Introduction to .22 Box Collecting

by Richard Rains

The reasons for collecting .22 cartridge boxes vary greatly, much like the people doing the collecting.

  • The boxes are colorful
  • Maybe the collector shot the cartridges as a child
  • Some cannot afford to collect firearms
  • Others may enjoy studying the history of them
  • With the recent increases in the prices of .22 boxes, one can not overlook the investment aspect.

The .22 rimfire cartridge was first developed in 1857 and has undergone several major developments over the last 160 years, yet the .22 Short cartridge itself is basically unchanged. The only changes in the appearance of the modern .22 Short cartridges are that brass cases are used instead of copper and that lead bullets are generally copper or brass plated.

(Figure 1) One of the earliest .22 rimfire boxes

Over the years many different .22 rimfire cartridges have been developed. Examples include the:

  • BB Cap (1879)
  • CB Cap (1885)
  • Long (1871)
  • Long Rifle (1884)
  • Extra Long (1878)
  • Winchester Rim Fire WRF (1890)
  • Automatic (1903)
  • Magnum (1958)
  • Stinger (1976)

Sectioned examples of .22 rinfire cartridges (courtesy of Paul Smith)
Left- .22 short with hollow point bullet
Center- .22 Long with solid bullet
Right- .22 Long Rifle with hollow point bullet.
All are examples made by Dominion Cartridge Company, headstamped "D". 

However, .22 box collectors feel the most interesting aspect of collecting .22 cartridges is their packaging.

The packages that .22 cartridges come in vary greatly. All known early .22 boxes are of two-piece construction. The lid separates from the bottom. There are two types of two-piece box construction. The first is a two-piece half-split design. The box lid is only about one half the height as the box bottom. The second type of construction is a two-piece full cover box. The box lid is the same height as the box bottom.

(Figure 2) An early two piece "half split" box by UMC

(Figure 3) Side view of a "full split" box where the top covers the entire lower portion

The earliest one piece box construction was used by the National Cartridge Company and the Union Cap & Chemical Company. They made one piece boxes that had a sliding tray like standard .22 boxes of today, except that the end flaps are top hinged. Modern boxes have a bottom hinged end flaps. It is interesting to note that when the Western Cartridge Company absorbed these two companies in 1908, they continued producing one-piece top hinged end flap boxes. About 2 or 3 years later they went back to two-piece boxes, which was the industry standard at that time. It was not until the mid-1920s that Federal and United States Cartridges Companies started producing one-piece bottom hinged end flap boxes.

(Figure 4) "One piece box" with sliding tray and "bottom hinge"

Boxes may contain anywhere from 10 to 1,000 rounds of ammunition, but generally are packaged 50 to a box. Most early boxes contained 100 rounds and were bulk packed which means that the cartridges were dumped into the box in no apparent order. BB Caps and CB Caps were boxes either 100 or 250 rounds to a box. It was not until the 1870s or 1880s that cartridges were packaged 50 rounds to a box with head to toe packing. Head to toe packing is where every other cartridge is packed in the opposite direction. The industry in the United States packed most of the .22 cartridges this way today. It is interesting to note that in the 1870s and 1880s G. W. Turner & Ross Company had the Phoenix Metallic Cartridge Company package boxes that contained 25 rounds to a box instead of the usual 50 rounds. Turner & Ross were selling pistols and giving a box of cartridges away with the purchase of a gun. It was cheaper to give away a box containing 25 rounds that a box of 50 rounds. Nobel Industries of England gave away boxes of 10 rounds for competition shooting.


(Figure 5) Two 100 round boxes

In 1927, Winchester introduced the Precision 5 Star cartridge, an extremely accurate target round. They packaged them in a special box with a cardboard divider which kept the cartridges from touching. This kind of packaging is used by many European companies today.


(Figure 6) "Divider" type packing to keep bullets from touching

With the increased popularity of shooting galleries in the 1930s and the development if a composite bullet for shooting galleries, United States Cartridge, Western Cartridge, and Winchester Repeating Arms Companies started packaging .22 Short Gallery cartridges 1,000 to a box. In the early 1950s Winchester and Western brands halted the production of 1,000 round boxes and began producing 500 round boxes for gallery use. These bulk packed cartridges made loading of gallery tubes much easier. Remington and Peters packaged gallery cartridges in boxes of 250 rounds.


