History of Proof Cartridges


Stonewall’s post asking for pictures of proof cartridges and boxes has got me thinking about the history of proof cartridge marking systems.

While I do not collect Proofs as anything other than just another cartridge, I am interested in marking systems for different classes of load types, such as AP, Incendiary, etc. through out the world. I think it would be interesting to compile a list of the methods of identification of Proofs of all types, especially Non-Military types, and to determine when they were used. For instance, when did the U.S. Commercial companies change from the blackened case (which is now often used to identify a Dummy) to the tinned case (which was used to identify a Dummy at the time that the Black case was a Proof load) with a red or magenta bullet and head. I suspect this change took place in the 1950’s, but I am not sure exactly when.

S.A.A.M.I. was established in 1926. Was that when the blackened case for commercial proofs was first used? Before that, how did the commercial companies mark their proof loads. There is quite a bit of information on Military proofs, but I have read very little about commercial proofs in general.

Until the advent of Smokeless Powder, was there any way to make a proof cartridge with Black Powder other than by increasing the bullet weight?

What is the current C.I.P. standard marking for Proof Loads?

While we often talk about “High Pressure Test” (Proof) loads, there are also “Low Pressure Test” loads for testing the functioning of Semi-Automatic and Full Automatic weapons. How are these marked?

I think this could make an interesting article for the IAA Journal.


"What is “proof” ? ( like the question, “what is truth”, or “to be or not to be”.

It means different things in different countries, usually with the same outcome, that is, to assure the Fire-arm is “Fit for the Purpose” for which it was constructed, and not liable to injure the user.

IN the US, it generally refers to “over proof” or High pressure" proof ( “Blue Pill” in vulgar jargon)…in Britain it usually refers to “Service proof” ( the normal load used in the gun, but with a greased case); this may be substitiued by a Over-proof test of 30% above normal operating Pressures. European proofing houses use various methods, most of which are between the English and the American systems.

Special “proof” cartridges…the Military have always developed their own "proof " cartridge, usually Over-proof ( 30% is the Norm) and marked the cases accordingly…some countries actually tested the barrel Blanks before rifling and final profiling, as well as testing the Finished firearm.

Case markings were usually a combination of Coded headstamps ( “Q” in British use, Asterisks in Italian use, “probe” in German etc. as well as case colouration ( Red laquer or copper wash with British Military; Chemical Blackening for some US,) and so on.

Then the methods used…the US used Sample proofing of rifles ( a statistical sample was picked at random at the end of each day’s production at SA, and given the whole range of tests.)…The Germans , instead, for many years did a “One on One” proof and test firing. The Italians proofed both the Barrel Blanks and the finished firearms ( two separate cartridges.)

The British used the “service” proof for both Military (in House) and also commercial ( Proof Houses…London and Birmingham, for those guns “in trade”; Over-proof testing was done statistically on Military rifles in House. (in later years)

As to Black powder barrel proofing, two methods were used, often in combination…finer grain Powder charges, instead of the standard, coarser charge, and heavier (or several) Lead projectiles (for the Muzzle loaders, and also for cartridge Guns.)

There is still a lot to be revealed about Quality assurance, whether in the Gov’t controlled and mandated European system, or the more laissez-faire US system. A lot of the info is now buried in Archive ( Proofing has a long history, the first British Proof Law dates from 1813, french Military proofing from before the Revolution, and unified shortly after it; The belgians had “Liege proof” well before Belgium became a Nation ( 1830); The italian National proof House only came into effect in the beginning of the 20th Century, as a controlling entitiy. before that it was more of a “commercial qualtiy control” for the Brescian Gun makers. The German proof houses Unified only in 1891, with a unified Prussian proof Law, but had been in existence for many years before that.

It can be said that the high volume of repetition manufactured guns engendered by the Napoleonic wars, caused a centralised quality assurance system to become necessary.

I think it will take a lot of Historical research, in several European languages, to come up with a real “History of Proof”…maybe even the theme of a PhD thesis in History of Engineering???

Doc AV
AV Ballistics.


In addition, I see no reason not to include Helmet Test Proofs, as they fulfill the same function as all the other proof types; quality assurance and control.


It would also be nice to learn something about the testing itself, for excample, are they only firing one round pr gun, are they testing every gun, or will those tested have any kind of damage after being submitted to this test? And what will happen if I try to shoot a proof round in my rifle?

I guess different manufacturer have different kind of testing, but if anyone knows, please share the knowlegde.


Well, we’re back to losing answers. For the second time today, this time with a very, very long answer to the Proof cartridge questions, I hit the submit button and promptly lost my entire answer. The first one was not important so I didn’t bother with it. I spent almost a half hour on the other one, and cannot take the time to repeat it. I had hoped this exasperating problem had been solved, since it has not happened to me in some time.

