New research tool

I discovered a new research tool for identifying unknown headstamps… a tech-savvy 15 year old! I was going through some range pick-up brass yesterday and found a .38 Spl. with a new-to-me headstamp, “.38 SPL SB AF”. I figured it was either Santa Barbara or Squires Bingham, but what the heck was “AF”? Air Force? My 15 year old son asked what it was and I told him I was not sure. He said he could identify it for me using his computer. Thinking he had no chance with this obscure (to me) headstamp, I said “sure, go ahead!”. I’ll be darned if he didn’t find it in about three minutes! Santa Barbara, “AF” is a code for “86” (1986). He looked up the headstamp using Google Images, and sure enough, the headstamp, as typed into the search engine went directly to the AFTE website headstamp images page.

The unanswered question then is who was SB making 38 Spl. for in the 1980s and why the need to code the date? What was the original load?


So which is the new research tool…the AFTE or your 15 year-old???

According to a much better tool,, it is "Santa B

The information from the two sites is the same - the Spanish sight just uses the formal name, but the “SB” is usually referred to just as “Santa Barbara.”

However, I agree with Vlad - the Spanish site is considerably better than AFTE’s for the identification of headstamps, and other things interesting to collectors.

Agreed. I don’t even have the AFTE website in my “favorites” folder. I just thought it was interesting that a “google images” search yielded quick and exact results…


This is commercial ammunition, and commercial customers supposedly don’t need to know the date of manufacture. No factory dates commercial ammo (although exceptions exist). If that ammo was dated, older lots would probably collect dust forever in the dealers’ shelves, as everybody would stick to the more recently dated lots. (My two cents’ worth).

This system started in 1981 with the AA code. In .38 Spl I know of AA, AB, AC, AD and AF, plus BC. is a mixed bag. Interesting info along with pages where they refer to cartridges as “bullets”, and to bullets as “tips”.

Schneider is pretty correct when he mentions why commercial ammunition is not dated. Many people who own guns (the occasional hunter, people without much interest other than their self-defense gun, etc.) have a really wrong impression about the shelf life of ammunition. If ammunition was all dated, many customers would not purchase any ammunition dated even from the previous year. I had customers ask me if the ammunition they purchased six months earlier was still good! Aside from the caveats about poor storage and other corrupting influences, when I told them that properly stored and cared for ammunition, in the main, probably had a useful life of more than fifty years, they usually thought I was crazy. Most thought it was a couple of years, tops.

When we talk here of milsurp ammo in calibers like 308 and .223, we often see reference to people shooting ammunition dated in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Well, that ammunition, give or take a few years, is fifty years old now. Hard to believe, isn’t it, when some of us think of the 1960s as being about, well, like yesterday!

My understanding, is that Spencer ammunition, dating from our Civil war still works!

My understanding, is that Spencer ammunition, dating from our Civil war still works!


Sometimes it works. Sometimes it works. ;) ;)

Back when I was into reenactments there were guys who bought Spencer, 50-70, and 45-70 original ammo to carry in their belts and boxes. Some of them were curious and tried to shoot the stuff. Most of the 45-70 worked, some of the 50-70 fired, but the rim-fires didn’t do as well. They were all ruined in the process, of course.

I had one friend in Wyoming who wanted to see if the Springfield Carbines really did jam with the copper cased cartridges so he got a couple of boxes of the 1875 stuff and fired them through his carbine as fast as he could. None of them mis-fired or jammed. When he told me what he had done, I cried.

Most reenactors made replica cartridges from fired cases. Back then you could take a metal detector to the old firing ranges at abandoned forts and dig up empty cases by the bucket full.


Thank you sir, for this bit of knowledge. The next 42 round packet I sell for $50.00, I won’t guarentee to shoot! :)

A few years ago, I visited a well known movie props company in England that provided the guns for Saving Pirvate Ryan, built the modified C96 Mausers for one of the Starwars movies, and many other movies. I had the chance to dig through the magazine where they stored their blank ammunition and found lots of interesting stuff. I was surprised to see thay had large quantities of some rimfire blackpowder blanks from the 1870s-1880s, still in their original cases and packets. I questioned whether they worked and was told that they had few problems with them!!!