45-70 versus 45-55


How does one know what variation of 45-70 one is looking at? I’ve seen some carbine loads listed as 45-55. I’ve seen 500 gr bullets, 405 gr bullets and 300-some gr bullets listed. I’ve pretty much figured out that the 500 grains are the long LDRN bullets and the 405 are the shorter ones but how you know for sure what grain bullets the shorter ones are? And, how do you know if it is a 45-55 if there’s not a C on the headstamp? Even with a C it could be a 45-70-405, couldn’t it?


The soldiers had the same question. Rifle (.45-70-405) and carbine (.45-55-405) cartridges were originally unheadstamped and could not be differentiated once they were out of their boxes. Headstamps with the C and R were added in March of 1877. You can assume a headstamp with a C is a .45-55-405 unless its been fooled with. The 500 grain bullet was adopted for rifles in January 1882. In 1866, it was decided to remove some of the wads that took up the sppace between the base of the bullet and the powder charge on the carbine cartridges and seat the bullets deeper in the case. The resulting shorter bullet profile on the carbine cartridges made it unnecessary to continue using the C and R in the headstamps, and they were dropped in May of 1886. So, if you are dealing with original Frankford Arsenal cartridges, those without headstamps should be the only ones that will give you trouble determining whether they are rifle or carbine cartridges.



Guy summed it up well. I’m guessing that you are looking for cartridges to go with your rifle. My recommendation would be to stick with the Frankford Arsenal cartridges because they can be identified (except for the very early ones). Contract cartridges were almost always rifle so you would be OK with the ones that were headstamped in the military style. But, once they started using commercial type headstamps, identifying a bullet and load is not always easy.

Back when I collected martial arms I had a collection of 45 caliber cartridges to go with my Springfield rifles and carbines. I had nearly 100 different specimens and I wasn’t close to having them all. If I was a headstamp hunter it would have been even worse.

Collecting 45 Caliber is a specialty all on its own. Unless you’re willing to devote the time and money to a really big collection you’re best to stick with a few FA representative examples. 20 or so should do it.




At first I was just looking for the correct version of the cartridge to be displayed with my rifle but now I’ve grown interested in the many aspects of it and started to collect them. It’s an interesting cartridge with a good bit of history behind it.

I’m still a somewhat confused about correctly IDing them however. How do you know if a round with a headstamp of [F 5 86] and a short bullet (405 gr.?) is a 45-70 or a 45-55? The same for rounds with no headstamp?


Hackley, Woodin & Scranton "History of Modern U.S. Military Small Arms Ammunition, Volume 1 covers 1880-1940 and is an excellent source for most of the official production and experimental rounds.

Of course it covers ALL the stuff from .22 rimfire through shotguns during the period covered. A wonderful reference that every cartridge (or gun) collector should have!

Volume 3 will be another long awaited treat for us…someday!



As Guy explained, in 1882 the rifle cartridges were loaded with the 500 grain bullet. The carbine continued to be loaded with the 405 grain so there was a difference between the two, enough to tell them apart, but Frankford continued to use the old headstamp with an “R” and a “C”. But in 1886 the carbine bullet was seated deeper in the case so there was no mistaking them and no longer a need to have a “C” or and “R” in the headstamp.

Early cartridges with no headstamp cannot be IDd once they are out of the box. They used the same case and bullet and only the powder charge was different. The very first carbine cartridges had a US CARBINE heastamp but they were short lived and soon recalled so you won’t encounter one very often. When you do, you’ll find the price of a single cartridge more than most collectors are willing to pay.

I probably have a photo that I can post tomorrow - unless someone else has one handy right now.



Is it possible to sort out the unheadstamped rifle and carbine cartridges by weight, or does the weight of the extra wads in the carbine load make up for its reduced powder charge?


I was wondering about the possibility of weighing them myself? Good point about the wads though. I hadn’t thought about that. The wads could possibly weigh more than the powder they displace.


I suppose if you had enough verified samples to weigh it may be possible to establish some sort of difference. But, don’t forget, the case itself was modified a couple of times in order to address the weak rim problems, the number of wads was not always the same, and some of the carbine cartridges used a lining rather than wads.

According to Pitman, the very early cartridges, with the narrow primer crimp, weighed about 615 grains for both the rifle and carbine. The later, wide crimp, weighed about 627 for the rifle and 625 for the carbine. Hardly enough difference to base anything on and I believe he weighed only one cartridge of each.

Sounds like another research project for some young enthusiastic collector.




Found this photo. Not my best work but it’s all I got.

left to right:

  1. Narrow crimp, rifle or carbine?
  2. Wide crimp rifle
  3. Wide crimp carbine
  4. 1882 rifle
  5. 1882 carbine
  6. 1886 rifle
  7. 1886 carbine
  8. 1888 brass rifle
  9. 1888 brass carbine


Thanks for posting that photo. Nice set.