I will make just one comment to one question from PSG1 - do NOT shoot proof loads in your firearm. It is not a sensible practice by any stretch of the imagination. What will happen? Maybe nothing. Maybe a blown-up firearms that leaves you with a financial loss and perhaps severely injured.

John Moss


W. W. Greener’s THE GUN AND ITS DEVELOPMENT has an entire chapter on THE PROOF OF GUNS.

Interesting reading. In fact, the entire book, 800 pages, is almost required if you are to graduate from Cartridges 101. JMHO

John, you need to get in the habit of using a word processing program to compose your posts. Then copy and paste. It’s saved me countless hours of grief because I still encounter the same problems as you, not only when posting but also when trying to edit a post. It’s not unique to this Forum, BTW.




I sent you an e-mail with details on the following.


Using a word processor program has its advantages but a “COPY” done on a post (right where I’m typing now) works well too if done before a preview or submit. If it goes “poof”, just “PASTE” it back in. Saves some hopping around needed when generating them on another program.




You are right. “Copy” just before you try to submit is always a good idea. But, very long posts are best composed on a word program and when editing them, it’s almost mandatory. I’ve found that any post that exceeds the size of the window is a real PITA when it comes to editing. Clicking on anything outside the window will cause the text to “jump” to another location, taking the cursor along with it. Does this happen to anyone besides me???



[quote=“RayMeketa”]W. W. Greener’s THE GUN AND ITS DEVELOPMENT has an entire chapter on THE PROOF OF GUNS.

Interesting reading. In fact, the entire book, 800 pages, is almost required if you are to graduate from Cartridges 101. JMHO


Hello Ray,
In my humble opinion, British proofs are not what we can call “the best of” proof rules.
Greener book neither (many errors not corrected despite many editions)

The Birmingham gun proofs rules are indeed not strict at all :

  • first by themselves (if a barrel becomes greater after the proof test you are allowed to change the stamp on the barrel, thing which is strictly forbidden by french or belgian rules),
  • second by their definitions (is considered as a 4 gauge for exemple any 4 and 6 gauge, same spread about the other gauges, the best being for 32 gauge which is allowed to start to 30 to finish to 38 !),
  • and endly by the units (which pound do you use ?) (don’t worry too much about the value, whatever the definition you choose it will be not good because they didn’t update the dimensions!!)

Concerning ctges it is worse !
a) They decided to normalize all the shotguns chambers, which is a very good thing because they had two standards (at least).
It happened in 1900.

b) Gun manufacturers and ctges manufacturers adopt the rules for 12, 16, 20 gauges and were ready to adopt the other gauges when Greener entered the game and decided to change all !
This gave the 1902 standardisation which was rejected by everybody (ctges manufacturers and gun manufacturers)

Because it was too crazy :

  • 5 gauge instead of 6 gauge,
  • ctges shortened to 63.5 when they were already 65 mm long on the market (I use the mm here because with British rules you never know if it is 63.5 mm (2 9/16) or 65 mm (2 9/16) because both are called 2 1/2 and furthermore as I said before you dont know which pound to use! !!)
  • chambers so different with the existing ones you can throw all the previous guns to the garbage
  • and so on

c) Obliged to restart again from the beginning, they decided a new normalisation in 1904.
And they must wait 1907 till it was effective.

I am talking here about the chambers normalisation, because about ctges there never was a normalisation of the dimensions, the guns and ctges manufacturers been unable to find a compromise, and this during 78 years!!
And they had to wait 1982 (when they joigned CIP) to have a normalisation of the ctges dimensions !!!

Therefore I think there are better rules about proofing ctges than the British ones




Your comments are noted. I never said that Greener’s work was flawless and the last word. But I stand by my statement that the book is one that should be in any cartridge collectors library and should be read by all.




Of course Greener books are to be in a personnal library if you try to have a collection of books talking about guns.
If it is a library dedicated to ctges you can forget them (in my opinion).

I have Greener books (many titles, and many different editions) in my library.
I bought them for two reasons : first because I din’t know what was inside of course and second because of the name “Greener” which is well known.

But, after reading them, I can tell you they are not by far the best ones when you are looking for accurate story and details
Too many errors and too much false things due to preconception.

After having read many US, German, French, Swiss books on shotguns and shotshells, I found many of these a lot more interesting , detailled and accurate.
But this is just my opinion.



One may download Greener’s books from the following site:
archive.org/search.php?query … %3Aamerica

While some posts here rely to historic situation, today there is no difference in proof procedure among states accepting CIP rgulations.

The whole CIP procedure is described in detail in the CIP regulations:
To dowload this zip -file you have to use a dowload manager program - it is not sufficient to dowload it directly.