56-50 RF question


Did Frankford Arsenal manufacture? Who were Army contractors that made it, and about when?


From what I’ve read besides a lot of Spencer Blanks manufactured in 1870 by Frankford Arsenal, the only 56-50 Spencers manufactured by Frankford and Springfield Arsenals were experimentals.

Contractors that produced 56/50 were C.D. Leet (C.D.L), Sage Ammunition Work (S.A.W), Crittenden and Tibbals, Fitch, Van Vechten & Co (F.V.V.&Co.) Jacob Goldmark (J.G.) and Sharps and Hankins.

C.D. Leet delivered the first shipment of 56/50 on April 7, 1865. The remaining orders were delivered in 1865 and 1866.


edited spelling error (Goldmark)


How do people know this stuff? Thanks. I’m writing a small historical treatise on the post-civil war military Spencer, and I wanted to get the ammunition details correct. I knew about C. D. Leet and Sage, but not the other contractors, or that Frankford and SA made none. Weren’t the cartridges usually shipped in cartons containing six packets of seven? I saw one of those once.


The 56-50 actually came too late to be used in the 2nd War for Independance. It, like the 56-56 before it and the 56-52 after, often came in small cartons, usually of seven cartridges, the magazine capacity of the Spencer. These, in turn, were kept at the ready in a variety of Cartridge Boxes and Pouches. In addition, some Cavalry units were equipped with the Blakeslee Carbine Box, a leather covered wooden box that held 7 to 10 removable tinned tubes, each holding 7 cartridges that could be quickly loaded into the magazine. The Blakeslee could be attached to the waist belt or slung from the shoulder.

Spencers were still used as the primary weapon in some Cavalry and Infantry Regiments as late as 1869. Company D, 7th Cavalry, showed 4 Carbines still in use in June 1874.


Back in the 60s and 70s I was collecting US Martial Arms and ammunition and I was also real big into re-enactments, especially CW and IW Cavalry. We learned about original equipments and accoutrements the hard way - a lot of research - which wasn’t easy in those days before the Internet and Google. We also made all of our own equipment because there weren’t the many businesses that make stuff to order like there are today. One buddy and I each had a Spencer Carbine, among other firearms. I made replacement breech blocks that allowed us to use center-fire blanks made from shortened 50-70 brass. For looks, we carried original cartridges, but they were much easier to find, and a lot cheaper too.



I highly recommend IAA member Roy Marcot’s definitive book “Spencer Firearms” which extensively covers all of the U.S. made guns (carbines, rifles, sporting arms and his later pump shotguns) and the carbine ammunition, and also the licensed (and otherwise) copies made in Europe.

Like all of Roy’s books, it is comprehensive, well researched, solidly documented, and well written with plenty of good pictures.


Mr. Goldmark was Joseph; his brother (for those interested in musical history) was the composer Carl Goldmark. Much of the product of C.D. Leet was unheadstamped but can often be identified by the presence of a pair of tool marks on the head of the case. The Spencer blank produced by FA in 1870 was identified as .50 caliber but it’s actually a one inch long affair that would also chamber in the earlier .56 caliber arms. We really need a good basic reference on pre-1880 American military small arms ammunition in the worst way. Jack


There are many reference sources, including official documents, that are available to anyone interested enough to dig them out one at a time. Unfortunately, the number of serious collectors interested in this stuff is not not very big, and getting smaller, so anyone taking on the task of compiling a basic reference would be doing it mainly for his/her own personal satisfaction.




Ray: Actually my keyboard ran away with itself; I should have said metallic cartridge SAA, and the period 1855 to 1880 is only a quarter century. The muzzle-loading period seems pretty well covered, tho my modest level of interest probably prejudices me. Jack