(Figure 7) Some "gallery pack" .22 shorts in 250 and 1000 round boxes.

In the early 1970s, several companies began packaging their .22 cartridges in plastic boxes. Most of these boxes hold 100 rounds, but some contain 50 rounds. The Cascade Cartridge Industries (CCI) located in Lewiston Idaho, packages .22 Long Rifle and Magnum shot cartridges 20 per box. Federal cartridge Company has also packaged .22 Long Rifle SpitFire cartridges in a round plastic container.


(Figure 8a, 8b) Plastic packages- neatly arranged in the clear pack on the left and "bulk packed" in the translucent container on the right.

In recent years, the major manufacturers have bulk packed their most inexpensive ammunition in packages ranging from 300 to 600 rounds. There are promotional packages of .22 cartridges packed with novelties such as knives, playing cards, flashlights, decorative tins, and coffee cups. Remington, in partnership with WalMart stores, has offered a special decorative holiday package of .22 Long Rifle ammunition the past several years. Remington and Winchester tried blister packing standard boxes on cardboard to hang on hooks in retail stores. This effort was not successful because the retailers wanted more control of the ammunition by placing it behind counters or in locked cases.

Tips for beginning collectors

When an individual starts collecting . I believe that he or she should focus on one area and not "just collect .22 boxes." There are so many variations of .22 boxes that it is nearly impossible to own every variety available. If a new collector tried to purchase all of the .22 boxes that are available, they probably would go broke fairly quickly. My recommendation would be to start slowly and collect only a specific company, a certain cartridge type, match ammunition, or whatever their interest dictate. A collector can always expend their collecting interests once they are aware of what is available.

When a person looks at the investment aspects of collecting .22 boxes, there are several things to consider. Generally speaking, in the past, rarer boxes have increased in value more that common boxes. Boxes that sold for $20.00 to $50.00 several years ago are most often selling for more than $100.00 today. Boxes that were worth $1.00 to $5.00 several years ago are generally still worth $1.00 to $5.00 today. 

Another thing to consider when collecting .22 boxes is the condition of the box. Mint boxes (unopened, new-looking) will always command a premium price. Boxes that have add-on labels. overstamps, or are in any way unusual are generally more highly prized by collectors. Boxe's with missing end flaps, have writing or disfiguration on them, that are scuffed, or soiled badly are generally not desirable. Rare or unusual boxes may be worth collecting even if they are in poor condition. However, it is more desirable to collect boxes that are intact, not missing end flaps, have no writing or disfigurations on them, or not be scuffed or soiled badly 

If a box was made after WWII, it is preferable to be full of the correct and original contents. Boxes made between 1900 and WWII should have the original contents, but may be partially full or empty depending on the rarity of the box. Boxes made prior to 1900 generally do not have their original contents, but one with its original contents is always worth more than one without. If a box is not sealed, ALWAYS check the box to see if it has it’s original contents. It is very frustrating to get home and catalog a new addition to your collection only to discover that the contents are not correct. 

After a person has a few boxes in their collection, it is very important that they develop a cataloguing system. There is no one system that works for all collectors. Probably the most used cataloguing system is the basis of the book written by Tony Dunn, A CATALOG OF .22 BOXES OF THE U.S.A. Other collectors make color copies of there boxes, while others make notes or any combination of the fore mentioned systems. It does not matter which cataloguing system that is used, only that it works for the individual. 

Boxes may be found in many places. Obviously, gun and cartridge shows are good places to find boxes. Collectors have found "treasures" at garage and yard sales, as well as second hand and antique stores. There are many mail and telephone auctions that sell .22 boxes. There are also internet auctions. When a person participated in an auction, they should prioritize what they want to buy and set a price limit. Understanding all the rules of the auction is essential. Ask the auction house if you do not understand any of the rules. Also note that many auction houses have what is known as a buyers premium. This is usually an addition 10 or 15 percent added on to the bid price.

A few selected unusual or different .22 boxes.

