ringbinders are the norm but try to get pages with mylar-reinforced edges as pages which fall out after minimal usage are most irritating. And don't forget to place your name, address and phone number prominently in the book. You'd be surprised at how many of these books become adrift from their owners shows

Duane Richardson was one of the most innovative record keepers. Shown herein are some typical pages from his notebooks showing a diversity of application of his pictorial system to shotshells, .45-70s and rimfire It is easy to see how this system could be extended to other cartridges. His basic sheets were hand drawn and then Xeroxed. Duane used only a straightedge, a circle template and a #2 lead pencil for these drawings. Drawings need not be works of art. As specimens are obtained, the significant information is hand-lettered in position. The loose-leaf format enables insertion of new information in approximately the right location. Cost and  date of purchase information can be written on the backside of each drawing and reference numbers, corresponding to ink markings on specimens, can be annotated. (See accompanying samples)

A more energetic system is shown for cataloging rinifires. A preprinted page records data for each cartridge. This system enables individual pages to be grouped in any way desired, by headstamp, by caliber, by manufacturer, etc. (See accompanying samples).

Buying at Auction

The advent of the catalogued cartridge auction has changed the face of cartridge collecting forever. Detractors may complain that prices have been driven upward but proponents counter that the collectors, not the auctioneers, drive the pricing and that seldom-offered cartridges are now regularly available and everyone has an equal opportunity to buy them. Further, they argue, a venue now exists which permits collectors (or their heirs) to liquidate collections or duplicates, impersonally and with minimum effort. This section is written for those who wish to participate in auctions.

First, understand that there are several types of auction:

  • Live auctions
  • Mail Bid auctions
  • Combination Mail Bid and Live auctions
  • Silent auctions

Each type of auction has its own rules and there are significant variations in procedure between and within each type of auction.

So the first suggestion, therefore, is to thoroughly understand the rules. With the Mail Bid and Combination auctions, the rules are published well in advance and should be read carefully. If they are not clear or your confidence in understanding is not clear, call the auctioneer and ask him to give you some hypothetical examples, persisting until you do understand. With live auctions, too often the auctioneer quickly reviews the rules at the start of the auction and no opportunity is presented to ask questions. It is suggested that, if you are unfamiliar with live auction procedure, you seek out the auctioneer in advance and have him explain the rules in private. Also, it is important to know the auctioneer. Is auctioning his full time business? Are his descriptions clear and factual? How long has he been in business? What is his reputation? All of these questions should be considered in determining whether you can comfortably deal with the auction house.

A second suggestion is to clearly understand what you are bidding upon. Live auctioneers often preface their auctions by announcing that it is up to the buyer to have examined the cartridge and to know what he is buying. This means that if there are defects in condition or description, there is no recourse for the buyer. The prospective buyer is expected to carefully examine the lots prior to bidding. In practice, some auctioneers will relent on this rule but they are within their rights to insist on the sale being final. With Mail Bid auctions, you have a right to expect the description to be accurate, the condition properly represented and any defects to be noted. If bidding on a pricey item, call in advance and get a more detailed description. Errors in description are the responsibility of the auctioneer.

The third guideline is to decide in advance the highest price you are willing to pay for an item and stick to your decision. This is especially important in a live auction where one tends to get carried away with the rhythm and adrenaline of the situation. Especially pay attention to the auction which surcharges the hammer price with a "Buyer's Premium". This charge is a percentage in excess of the hammer price. Thus, with a 10% buyers premium, the actual cost to you for the $ 10-dollar cartridge you purchased at auction will be $11 (possibly plus sales tax). Not all auctioneers add this surcharge so, again, understand the rules.

Live Auctions

These are the easiest to work with since results are instantly known. Be prepared to change your strategy if you are unsuccessful on earlier lots. Since most of us are on a budget, if we expend our allocated funds early in the auction, we can't bid on later lots. Therefore if earlier lots sell at prices which exceed your ceilings, be prepared for later lots by carefully examining more lots than you can afford. It is usually a mistake to jump in on a lot you haven't looked over merely because it seems to be underbid. Chances are there is a reason for low interest.

Listen to the auctioneer very carefully, if he says "so much each and take the lot" your bid will be multiplied by the number of individual items on offer.

