Many believe that ammunition becomes inert through age. This is not true. Sellers on Ebay who have been mailing US CIVIL WAR ammunition found this out the hard way recently when they were visited by postal inspectors. Black powder does not become inert by age. In most instances it becomes MORE EXPLOSIVE as it powders from age. I have set off .46 Rem RF cartridges manufactured by my family in the 1860s with no problem . Removing the powder and dropping a match into a pile of it is a real surprise. IT EXPLODES ! Shells which have been burried in the gound since the Civil War have exploded and killed people in several instances after the content dried sufficiently. The EOD men all over the world will tell you that old ammunition can kill you. Cannon ball fuzes which have shown up by the packet in recent years are also not inert. They are wood dowels filled with black powder. These are a FEDERAL FELONY to send by mail. Postal inspectors have very little sense of humor when it comes to this.
Thanks for the reminder, Doc.
Europe is still digging up significant quantities of dangerous old UXO.
I have been quite annoyed by people selling Civil War era cartridges on eBay, since I have quite a few totally inert dummies that I an not allowed to list. I think a possible reason that black powder increases in power with age, if kept dry, is that it starts out as a simple mechanical mixture of three solids, which may diffuse into each other over a long period of time and thereby become more thoroughly mixed than when the powder was originally manufactured. The priming compositions, and smokeless powders, are made of more complex organic compounds that break down as they age, so the primers MAY fail to fire, giving the impression that the cartridges are inert.