(Figure 9) A very early box by Ethan Allen & Company


(Figure 10a, 10b) Two boxes by Federal- Federal Primer Corporation and the later Federal Cartridge Company. Note the "overstamp" marking on the box at the right.


(Figure 11a, 11b) 50 round box by Meridan Fire Arms Company (owned by Sears Roebuck & Company) at left and an early 100 round box by New York Metallic Ammunition Company.


(Figure 12a, 12b) Peters box made for ammunition intended for use in the very accurate rifles made by Stevens in cooperation with famed barrel maker Harry M. Pope at left. Peters was one if several makers later absorbed by Remington. At right is a Remington box for especially accurate "Palma" match cartridges, made with hollow point bullets, an unusual feature for match ammunition.


(Figure 13a, 13b) Left- a box from Robin Hood (which later was absorbed by Remington). Right- an early box from union Metallic Cartridge Company, another ammunition maker which was merged with Remington prior to World War I.


(Figure 14a, 14b) Two boxes from United States Cartridge Company- an early "bulk pack" 50 round box and a later "single piece" box made especially for use by Boy Scouts.

(Figure 15) A very scarce box from Winchester, intended for use by their "Junior Rifle Corps" a youth marksmanship program promoted by Winchester during the 1920s.


A List of United States Manufacturers of .22 boxes

The figures associated with some of the makers below show only a sample of the hundreds of possible variations made by a single maker.

  • Smith & Wesson 1857-1860 (Figure 1)
  • Allen & Wheelock 1858-1864
  • H.C. Lombard & Co. 1860-1862
  • Leet, Goff & Co. 1860-1862
  • James Warner, A.S. Warner 1862-1863
  • Crittenden & Tibbals Manufacturing Co. 1862-1866
  • C.D.Leet 1862-1866
  • E. Allen, E. Allen & Co. 1864-1871 (Figure 9)
  • New York Metallic Ammunition Co. 1865-1867 (Figure 11b)
  • Smith, Hall & Framer 1865-1869
  • Smith, Hall Buckland 1866-1869
  • Union Metallic Cartridge & Cap Co. 1866-1867
  • Union Metallic Cartridge Co. (UMC) 1867-1911 (Figure 13b)
  • American Metallic Ammunition Co. 1867-1870
  • Winchester Repeating Arms Co. 1867 to date (Figure 6, 15)
  • Hall & Hubbard 1869-1874
  • United States Cartridge Co, 1869-1926 (Figure 14a, 14b)
  • W. H. Mason & Co. 1870-1874
  • Forehand & Wadsworth 1871-1874
  • Phoenix Metallic Cartridge Co. 1874-1891
  • Creedmore Cartridge Co. 1890-1892
  • American Metallic Cartridge Co. 1891-1898
  • Peters Cartridge Co 1895-1962 (Figure 12a)
  • Union Cap & Chemical & Co.1905-1908
  • Robin Hood Ammunition Co. 1906-1915 (Figure 13a)
  • National Cartridge Co. 1908-1909
  • Western Cartridge Co. 1908-1981
  • Remington-UMC 1911-1920
  • Federal Primer Corp. 1916-1918
  • Remington Arms Co. 1920 to date (Figure 12b)
  • Federal Cartridge Corp. 1922 to date (Figure 8b, 10a, 10b)
  • Cascade Cartridge Co. 1963 to date (Figure 8a)

Some selected references for collecting .22 boxes.

Barber, J. L., The Rimfire Cartridge in the United States 1857- 1984, 1987, Armory Publications, Tacoma Washington, 221p.

Dunn, Tony, A Catalog of the .22 Boxes of the U.S.A, 1983, 545p.

Dunn, Tony, A Catalog of the .22 Boxes of the World, 1983.

Hedlund, Dale, Kuntz, John, and Steagull, Don, 22 Boxes (US Companies), n.d., H/K Publishing, 17601 Susan Drive, Minnetonka, MN 55343.

Schiffer, Thomas D., Peters & King, 2002, Krause Publications, 700 E. State Street, Iola, WI, 54990-0001, 256p.

Standard Catalog of Winchester, 2000, Krause Publications, 700 E. State Street, Iola, WI, 54990-0001, 750p.