I have a .38 Special cartridge in my collection that is very old. Short of disassembling it, how do I tell if it's an early black powder round?
.38 S&W SP'L W.R.A. Co.
Also, the copper colored primer has a W on it. The case is made of brass.
The bullet is lead, roundnosed. A small belt may be seen on the bullet where it meets the case. Presumably, this is an extension of the bullet's diameter, then the rest of the bullet is stepped-down and eventually forms the round nose.
There is a canellure around the case about 3/8 inch (or about .370 inch) down from the case mouth. Overall cartridge length is 1.548 inch.
I know this cartridge was made by Winchester Repeating Arms. I am uncertain if the W on the primer has a special significance. Some manufacturers have, in the past, used stamps on their primers to indicate something of importance. Could this be Winchester's way of indicating a black powder cartridge?
How long were black powder cartridges made for the .38 Special? Anyone know? It would seem that the older propellant would quickly fall to the wayside once shooters experienced the benefits of shooting smokeless powder loads. Thus, I can only guess that black powder .38 Special loads had a limited production.
The very first .38 Special cartridges were loaded with black powder, which is why the .38 Special case is so long. The extra volume was needed to contain all that black powder.
"U.S. Cartridges and Their Handguns" by Charles Suydam shows a very early USCCo .38 Special cartridge. It has a copper primer like mine but Suydam doesn't indicate if it is a black powder round.
The first .38 Special revolver, the Smith & Wesson First Model Hand Ejector, was introduced in early 1899.
Original loads were loaded with 18 grs. of black powder. By June of 1899, the black powder load was increased to 21.5 grs. black powder. The first smokeless powder loads were introduced in September 1899.
Is what I have a very early .38 Special black powder cartridge?