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Original black powder .38 Special?

It is my understanding that the .38 Special cartridge was developed by Maj. Wesson in 1902 and has always been loaded with smokeless powder.

dclark
 

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Original black powder .38 Special?

I also question whether the 38 Special was ever a black powder cartridge. It was developed in the late 1890s when smokeless was avaialble, so there would be no need to use black powder. However, the WRA Co cartridge that you are concerned about can readily be identified as smokeless, based on the 'W' that is on the primer, assuming it is an original factory load. Winchester began produced these 'W' marked primers in the mid 1890s to indicate they were for use with smokeless loads.
 

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.38 Special black powder load

The several articles I have seen with references to the history of the S&W MIlitary and Police revolver and .38 S&W Special cartridge indicate that it was orginally a blackpowder round. It was intended to be more powerful and use a heavier bullet than the .38 Colt service cartridge then used.

Even though smokeless propellants were in civilian use since the middle 1890's, many shooters did not trust them. BP was easier to reload. Centerfire blackpowder lead-bullet pistol cartridges were standardized for more than 35 years when the .38 Spl was introduced and were a known quantity.

Even in Europe, the leading edge of smokeless powder research and manufacture, only came out with the early smokeless cartridges (7.63 Mauser, Mannlicher, Borchardt, etc) in the middle '90s. All of these used smokeless powder to function in the self-loading designs.

:shock:
 

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Original black powder .38 Special?

I know the is a little late, but I just became registered. I believe the very best place to find your answer is with someone who specializes in collecting 38s. That place will be the forum on the International Ammunition Association's web site.
www.cartridgecollectors.org
Hope this helps.
S.A.Steve
 

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Original black powder .38 Special?

I have often heard that the case cannelure was an indication of smokeless powder and was to insure that the bullet did not recede into the unfilled case. Black powder cases were generally filled and compressed lightly. I know that revolver bullets pull and do not push into the case in use, but this is what I have heard.
Cheers from Grayest California,
Ross
 

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case cannelure

That's correct, Ross.

The case cannelure performs several useful functions including preventing a seated bullet from being impacted and seating deeper into the case.

Some manufacturer's also use it for identifying different weight bullets loaded into the same case.

I've also encountered some revolver cases from the '50's and '60's that would crack at the cannelure when fired and reloaded a couple times. I've often wondered if that was some sort of evil plot to encourage use of factory-loaded ammunition!

John
 

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Re: Original black powder .38 Special?

Gatofeo said:
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?
Headstamp reads:

.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?
Hi,

I too have just registered, and being better late than never, I have in my collection, several boxs of .38 Special Central Fire revolver cartridges filled with Black Powder. The ammo is made by U.M.C. (United Metallic Cartridge Co.) which was bought by Remington in the early 1900's. The boxes have a Red lable with Black Printing, It is clearly stated that the rounds are loaded with Black Powder.
 

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Original black powder .38 Special?

The primer stamp is the key. Cartridges of all types that were made by Winchester or UMC from the 1890's to through the 1920's had a W or a U stamped on the primer if loaded with smokeless powder. Those cartridges of the same period without a W or U were loaded with black powder. There were numerious ammo makers back then and other companies did not follow the same primer markings.
 
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