Collecting by bullet type? Why or why not


As many of you know, I collect .38 Special. In addition to headstamp and case material, I have been collecting by bullet type. For example if two brass cases have the same headstamp, but different bullet types (i.e. FMJ v. JHP), I keep both.

What do you think of this practice?

Some days I like the idea of having several (many!) different bullet types for each headstamp, and other days I wonder if I’m just wasting my time, especially if the bullet is only different because it’s a reload.

I realize I can do whatever I want, but I want some input from the pros. Is there established protocol, or is everyone just doing what fits them best?


I think you are doing the right thing. But I have a question. How did you come up with 38 Special as a focus of your collecting? I don’t see anything wrong with it, just curious. I myself cannot come up with any focus, the only thing I know is that I gravitate to small calibre military ammo, because of history and personal relationship with humans in the battlefield. I don’t subscribe to “us vs shotshell” or “us vs airguns” etc doctrine. So how did you narrow it to .38 Spl? Would you forgo a nice unusual WWII 9mm box if you saw one at the show?


Rich–Personally, I am at heart a general collector. In other words if I don’t have it, I want it. Yes, I do have a few areas of more interest, 7.62x39, & .45 Colt, but if I find it interesting and affordable I will add anything to my collection. I have things fro .14 & 2mm up a 18CM Railway gun cartridge.

As for collecting different bullet types, especially if you specialize in one caliber, like .38 Special, I don’t understand why you WOULDN’T collect every load type. I ascribe to the theory, especially in my two specialties named above, to “If it is a visible difference, be it a different primer, bullet, cannelure or no cannelure on the case, etc., it is a different cartridge”. Yes, there are collectors, such as John Moss, who does not collect different dates on military headstamped rounds. He claims, and rightly so, that there is nothing to be learned from a 1970 and a 1975 dated cartridge if both are otherwise the same. But, each to their own. I like the completeness of collecting every date and difference.


Ron - but I do collect every other visual difference, including bullet types, seal colors or lack of seals, case materials, cannelures or lack of them, primer cup materials, primer markings or the lack of them, etc.

I would not, however, if I was the gentleman collecting .38 Special, collect bullet types that are known to him to be reloads. I see no point in that, myself. I could sit down with my auto pistol dies and load, myself, every bullet I could find or make into perfectly safe and shootable cartridge specimens, but to what end? However, if I did not have the headstamp, I would collect a fired case, a reload, a new primed or unprimed case, or a live round run over by a truck! They can always be replace later with a factory loaded specimen if one can be found. I have empty cases, though, fired or otherwise, where I have never had the opportunity to upgrade it, some having been held for years and years.

I used to break a known reload, collected by me simply for the headstamp, down to unprimed empty case, but I simply don’t waste the time doing that anymore, even though I still favor the practice of reducing reloads down to only known factory components - that means, usually, just the unprimed case. I simply don’t bother anymore.

I do lots of silly things, though, and admit it. I collect, for example, things like Swedish 9mm Blanks and Gallery loads by headstamp - absolutely meaningless since they utilized surplus and reject brass in the manufacture of them. I do this in many dummy round types as well. Very inconsistant of me, and I admit that.

You are dead on when you saw each person collects as he or she wants to and enjoys. If you don’t enjoy doing something in your collection, don’t do it unless the collection is a professional thing with you and the guidelines of that require it. For most, cartridge collecting is a hobby and should be enjoyed in every aspect. I used to enjoy cataloging each round when I got it - one could say that if your rounds are not catalogued, you do not have a collection but rather simply an accumulation. Yet, I have grown weary of all the clerical work I do despite ten years of retirement, and I have not catalogued a cartridge in my collection for going on five years now. All items since then are still upside down in my collection, my original way of keeping track of what still needed to be cataloged. The only exception is 9 x 18 mm Makarov, because for the last ten years or so, I have been making a special study of all things Makarov.

If there are 100 collectors, than there are 110 ways to collect.

John Moss


vlad, I guess you could say it was a practical decision. As I began to collect ammo, I had many different cartridges. Then, as I acquired more specimens (many from very generous IAA members and gun forum members) I noticed an abundance of .38 Special. Since I have relatively little money to spend on my hobby (I have 3 small kids, a wife, a big fish, and a crawdad to support!) I have to ‘choose’ what my priorities will be. Since I already had a head start on collecting. .38 Spl, I ran with it.

