38 long colt

Hi !
same problem like with the 45 Long colt.
38 Army and 38 navy
Which one is 38 long ? Both ?


The .38 Long Colt (Caliber .38 Revolver, Ball) was the official U.S. service cartridge from 1892 to 1911 and was used by all branches of service. There is only one cartridge.

The confusion comes from the names that manufacturers, such as Colt, gave to their line of revolvers. For example, Colt called their M1889 revolver the “Model 1889 Navy Double Action Revolver” The later improved model was called the “New Army and Navy Revolver”. Still another was called the “Model 1905 Marine Corps D.A. Revolver”.

However, they were all basically commercial, civilian revolvers but the Government contracted with them to produce a certain number of arms for military use and Colt capitilized on those contracts by giving them military type names.

The name was, no doubt, a very strong selling point. After all, who wouldn’t want the latest revolver actually used by troops in the field. The same can be said for those arms given “Police”, “Military & Police”, “Service”, or simply “Government” model names.


Cal .38 Revolver

US Navy (Colt Navy) 1889
Brass, rimmed case, outside lubricated lead bullet, case length approximatley 0.87 inches.

US Army (Long Colt) 1892
Brass or tinned brass, rimmed case, inside lubricated lead bullet, case length approximatley 1.03 inches.

Taken from the “History of Modern US Military Small Arms Ammunition Vol 1.”


I may be wrong but I believe the first is simply an earlier, outside lubricated, version of the 38 Long Colt and saw very limited production or use. I’ve not seen it with an FA headstamp.

But, as I said, I may be wrong. I have been, often.


Ray, you are basically correct. All of the Navy Revolvers would chamber the regular .38 Long Colt (.38 U.S. Army) and by the year 1897 no more of the .38 Ball U.S. Navy rounds were procured by the Government for any use. Overall length of the two cartridges had been similar, although the Army case was longer, enclosing more of the bullet.

Like a lot of cartridges, the military versions (and I suppose the commercial too) went thru various small changes during its service life. A case cannelure was added, the small groove above the rim was added (discussed at length in a recent thread), and changes to the head, from folded to solid, were made. None of these, other than the change from the early U.S. Navy cartridge to the Army version, resulted in a change of designation. It remained “Caliber .38 Revolver Ball Cartridge” for that type of ammunition. Blanks were also made, as were dummy rounds and a couple of other special loadings.

[quote=“Ray Meketa”]Armouer

I may be wrong but I believe the first is simply an earlier, outside lubricated, version of the 38 Long Colt and saw very limited production or use. I’ve not seen it with an FA headstamp.

But, as I said, I may be wrong. I have been, often.


I have a feeling I’ve answered a question that wasn’t asked, old age must be catchinjg up with me :-)


I have the book.
What I want to know is : both ones (Army and Navy) are 38 long Colt ?
(despite the fact they have different case length) ?
From the different answers it looks to be that.

They are essentially the same cartridge. The inside and outside lubed bullets account for the difference in case length. When the transition was made from outside to inside lubed, the case was lengthened, and overall length remained about the same.

The .38 Long Colt cartridge is about the last cartridge on earth that I thought I would ever get interested in, since I don’t collect any revolver cartridge, and think little of any of the older small-caliber (under .44) revolver cartridges, the first such cartridge of any interest to me, and really only as a shooter, being the .38 Special. However, this topic has grabbed me.

I cannot provide any different, definitive answer as to what has been said so far, but I can lay out some interesting facts. There is a big hole in what I was able to research, since I have next to no U.S. Cartridge Company catalogs, and they were a major player during the era when this cartridge made its appearance and was going thru development. So, what I found out is layed out here pretty much as random comments.

Hackley, Scranton and Woodin recount a Bureau of Ordnance Letter stating in part that “.38 Ball Cartridges for Colt and Remington Revolvers have been on hand for six years, cartridges made by United States Cartridge Company and Union Metallic Cartridge Co.” That would mean that they had been on hand since 1881 (the letter was dated in 1888) and this squares with UMC records, the first entry of which for the .38 Long Colt is in 1878 (although it alludes to earlier production). HSW speculate that these would be with the outside-lubricated bullet, and are undoubtedly correct, at least in the case of UMC rounds, as UMC didn’t record changing to the inside-lubricated bullets until March 1889. At the same time, they recorded that the shell was lengthened to cover all of the grooves on the bullet, with the cartridge to be of over-all length of the “old alteration cylinder.” We take that to mean that the overall length of the inside-lubricated bullet/cartridge was more or less retained. It is odd that UMC lengthened the case about the same time the Navy was adopting the short case. There is no further mention of them ever returning to production of the short case for the Navy and, in fact, after the 1878 entry in their records the first mention of any Govt. contract for this cartridge is from July 1898, the year after HWS mentions discontinuance of Govt. procurement of the short-cased round with outside-lubed bullet.

Regarding the issue of whether the early round is the same as the later one, UMC referred to the round from 1878 as the “.38 Long Colts.” However, Winchester began cataloging the cartridge in the 1875 catalog as simply the “.38 Long” with the drawing clearly showing the top groove of the bullet above the case mouth. In later catalogs they start referring to the inside-lubricated bullet, with the same drawing and cartridge designation. It is not until the June 1896 catalog that the name becomes the .38 Long Colt and, at the same time, with reference to an inside-lubricated bullet. The drawing now reflects the longer case and no grooves in the bullet above the case mouth.