Some consignments will have minimum or reserve bids. Normally, but not always, the auctioneer will announce whether there is a consignor's reserve or whether lots are being sold without reserve. If floor bidding on a reserve lot falls short of the minimum, the lot may be withdrawn due to the lack of a satisfactory offer. Also, an auctioneer has the option to withdraw a lot if only a single bid is received. If he accepts an initial bid and a raise, he is then obligated to sell the lot in most states.

Don't bid more than you can afford and be prepared to settle up by cash, check or credit card, as the auction rules permit immediately following the auction.

Mail Bid Auctions

These are a bit more complex and it is extremely important to understand the rules. In its simplest format, once you receive your catalog, you merely select the lots in which you are interested and write your bid next to the lot number and return the bid sheet to the auctioneer. If you are the high bidder you will be notified. Most auction houses include a provision for automatic bid reduction. In that case your actual buying price can be less than your written bid. If you bid $50 for a lot and the second highest bidder bids $30, the lot would go to you for $35 (the next bidding increment above that second highest bid.)

But for many collectors, merely sending in a bid and hopefully waiting is not enough. Most mail bid auction houses make it possible for you to check the status of your bid at any time up to the closing of the auction and to increase it if you wish. Different auctioneers have different rules for checking. Some will allow you to simply ask "what is the current high bid on lot so and so", permitting you to decide whether to bid or not once you hear the current figure. Others require you to actually make a bid and then tell you whether you are the current high bidder. This latter practice is designed to prevent idle questioning of bidding level and to help establish the sales value in "automatic bid reduction" auctions.

The only way you can be certain of having a winning bid is to be the last person to call prior to closing. The closing of a mail bid auction can be hectic for bidder and auctioneer alike as the closing may be defined as a certain period of time when the phone doesn't ring after the prescribed closing time. Naturally, active participation at this point in the auction requires a lot of telephone dialing and listening to busy signals.

One of the drawbacks of mail bid auctions is the difficulty of changing your bidding strategy during the auction. You may have pledged your entire budget on one or two items early in the auction which are sold to higher bidders. Unless you are very diligent on the telephone, you won't know this until after the auction closes and will be unable to bid on later items, using the funds liberated due to unsuccessful early bids.

One faulty strategy which occurs eventually to most bidders who bid in automatic bid-reduction type auctions can easily backfire. Let's say you are interested in a lot which you feel is worth $ 100 and are willing to pay that figure. Instead of bidding the $ 100, one might get the idea to bid say $300, thus guaranteeing the purchase of the lot at one increment above the second high bid. The problem occurs when two people get the same idea and a second party also places a preemptive bid. In that case, you might well own the item for $300! Trust me, preemptive overbidding is never a good idea!

Combination Mail and Live Auctions

These are perhaps the most interesting auctions of all from the bidder's point of view. Several options are open to the bidder:

  • You can treat it just like a mail bid, sending in your bids and hoping for the best.
  • You can hire an agent to bid for you at the live auction, providing full instructions to the surrogate and paying a small commission for his services. (Note: one of the best kept secrets to mail auction bidding is the use of an agent to do your last minute bidding. Inquire of the auctioneer whether any private "agents" have expressed interest in this bidding ploy. Remember - the agent works for you, not the auctioneer. He will expect and deserve a small commission for staying up all night on the telephone on behalf of his clients!)
  • In some cases, for high-value items, an arrangement might be made for the bidder to bid over an open telephone as the lot is presented. In this case it is as if he were in actual attendance at the live auction.
  • You can attend the live auction and bid for yourself
  • Mail bids are bid on behalf of the high mail bidder at the live auction by a member of the auctioneer's staff just as if the bidder were present. In this case the highest mail bid received (ties go to the earliest postmark, FAX or phone call) will be bid along with the live bids, bidding only as high as necessary to beat floor bids up to the mail bidder's stated limit. A floor bid which ties the mail bid will usually go to the floor.
  • >There is a distinct advantage to bidders who attend or use an agent. For this reason many potential absentee bidders decline to participate and revenues are often affected and this system is less popular with auction houses than straight mail bids.