Then, you have the historical aspect of it. .38 Special has been around for over 100 years and is still a very popular cartridge. The variety of headstamps, bullet types, and case materials are almost infinite, and more are produced daily. The .38 Special has even produced offspring, in the .357 Magnum :-)

Anyhow, that’s why I collect .38 Special. And, yes, if I had the cash, and I saw a nice box or specimen at a show, I’d pick it up. I like what I like, but if money is an issue I stick to my specialty.

I think that just about sums it up right there. I have been doing exactly that. Since I’m sticking with primarily one caliber, I suppose it is important to find differences and highlight them in the collection. One of my goals is to create a mini-display of bullet types by headstamp. For example, in the “WINCHESTER 38 SPL” headstamp, I already have eight different bullets. There are probably lots more.

Thanks for the input, gentlemen.


Rich, I hear ya and I’m with you.

The main calibers that I collect are 9mm, 38Spl and 357Mag. Some may ask “Why?”. I do so because those were the the calibers that I first started shooting when I was old enough to buy my own handguns.

When I first started seriously collecting, I’d get ammo catalogs and write down each load that was cataloged. As time went by and new loadings were added to the company’s line-up, I’d add those rounds to my want list. My goal since the mid-80’s is to complete my “sets” of cataloged rounds from various manufacturers in my chosen calibers. (Finding the old “Frontier” headstamped rounds are the hardest for me).

I also collect sets of various handgun bullet designs in all calibers, such as: Winchester Silvertips, Platinum Tips, Ranger Talon/SXT, PDX1; Federal Hydra-Shok, Nyclads, EFMJ, HST; Remington Golden Sabers; Speer Gold Dot HP/SP; CCI Blazer aluminum cases, etc.

It gets mighty challenging (and frustrating) trying to collect a lot of the modern handgun rounds in all the different calibers when you don’t even have firearms chambered for those calibers, let alone have any shooing buddies that shoot calibers like the 45GAP, 44Spl, 41Mag, etc.

And it gets mighty expensive buying single boxes of ammo just to add one round to my “sets”, especially when I don’t even shoot those calibers. The recent box of Win’s 2nd Gen .32 Auto Silvertips set me back $35+change, and I don’t even have a .32 Auto! (Boy, I’m soo depressed now…).


Rich–I would agree with John Moss (and I meant to mention it in my original post) that collecting reloads (except as John outlined) is a pure waste of money and time. Unless it is a new headstamp, stick to factory loads.


Rich, I collect 9x19mm for much the same reason you collect 38 Special. For many years I moved often and had to move my own ammo. For years my wife put up with me loading both cars down with ammo (I still had a “trading stock”) as we moved from State to State. Mobility, space and cost limited my collection, but I did collect every variation including date and bullet variations. I also collect boxes

I agree with Ron and John on reloads, but it is difficult sometimes to draw the line. I have some reloads where the bullets are interesting or unique. There have been companies that use fired brass to produce their own loads with unique characteristics. These I collect. I will also pick up pick up boxes from companies that do reloads so I have a record of the company, as well as boxes from companies that reload new brass produced by others, but with ordinary bullets. It is surprising how often these guys will produce a load now and then with their own headstamp, and without my boxes from reloaders or third party loaders (guys who load but produce neither bullets or cases) I’d never know who they were.

I agree with the others, collect whatever interests you. In fact, if reloads interest you, collect them! It is your collection and you don’t have to answer to anyone else, except your wife, about what you collect.




“. . .collecting reloads is a pure waste of money and time . . .”

I have a partial box of 40-90 Ballard Everlasting cartridges that are obvious handloads from the late 1800s, and a couple of boxes of 25 Roberts cartridges that may have been loaded by Ned Roberts hisself. Or my 219 Donaldson Wasp that came from old Harve. And, my pride and joy, a couple of 22 Carbine cartridges from the Gustafson experiments. So, should I toss them?? ;);)



My 2 cents to toss in is “collect whatever makes your boat float”…

Example…my frustration with accumulating the various color tipped “gun show”…”aftermarket”…”re-manufactured”…”hand loads” color tipped ,…rounds that other than pretty tips (always have beautifully “freshly” painted tips on them … see DK’s thread about the .30 cal “Raufoss”)…I still collect them.

The mere trials & tribulations of trying to inventory them will drive a man to drink…Lord Forbid my drawer gets scrambled…I would never ID a pretty blue tipped 45 from any other pretty blue tipped 45 as the H/S & bullet & “what ever” mean nothing once they are out of the box (or their tiny zip locked bag)

(yes I write a Sharpie inventory ID # on the casings…but you get my drift…)

Bottom line…I still collect them

(I am not 100% sure what is the limiting force in my collecting is…wife :)…$$$$…drawer space…or the time to inventory it ?)

