Early .38 rimfire hollow heel based metallic cartridge?

Newbie here just wanted to say what an awsome site this is. Very informitive and great responses for everyone envolved. Being a rookie I’ts nice to be albe to read the old posts and pick up on a ton of respected information. A few questions I was hoping to gain some insight on would be much appreciated.

Hello. My name is Tom Gorey. I live in Columbus Ohio and have recently been studying the history of firearms. I hope you don’t mind my asking you a few questions. Lately my focus has been on the early cartridge revolvers and cartridge conversions. A quick question for you regarding the ammunition used in the first .38 rimfire cartridge revolvers, namely the Prescott and Bacon revolvers. I am aware that the Rollin White/Smith and Wesson patent put an end to the production of these revolvers but am of the understanding that the few hundred/thousand that were made between 1861 and 1863 were used throughout the Civil War. My question is this: Who produced these cartridges that fired in these guns??? Leet? Ethan Allen? The gun manufacture? In what quantity where they available in the time frame mentioned above? Did Smith and Wesson produce their own ammunition for their .22 and .32’s or did they rely on outside sources? Might you be able to suggest a good book on historical ammunition? I do have a copy of The American Cartridge by Suydam but I was hoping for something a little more extensive. Also, since I have the ear of multiple experts per se, I have read that the bullets in the early rimfires where heeled based. Some references say that heel based diameter is the inside of the case and some say it’s the outside of the case. I’m a little confused. The .22 long is heel based flush with the outside diameter of the case and seated and sunk into the brass somewhat, right? Whereas these old rimfires where crimped right at the base of the heel on the inside diameter of the case… Maybe you can shed some light on this for me?

I am currently reading A Study of Colt Conversions and other Percussion Revolvers. It’s great stuff! McDowell says in it “Compiled by the Chief of Ordnance stating that a total of 16,958,799 Army size pistol cartridges of .46 caliber were on hand, consisting of 1,955,783 in the hands of troops and another 15,003,016 stored at Arsenals and Armoires.” Obviously for the Remington New Armys. Interesting that they had so many on hand right before the Rollin White patent was to expire. He goes onto say that “Many collectors and historians are of the opinion that the government was secretly engaged in the use, fabrication and/or purchase of both Remington and Colt Conversions before the expiration of the White Patent.” So who made all of these .46 rimfires???

What I’m really getting at here is that I know it was possible for a Master Smith in the field with the proper tools and parts to convert percussion revolvers to fire metallic cartridges during the War, in fact in some of the literature I’ve been reading says they are a few known examples from that time period known to exist, however, it all really comes down to the availability of the ammunition to make it feasible to use such a gun during that time period in the War.

Would it be, in your opinion, plausible, even remotely, for a private gunsmith to take, say, a .36 cal. Navy Colt with a newly bored out cylinder to except these .38 rimfire cartridges for the Prescott or Bacon revolvers in 1862? When did these rimfires first come onto the scene? In what quantity and who made them?

Thanks for your time and I really enjoyed finding your website. It’s excellent and very informative.

Looking forward to your responses.

A Big Fan…

-Tom Gorey


Welcome to the forum.

The cartridge normally associated with the Prescott revolver is a 38L RF with a shorter than normal bullet. This same cartridge has also been recently associated with the Spencer Rifle (“Spencer Rimfire Cartridges” by R Marcot). I’m not sure who made the first 38L rimfire cartridges. Civil War era companies that manufactured them include CD Leet, CTM, Ethan Allen and Smith Hall and Farmer and possibly others. I would think any of the 38 RF series of cartridges could have been used in the Prescott or Bacon revolver. The only limiting factor would be the cylinder length.

A good reference book on early rimfires and all of the different company histories is “The Rimfire Cartridge” by John Barber.

It gives a history of S&W cartridge manufacturing. Stating from 1857 to 1869 S&W kept strong control over the manufacturing of cartridges. From 1857-1860 control was direct and from 1860 to 1865 or 1866 with Leet and in 1865 with Smith, Hall and Farmer.

Another good reference on Civil was era cartridges ammunition and guns is Dean Thomas series “Round Ball to Rimfire”.


Tom: If you’ll check out “Heeled bullet” on Wikipedia there’s a good discussion of what this term means, how it evolved and its implications for cartridge design. Most people at all seriously interested in 19th century metallic cartridge firearms and ammunition are familiar with this topic, but it’s hard to find a systematic discussion of what it’s all about. Jack