Silent Auctions

Silent auctions are usually conducted by clubs at regular meetings or shows. Most frequently, the auction leader calls for attendees to consign lots to the silent auction. These lots are then placed on display in the hall, for all prospective bidders to examine. A card is provided with each lot. A person wishing to bid merely writes his bid on the card, along with his name or his preassigned bidding number. Anyone wishing to overbid simply writes his higher bid and name or number on the card. Settlement is usually between the high bidder and seller. The club may make some revenue by charging a fee for the bidding card. This is mostly a "for fun" activity. Its description is included here only for completeness of the range of possible auctions.


Live auctions, as noted, usually announce "caveat emptor" rules (let the buyer beware - he is expected to carefully examine lots prior to bidding and generally forfeits a return privilege)
Mail bid auctions can be held responsible for incorrect descriptions of condition, authenticity or identification. Some may have a time limit on returns, others may offer a lifetime guarantee on authenticity. It is well to inquire and in general to know your auction house. Those which derive their livelihood from auctioneering are more likely to have "user-friendly" rules and may be expected to be around longer than those who may have a more casual involvement.


A Word About the Investment Aspect of Cartridge Collecting

Few if any cartridge collectors build collections with the primary goal of investment. However, when one makes a decision to pay out hard-earned cash for a desired specimen, it is comforting to know that, if needed, there is resale value to that cartridge.

It is important for the collector to clearly understand the difference between intrinsic value and perceived value as those terms apply to one's collection. Consider that old master paintings, consisting of a scrap of canvas and some oil paints command millions in the competitive art world. That is an example of perceive value as opposed to the intrinsic value of say, a tank full of gasoline. Collector cartridges, except as they may be used for shooting, only have perceived value to other collectors and that value is only what the fraternity in general tacitly accepts it to be. Should there be no further collector interest, even the rarest and most desirable rounds would be worth virtually nothing. In a sense, the value of cartridges, expressed hereafter as the price which may be expected at resale, ultimately depends upon whether cartridge collecting as an organized pastime continues to exist and grow.

There are some very positive factors which influence the worth of cartridges as an investment:

The value of a cartridge, as opposed to the value of a coin is not especially condition-dependent. Anyone who has ever collected coins has probably been frustrated by the fine degrees of condition and the astounding differences in value due to these nearly invisible differences. Most cartridge collectors, on the other hand, prefer a cartridge to "look its age" and only extremes of condition affect value.

Should you be unfortunate enough to experience a burglary, collector cartridges are among the last things which will be stolen.

Collector cartridges are reasonably easy to sell; the collecting fraternity is a relatively small, inbred society. Most of our specialty interests are known to and shared by other collectors. Usually, only a few phone calls are required to unite buyer with seller. This is especially so with the better items.

The advent of the cartridge auction has not only provided a documented source for prices, it provides an organized marketplace which converts the cartridge collection into a reasonably liquid asset.

Cartridge collecting is a growing interest. 'One of the reasons for the publication of this guidebook is to stimulate that growth. An increased number of collectors, of course, represents an increase in demand. If demand increases and supply remains constant, collector cartridges will be a viable investment.

When thinking in terms of investment, the cartridges selected for acquisition must be of reasonable collector interest. If you are collecting, say, .38 Specials by headstamp and bullet type, you are collecting for fun. Unless there is something special about a few of the rounds, expect to sell your collection at so much per round. If you are collecting for investment, your selections must be those items in reasonably low supply and high demand.

One caution - occasionally and especially when collecting relatively modem cartridges, today's rarity may be tomorrow's common item if someone uncovers a case or two. This can even happen with older cartridges. A few years ago, about 2000 rounds of 15mm short-case pinfires were discovered in South America. Overnight a $75 round became a $5 round. Eventually they will all find homes and prices will climb.

There is a temptation to refer back to old catalogs and compare those prices to today's prices. Although no one will question the sharp rise in prices, outperforming most financial indices, reference to those old catalogs might show some surprises. The most expensive cartridge in an old Platt Monfort list of the'40s was the 18 ga. pink UMC shotshell, then a $20 dollar item (today an $80 round), .50 Crispins of that period sold for $5 at Bannermans (today $500+) and full packets of .50 Gallagers were $6 (today $150+).