Erlmeier-Brandt assign the .38 Long Colt and the .38 Long Colt outside-lubricated with two different catalog numbers (their own reference numbers assigned by the authors of the book). While they show some of the synonyms as the same, they show others, including a DWM case number, unique to one or the other cartridge.

The DWM Case Number Register does not, that I can find, show the longer version that most of us know as the .38 Long Colt (inside-lubricated bullet). The number for the shorter case is 263, but they give it the name "Revolver Kal. 38lg Colt (lg = “Lang” or, in English, “Long”). I don’t wish to take the time to try and figure out the approximate date of the entry and assignation of case number by seeing what calibers came before it. I will leave that to someone else in the “DWM” group of collectors. Interestingly, although not of paramount importance to this thread, is that for this cartridge, there is a note in the DWM register "F

Here are the actual listings from a number of U.M.C. catalogs:

NOTE: Bullet weight is 147 grs.

1887: .38 LONG, FOR COLT’S D.A. PISTOLS, ETC. 150 gr.
NOTE: Bullet weight is now 150 grs.

1890 & 1901: .38 LONG, FOR COLT’S D.A. PISTOLS, ETC. 152 gr. ROUND NOSE LEAD
NOTE: Bullet weight has changed to 152 grs.

NOTE: Word “Revolvers” instead of “Pistols”

NOTE: First catalog to actually say “Inside lubricated”

NOTE: Name changed from “Colt’s” to “Colt”

Note: Only a minor change. No “for”

1901, 04, 05: .38 LONG COLT’S ------ SHOT (No. 10), WOOD SABOT
NOTE: The shot load used “Colt’s” through 1905

1906 & 1909: .38 LONG COLT ------ SHOT (No. 10), WOOD SABOT
NOTE: Name changed to “Colt” starting in 1906

I don’t have the Navy one in my collection.
Could somebody send me a picture of the two ctges side by side because I need that for my article.

It is interesting that UMC called the cartridge ".38 Long, for Colt’s Revolvers’ for so long in their catalogs, since they started in 1878 calling it the “.38 Long Colts” (Yes, “Colts” in plural, not singular or possessive) in their production records.

So if I understood you the 38 Navy is the outside lubricated version of the 38 long colt also called 38 Long CF and the second one,with the inside lubricated bullet is the 38 Long colt,am I right or the 38 Long CF is another cartridge?


However this is my 38 Long CF or 38 Long colt outs. lub. or 38 Long Navy (?)

Pivi - as I said in my “Random Notes,” I am not willing to make that call. If I were collecting them, just for purposes of organization I would treat the short-case “Navy” version (It was made before the Navy seemingly had anything to do with it) as separate from the Long Case “Army Version.” However, both cartridges were referred to as .38 Long Colt as well as .38 Long Center Fire, contemporary to their production. It is up to each person to decide for themselves if they consider them the same cartridge, I think. There are cogent arguments for both points of view.

The bullet of itself isn’t the determining factor, in my view. Most cartridge case types have been offered with various different bullets loaded in them. The case length is more important. One could say “yes, but you can shoot the .38 Navy Version in a Long Colt-chambered revolver, so they are the same.” However, we recognize the .38 Short Colt as a different cartridge, but it can also be shot in a revolver chambered for the Long Colt. For that matter, they can all be shot in a revolver chambered for the .38 Smith and Wesson Special.

Probably why I collect only auto pistol cartridges. Revolver cartridges are too confusing for a simple-minded old man like me.

By the way, to your first question, you are right that the “.38 Navy” is the shorter-cased version with outside-lubricated bullet.

I never realized that the 38 Long Colt could be so complicated.

For what it’s worth, here are a few of my thoughts.

  1. The cartridge was both a commercial and a military round at the same time. It was actually a commercial round before the military adopted it. So the very first cartridges used (Navy) were probably the commercial cartridge as it existed at the time (outside lubricated).

  2. FA headstamped cartridges do not show up until several years after its adoption so most of the first military ammunition was probably commercial.

  3. The outside lubricated cartridges are very hard to find . Their production and use must have been very limited otherwise there would be more of them around.

  4. As far as I know, all revolvers were chambered “straight through” which means that case length was immaterial. To me, that means that there was only one cartridge, the 38 Long Colt, and case length, location of lubricating grooves, etc are just minor variations.



I have asked that thing because I knew there were 2 versions of the 38 Long colt but I didn’t know that the outside lubricated bullet version was also called “Navy”.So I didn’t know that the so called 38 LCF was actually the same cartridge.I didn’t to the use or classification of these cartridges,I wanted to clear up my knowledge about 38 rounds.

However this is my 38 navy compared to a 38 Long colt army case

Hi Pivi !
What are the headstamps of your ctges ?
I don’t think you have a Navy one

The case is a modern product by starline
The cartridge has no headstamps.However its dimensional data are:
Case l:.87"
Bullet diam:.375"
Neck diam:.378"
Base diam:.379"
Rim Diam:.438"

38 long colt dimensional data:

Case l:1.022"
Neck diam:.377"
Base diam:.377"
Rim diam:.433"

As you can see the dimensional data are the same except for case lenght
I have not found other cartridges with the same dimensional data so I think it is really a 38 Long CF one

Hi Pivi
the true 38 NAVY (outside lubrificated) is with the hstp US 38 COLT NAVY and the groove on the bullet is close to the neck.
The 38 ARMY (inside lubrificated) has no groove on the bullet (for us specimen).
Yours look to be French.