IDing makers of unheadstamped centerfire cartridges

I’m looking for reliable guidelines or pointers for identifying manufacturers of early unheadstamped American-made centerfire cartridges? Some are easy to identify, such as the cartridges of USC Co that have Farrington primers with the raised spot. Most, however, tend to be more of a challenge, and end up going into the collection with maker unknown or questionable.

There’s been some work done on rimfires - what about centerfires?

Non-Farrington USC Co cases have a very rough primer pocket that almost looks like it was formed by sand casting with coarse sand. If I can see it, you’ll recognize it once you notice it.

I suggest we start a photo gallery of heads with no headstamp that have been positivly identified. I suggest 300dpi scans.

Great idea. We would need to set some rules regarding what a positive identification is. Obviously, the most positive would be a cartridge that has just been removed from a sealed box prior to being photographed; anything less than this results in some uncertainty.

Guy–Yes, that would be the gold standard. I would not limit this to old US rounds either. It should be open to any year and country. As for some standardizing, I would suggest the following naming for the scans:

Abbreviated Company Name-Case Type


UMC-.42 Berdan
Win-.50-70 Govt
USCCo-.45-70 Govt.
West-.38-40 WCF
Peters-.45 ACP
FA-.30 Carbine
E.Rem-.50-70 Govt

I had suggested American as these are the cartridges that I primarily collect, and about which I have the most information. I have no problem opening up the discussion to all nationalities, however, as I have many of them that are unidentified, also.

Time period??? “Old” means different things to different people.


I think Guy’s suggestion is very apt because headstamping is so uncommon on American centerfire cartridges in the first twenty years or so (say 1866-1884) of their production. Before the end of the 1880s headstamping had become common, and once USC came on board in the early to mid-1890s it was nearly universal. JG

Ray–I don’t think we need to concern ourselves with defining “old” in this context. There are lots of “new” (Last 20 years) cartridges, especially military, that are without headstamps for one reason or another. Many of these can be identified by other characteristics, such as primer type, PA color, case mouth or bullet tip color, etc. We should include these as well as the “Older” types.

I agree with not limiting them to ‘old’ cartridges. As has been pointed out, unheadstamped cartridges of recent make are relatively uncommon, and we should be trying to identify these also.

I just thought of another rule we should adopt for this project. Only one headstamp per post. This will make it easier to find things with the search function instead of having a bunch of them all in a single post.

Ron et al. - if you include modern and foreign unheadstamped rounds, I hope you understand you are talking about a medium sized book of single thread postings. While I don’t have time to participate right now, I have dozens of unheadstamped auto pistol rounds of known manufacture, either country or even down to factory.

Any such study should include a profile shot of the cartridge itself, as sometimes IDs have been made on bullet ogive, and other features of the cartridge, initially. That gave the ability to confirm the identities.

I think this should be a project for a special edition of the Journal, or a monograph, although it seems the gloassary of ammunition terms in foreign languages totally died! A shame.

I agree with John regarding including a profile of the cartridge, as this gives a better indication of the shape of the head and the rim that the photo or scan of just the head would not show.

Between trying to get some chores completed around the house this weekend and watching over the grand daughter, I hope to get pictures posted of 15 to 20 identified unheadstamped cartridges from my box collection. I’m not sure if I understand what you are suggesting with this; is the plan to start a new thread with each identified cartridge, or to put them on this thread, one cartridge per post?

Also, if the data base of identified cartridges is going to be useful, we need to ensure that the pictures are uploaded to a site where they will not be deleted at some point, as often occurs with the pictures here. Otherwise, our efforts will be pointless. I would be willing to consider putting them in a directory on my web page, unless someone has a better idea.

Your friendly neighborhood webmaster would like to see this proceed as a
"Guide to early U.S. Centerfire Cartridges without headstamps"

Post the photo on this thread with the ID.

i will take a bunch off this thread when there are enough (say 12 for starters) to turn it into a “guide” on the main IAA site. Additional submissions and corrections/comments will be welcome at any time.


John S–That all sounds good to me with the exception of limiting it to a "Guide to [color=red]early U.S.[/color] Cartridges without headstamps"
I still think it should just be a guide to all unheadstamped rounds regardless of case type or age or country.

Ron- Let’s keep this at the INTRODUCTION level with the most likely to be encountered examples. I will accept non-U.S. made submissions, and of course U.S. ammo made for the export market, but prefer to try to cover the COMMON U.S.types first.

I do not what this to get way out in the weeds with the only known example of the Slobovian experimental whatever made for three days. Save that sort of stuff for the Journal, or after we get the basic set of stuff pretty well

This is NOT intended to be the world’s definitive page of everything, just a guide to cover the most common types. At least for now.

I have edited the guidelines to add note on characteristics that help with ID.

I believe we should limit this to cartridges that fall into the first two levels of confidence that John listed. I’d prefer to not include best guesses and unknowns. Should someone wish to post a picture of an unknown, it should be done on a separate thread.

Guy–I would agree that the last two categories should not be used, but I think category C could be used. There are many cartridges that a sealed or open box just does not exist. However, there are some real experts out there that we can rely on to be correct in an ID based on the cumulative evidence of the overall “Look” of an item. I do think that the basis of the ID should be indicated with each submitted item. If it is based on some “Expert” as the source of the ID, he should be identified.

Guy–I have had second thoughts about the last category “Unknown”. As long as a submitted item is clearly listed as unknown, it, at least documents the item. Some collector that may see it and know for positive who made it, but just never realized that most of the rest of us did not know. He can then provide the information.

I still think item “D” should be eliminated.

Okay- Let see some photos and ID’s on here!