.38 ACP vs. .38 Super Auto

How were .38 Super Auto cartridges (without box) made to be distinguished from .38 A.C.P. rounds when first introduced, if at all? Were all Super loads made in nickeled cases from the beginning? I have been under the impression that nickeled cases were used for this purpose at some point (and more modern loadings of the Super are marked “+P”) but I have no documentation of this. Can someone walk me through the basics of this?

On the topic of “SUPER”, when the “SUPER 38 SPL.” headstamped cartridge was discussed recently, it was suggested that it was a confusing use of the “SUPER” label on the .38 Spl. High-Velocity as there was a .38 Super Auto also on the market. Perhaps its application, being shortly after the introduction of the .38 Super Automatic, was an attempt to set a standard for the term as applied to the new high pressure rounds being developed that would not be suited for older guns? (You have your regular .38 Auto and a .38 Super Auto. You have a regular .38 Spl. and a Super .38 Spl.) But why then have I not seen a .38 Super Auto cartridge of that vintage with “SUPER” in the headstamp?

Thanks for any input on this.

The confusion with the Super 38 Spl would have been thru cataloging and/or box labels, not headstamps. Originally, the identification for the .38 Super cartridge was a nickeled case. The headstamps were the same for either caliber, including the caliber designation of .38 A.C.P. or .398 AUTO. During WWII, due to a shortage of nickel, the plating was dropped from many calibers that normally had nickel-plated cases, including .38 Super. With those rounds, only the box label can tell you they are Super 38 and not the lower velocity and pressure .38 ACP. Without the box label, you cannot be sure which it is, period! In recent years, Winchester went first from a W-W SUPER headstamp for the .38 Super to a .38 AUTO +P headstamp, and I am pretty sure most other American makers use the +P designation now. Most .38 Super of the last 25 years or so has been in nickel cases, but not all of it. Also, some W-W SUPER cases have been sold to commercial reloaders who have loaded them to pressures for the old Model 1900-1903 Colts in .38 A.C.P. Caliber, so that is a reverse of previous confusion due to the WWII .38 Super loads in yellow brass cases.

The Foreign stuff is a whole different ball game. Some Mexican rounds, for example, are .38 Super and identified by a nickeled case, but do not have a special headstamp or even special box loadings. It takes the company’s catalog to know that they didn’t load the older .38 A.C.P. load.

The whole crux of the matter is, don’t shoot one of the early, rear-mounted slide Colts, or any other gun not fit for .38 Super, with any ammunition unless you are darned sure it is not a Super .38 loading. I have at least one or two in my own collection, a pretty fair assortment of the two cartridge types, that I would not positively say is one type or the other, and that’s after 40 years of collecting that cartridge and perhaps looking at it a bit more closely than I do others, because of the inherent confusion involved with the two loadings.

Regarding your statement about the W-W SUPER headstamp, are you saying this headstamp was reserved for only high velocity loads of the various calibers, or that for .38 Auto, this headstamp was only used for the super load? While my collecting interests tend more towards the earlier headstamps, I thought the W-W SUPER headstamp was just part of the progression of standard headstamps for the Winchester/Western line of ammunition.


Thanks much for the very detailed response! Other than the question asked by Guy, I’m left only wondering about one other thing that would assist in making the ID on a loose round…Do you know if nickeled cases were resumed on the Super loads right after WWII or after a particular date/time frame? Between headstamp style and nickeled or not, except for WWII era production (and later?) the difference can be assumed for most for collector purposes I’ll guess. (NOT for shooting!)

Sage advice on not making an assumption with an old Colt or other auto that was intended for the .38 A.C.P. load. I understand that south of the border it is a sad fact that any early Colt autos that may be found are often ruined by the use of the .38 Super ammuntion that is a very popular caliber in Mexico, etc.

Thanks again for your sharing your knowledge on such matters!

Guy - I am not making any statement about any cartridge other than the .38 A.C.P./.38 Super, the subject of this thread. I don’t collect sporting rifle or any revolver cartridges, so I cannot make an informed judgment off-hand of the use of the WW-Super or WIN-Super headstamps on other calibers. However, off hand, and again I may be wrong as I can’t take the time right now to go through every caliber in my collection, I cannot think of any auto pistol cartridge other than .38 Super (the .38 ACP has not been made by Winchester during the era that the WW-SUPER headstamp has been made, as far as I know) that uses that headstamp. Certainly not any version of Winchester 9mm Para.

Dave - sorry, I forgot to address your question. I am really not sure exactly when they started nickeling cases again after WWII. I don’t know if it happen quickly, or even was delayed by the Korean War. I wish I could read all box lot numbers from all eras, because while I am not sure, I have a number of .38 Super boxes. I forget if I have one in that caliber that has the advisory printed on an end tab, inside, that the lack of nickle- plating is due to wartime needs and doesn’t reduce the quality of the ammunition. I have it on some box, but never can seem to find an example of it when I want to - I just come across it from time to time working on something else.

We like to think we know something about our specialties, but when questions like yours, a very good question by the way, comes up, we find out how little we actually know as fact.

If someone can answer the question of when they resumed plating (and what year they stopped doing it due to war-time contingencies) please do answer this thread. I believe that both Winchester-Western and Remington-Peters did stop plating cases during the War.


You asked a couple of really good questions. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know the answer and it appears that no one else does either. Up until now at least. You can be sure that more than one collector is digging thru their cigar boxes and old catalogs as we speak.

There’s no doubt in my mind that W and W used the word “Super” with abandon. Super-X, Super Speed, W-W Super, Super Match, Super Police, 38 Super Automatic, Super 38 Special, etc. I do believe that the original intent was exactly as you suggested - to attach a label to new cartridges loaded to higher levels than were previously available. From there it got out of hand.

With regard to identifying the hotter loads, you have to remember the time period when they were first introduced. The large majority of shooters bought their ammunition in factory boxes. Those boxes had labels that clearly identified the contents and even the arms for which the cartridges were intended. There were many instances where ammunition could and probably was used in firearms not built to handle the pressures but any resulting damage was the the fault of the user, not the manufacturer. Those were quaint times indeed.


Thanks, guys.

As I re-catalog everything in my collection, I’m often asking myself “Do I really know that, or is that just what I assume?” And of course, my little brain keeps ticking out more questions for every answer I get. I thank everyone here on this forum for sharing thier vast knowledge with this less than advanced collector. What I’ve learned on this forum and from the Journal in the last few years is much more substantial and valuable than any of the resources I’ve used in all the years past. The books and materials on the subjects at hand that are suggested are also of great value, though often beyond my immediate grasp. Slowly I build…

Thanks for letting me be part of the fun!