Have fun


I began collecting pistol-caliber AP ammo as a focus and after a few years of that and getting together a pretty good type collection, I branched out into all specialty & oddball projectile types for pistol-calibers. This happened mostly because I wound up with a large lot of cartridges from one purchase and I had the framework of a small oddball tip collection started. At first with these types of cartridges I would just try to acquire one of each caliber for that manufacturer (KTW, THV, Arcane, Magsafe, etc…) and then later I would try to get all the various bullet style (metalurgy, ogive, grain weight) and projectile types. That is basically the essence of specialty projectile type collecting since few of the manufacturers had their own headstamp - they usually just used commercial brass of various types, so headstamp variation doesn’t matter much to me (yet). Today I find that while the collection grows I am still mostly in a projectile type collecting phase since there is so much out there. I only get into case, crimp, headstamp and other variations on Winchester & Remington metal piercing cartridges and also 9mm snap caps at the moment since I discovered one day that I had several variations, and now I build on that. I continue to stay away from most rifle caliber stuff due to cost and the scope of it since there is a great deal of military experimental stuff that is hard to find, and mine (pistol caliber stuff) are a little easier to find turning up on the auction websites and at shows since the pistol caliber specialty stuff was commercially available most of the time.


When I first started collecting cartridges, it was a general “Military” based collection (NO “sporting calibres”, or Military "sporting "Loads, unless it was a rare case headstamp of Military origin (ie, reloads).

When I got into Forensic Firearms examination, then the whole thing “Blew out” to include as many Bullet varieties as possible, along with headstamps…until I said “Whoa”!!! and began using the AFTE Database of cartridges ( headstamps and Bullet types) as a reference, and only “cherry picking” particular rounds of (Forensic) interest.

Now that I am winding down my cartridge collection, I don’t really know what I am collecting ( if at all). Last week I just gave out my 7,9mm collection to a friend to “break up” to various collectors in his locality ( My large .303 collection went several years ago…also to other collectors). I still have a large “Packet” collection (Mostly Military packets) but I have a cartridge dealer who has been chasing me for a couple of years for a go at them…

But funnily enough, the Images of both Packages and Headstamps are indelibly stamped into my Memory, ( although other things just wash away!!) so a lot of my collection is superfluous…I just “Know” it. And now there are excellent databases where one can research on the minutiae of particular cartridges ( case in point, USCCo 9mm in the 1920s) that a p[ersonal collection is not required.
For me, having had an example of a cartridge as proof of existance, is enough. Having printed proof is a further addition, so one could say I now collect Books on Cartridges.

Dispersing a collection in one’s life time is perhaps painful, but one is reasonably
certain where the cartridges end up. Once one is gone, anything could happen…the Garbage tip, the Destruction Fire, or simply “fired” off. It depends on others who may or may not know about cartridges.

Doc AV
AV Ballistics.



Good attitude. Ideally we all just take care of our cartridge for a while and then pass them on to others who will enjoy them as much as we do. If rare cartridges were not recycled, then there would be none for the new generation.

In reality there are more instances then I’d like to admit where rare things get pitched, or fired off or turned in to the police and destroyed.

Old firends have told me for years that my wife’s next husband is going to take my 9mm collection and fire it through my Luger pistol. I now have enough proof loads plus a Russian booby trap cartridge, so if this comes to pass, at least one person will find a surprised ending.

I have enjoyed my collection and over the next years have to decide how it should be spread out. There are as many strategies for that as there are for collecting in the first place.





Don’t spread out your collection - just load up a van with it, come out and visit me. We’ll drink lots of wine, bring the collection out of the van into my house (you wouldn’t want the van broken into), and then drink some more wine. Whern we get up the next morning, we’ll drink some more wine. Then, I’ll put your suitcase in the van for you, and then we’ll drink some more wine. By that time, you will forget that you ever had a collection, and drive off and leave it all at my house. Good plan? I think so.

By the way, like Lew, I don’t collect reloads but I will save a load with some bullet that I don’t have in any other factory load. I also collect the reload boxes, mainly so I will have a record of the company for my ammunition files.

Did I mention having another glass of wine?

John Moss



Lew can leave all that California-illegal stuff in a safe low-humidity collection somewhere in the far northeast U.S.! :-)


Nice to have friends!!!