Black powder 32-20 ammo?

I recently traded into a Smith & Wesson Model 1905 (4th Change) chambered in 32-20. It came with 16 loose rounds of similarly-aged, corroded, mixed head-stamp ammo. Having no other 32-20 brass, I pulled the bullets with an inertial puller and de-primed the (probably) corrosive primers, so that I could clean and reload the cases and test fire the gun.

The bullets were 100-gr lubricated lead flat points. Fifteen rounds were head-stamped “REM-UMC 32 WCF” They were loaded with smokeless powder, which appeared to be Bullseye or similar.

One round was head-stamped “PETERS 32-20”. It was loaded with a compressed charge of black powder, which stayed in the case when the bullet was pulled, and had to be dug out with a bamboo skewer. Can anyone tell me when manufacture of Peters black-powder 32-20 ammo was discontinued?

As far as I can tell from the catalogs I have, 1899 seems to be the last year and 1900 they offered both smokeless and semi smokeless in 32-20.

Thanks. In 1899, the primer was certainly corrosive. As a gun collector who accumulates odd lots of ammo in gun trades, I’ve come to the conclusion that corrosive-primed black powder ammo has an indefinite shelf life (see separate post.) That cartridge probably would have gone off.

I don’t think much early ammunition was loaded with mercury fulminate priming, but it had a reputation of having a short shelf life. I broke down some 19th century Frankford Arsenal black powder .45-70s once, and the BP was in a solid cake and could not be removed. Even so, it may have fired.

Dennis, circa 1975 a friend and I shot up several hundred rounds of Frankford Arsenal 1890 45-70-505 Ball. It all went off, shot accurately in our Trapdoor Springfields, and no problems with case cracks, splits or head separations. Yeah, I know… but back then, it was just crusty old attic-find ammo - somebody’s ancient relative bought it from Francis Bannerman circa 1910, for about a penny a round.

I haven’t done extensive testing by buying collectible ammo to shoot :-( but just shooting the oddments that sometimes come with the guns I buy. Based on that, it’s been my experience that American-made corrosive-primed ammo has a much longer shelf life than non-corrosive, both in G.I. and sporting ammo. G.I. ammo always goes off. Corrosive sporting ammo from the 1920s seems more likely to go off than 1930s/40s non-corrosive.

It could very well be that the powder was actually Semi Smokeless which looks very much like black powder and was compressed like b.p.

Semi Smokeless Peters ammunition was loaded up until about the mid 1930’s. The only reliable way to tell if it is Semi Smokeless would be to weigh the powder charge. Kings Semi Smokeless weighs 20% less by volume than b.p. does.


In every way except (of course) corrosion, Non corrosive primers were inferior to their corrosive forebearers but old antique weapons show the terrible toll that corrosion took on old guns. Virtually none are free of pitted barrels.

Its my experience that black powder always solidifies. The Potassium nitrate contains a percentage of water quite naturally and it migrates over the 100 odd years. also BP charges are routinely compressed which adds to the likelyhood.

Shooter would (and still do!) heat their BP in the oven to dry off the moisture held in the nitrate. Thats one for the Darwin awards.

I have dissected a number of original b.p. cartridges, mostly early 44-40’s along with some .38’s, 45 Colts & 45-70’s. I have found some specimens where the b.p. was
1.) pretty solid and had to be dug out
2.) loose and literally fell from the case, some of it even having been compressed .20+ inches for many years.

At least in the cartridges I dissected I would say the ratio was about 1/3 number 1 and 2/3 number 2.

There were many b.p. manufacturers in the U.S. back in the 1800’s, some of them produced products made with the highest quality components and others, less so.

My guess is that the higher quality b.p.'s did not solidify and the lower quality ones were more prone to.