Fakery is another problem involving values. One of the villains of cartridge collecting is the self - styled expert. Often these experts are established collectors who irresponsibly categorize a round as "wrong" without evidence. With the rarer cartridges, this condemnation, if given public voice, say at a cartridge show, can be fatal to the reputation of a perfectly good rarity. Not long ago a collector traded an extensive .22 box collection for an inside-primed.44 Thuer round. A well known collector publicly and loudly questioned the round. The new owner, in an attempt to find the truth, pulled the bullet, damaging the case, and found it to be a genuine piece, now reduced to a fraction of its former value. Fakery does exist and an old adage says, and is true - "if it could be made then, it can be made now". There is little protection against a well made fake. The best advice is to handle as many rare cartridges as possible; there is no substitute for "feel". Remember that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is, and always try to learn a bit about the round's provenance (history). Asking an experienced collector's opinion is often a good idea but do so in private and try to get more opinions than one. In the end, however, it is your money and your decision.

Record keeping, discussed elsewhere, is a valuable asset to the investing side of collecting. As good or bad as our memories are, trying to keep the cost and condition of several thousand cartridges in your head is a losing proposition.


The following is a partial list of abbreviations which may be found in dealers' catalog listings, publications, or correspondence and which will be found useful in record keeping. The use of capitals and lower case letters is significant to meaning and, in a few cases, an abbreviation may be identical for two different meanings. In these cases, context usually remedies confusion.

Ag - Silver
Al - Aluminum or Aluminium.
Anv - Anvil
AP - Armor piercing
API - Armor piercing incendiary
APIT - Armor piercing incendiary tracer
Auto - Automatic
B - Bullet
Blt - Bullet
BC - Battery cup (primer)
Bltd - Belted (case or bullet)
Benet - Benet primed
BP - Blackpowder
Br - Brass
BT - Boat tail (bullet)
Bttl - Boat tail
BW - Brass washed
Cal - Caliber
Cann - Cannelure
CF - Centerfire
CL - Case length
CMS - Case mouth seal
CN - Cupronickel
CNCS - Cupronickel-clad steel
Corr - Corrugated
Cr - Crimped
CkNk - Cracked neck
Cs - Case
Ctg(e) - Cartridge
Cu. - Copper
CW - Copper washed
CWS - Copper-washed Steel
Dy - Dummy
Exper - Experimental
Expl - Explosive
Expr - Express
FB - Flat base
FE - Fired empty
FH - Flash hole
FMJ - Full metal jacket (bullet)
FN - Flat nose (bullet)
GM - Gilding metal
GMCS - Gilding metal-clad steel
Gr - Grooved
Hd - Head
HE - High explosive
HEAP - High explosive/armor piercing
HEI - High explosive/incendiary
HiBr - High brass (shotshell)
HP - Hollow point (bullet)
HPT - High pressure test
Hs - Headstamp
Hstp - Headstanip
HV - High velocity
IP - Inside primed
L - Lead
Lac - Lacquer(ed)
LoBr - Low brass (shotshell)
MA - Mouth annulus (case mouth seal)
Mag - Magnum
Mag - Attracts a magnet (ferrous)
Max - Maximum
MedBr - Medium brass (shotshell)
Mil - Military
MG - Machine gun
Mg - Magnesium
NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Orga nization
NF - Needlefire
NHS - No headstainp
Nk - Neck
NPE - New primed empty
NUE - New unprimed empty
OA - Overall (length)
OPE - Open point expanding (bullet)
PA - Primer annulus
Pat - Patent
Patr - Patrone (German for Cartridge)
PF - Pinfire
P&L - Polished and lacquered
PI - Plastic
PP - Paper patched (bullet)
PSP - Pointed soft point (bullet)
RC - Ring crimp
RD - Rim diameter
Pdr - Powder
RF - Rimfire
RG - Rifle grenade blank
RR - Reduced rim
RsHs - Raised headstanip
RN - Round nose (bullet)
Sab - Sabot
Ser - Serrated
ShId - Shoulder
Smkl - Smokeless (powder)
SP - Soft point (bullet)
Spt - Sporting
SR - Semi-rimmed
SWC - Semi wadcutter
S&W - Smith & Wesson
Unk - Unknown
UPE - Unprimed empty (case)
Tr - Tracer
TW - Top wad (shotshells)
WC - Wadcutter
WdRd - Wood rod
Xpl - Experimental
Zn - Zinc