Mystery Cartridge

A little about me to begin. I have been hunting, shooting, and interested in all things shooting since I can remember. I am pretty knowledgeable about most aspects of shooting so am not asking for help identifying an old 30-30 Win.

Today my son found a real mystery cartridge that I have not been able to identify. It was found in an area settled in the mid-1800s and the patina on the cartridge places it anywhere up to the 1870s. It is a quite old centerfire with no head markings. Primer appears to be a copper boxer type with a quite large firing pin indent. It is a bottleneck, rimmed cartridge measuring 0.94”long, inside neck 0.420, base of 0.485, and rim of 0.515.

Any ideas? I have been through all the literature on obsolete cartridges I can find and none fit the bill.


.38/40 WCF…bullet diameter was actually .400" or so, despite name
Head and rim diameters match, and Bottleneck also.

Doc AV

Welcome to the Forum.

I cannot help much other than to say this is not a .38-40 cartridge case.

The case length for a .38-40 = 1.3 inches not 0.94 inches

Full Box of .38-40 Caliber Cartridges for the Winchester Rifle Model 1873 | Cowan's Auction House: The Midwest's Most Trusted Auction House / Antiques / Fine Art / Art Appraisals (2012 auction)

Josh’s photo of the cartridge case in question

An older .38-40 Win. board dummy cartridge shown on the left in the photo below, from Guy Hildebrand’s website: THE CARTRIDGE COLLECTOR

A photo of the base of the unidentified cartridge case might help to identify the case.
I’m sure others will chime in on this unknown case.


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Thanks for the input. The 38-40 Win was one of my first thoughts but found the same information mentioned, too short. I am beginning to think this must be a short lived or proprietary round. It could essentially be called a 38-40 Win Short. It is shorter than most other cartridges out there and that has been one of the main hang ups.

One other idea is that it is a 38-40 that developed a weak spot where the base of the bullet ended or had a slight ring on the neck that eventually corroded through and fell off leaving it shorter…

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My younger son has a Model 92 in .38-40. I don’t collect .38-40’s so have no loaded cartridges. I do have going on 100 fired cases that we are saving for reloading some day. None are as old as the case in question, but I checked R - P, WRA and WESTERN cases. The shoulder begins at .94" so I would suggest that if Josh’s case is a broken .38-40, it would be only the lower portion of the case with no shoulder or neck remaining.


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Additional photos may help.
Case mouth, case head.