Nickeling Self contained cartridge cases (when did it start)

I am trying to research when NICKELING brass self contained cartridges took hold commercially for resale.

Not 100% sure what you mean by self contained, but M-1873 Maynards are sometimes found nickeled.

Yea, that is what I seen nickeled and it got me started on basically when or who started nickeling cases (loaded or unloaded) for retail sales to the general public or law enforcement. I know a lot of brass was nicked for professional carry in leather cartridge belts to prevent verdigris. Seemed to be more prevalent in the 1920’s on-wards.

Nickeled cases were popular with buffalo hunters because of their resistance to corrosion, so their use goes back into the 1870s, at least, and probably into the 1860s. And, some of them may have been tinned or stannic stained rather than nickeled.


Thanks for that info Ray. Did not know that.

From my perspective I see it as a uniquely North American practice. Has anyone any British or European examples? The only examples I can think of would be .22RF cases and I am not sure of the motive there. That could be purely window dressing although feeding in autos I can see at a pinch. However, the big lump of lead on front rather negates that suggestion.

While nickel plating has been around in some form since before the Civil War, the technology for large-scale industrial application did not exist to any extent until later in the 19th century, when electrical generation became more common. Revolvers began to be nickel plated then. It still didn’t really amount to much as an industrial process until the period between WWI and WWII when most modern electroplating technology (both equipment and chemicals) was developed, not only for nickel but also other metals. For example, decorative chrome plating was not used in the automotive industry until the late 1920s.

I doubt that many cartridge cases were nickel plated until the 1920s, primarily because practical methods for producing large quantities of small nickel plated parts (such as barrel plating) were not perfected until then, again mainly due to the needs of the automotive industry. Regarding nickeled .22 cases, I have always believed the reason for plating was purely decorative rather than to prevent corrosion.

Dennis, thanks for the insight. I agree as previous stated the 20’s on-wards seemed to be more prevalent for nickle plating. I do still believe that a lot of brass was nicked for professional carry in leather cartridge belts to prevent verdigris.

Thanks for the comments everyone. I think this satisfies my curiosity.

Starting with the 1930’s high pressure pistol cartridges such as the .38 Super ACP and the .357 Magnum, the primary reason, or at least I have been told by several gunsmiths, is that a nickeled case has more lubricity or smoothness and they extract easier after being subjected to the higher pressures. The nickeling served a secondary purpose of identifying the higher pressure loads in similar rounds such as the .38 ACP and the .38 Super ACP. I think this practice got it’s start in the modern era with these two rounds.

I do agree with the use of nickeled cases in .38 Spl. and .45 Colt as anti-verdigris in leather cartridge belts.

As I said earlier, many of the early “nickeled” brass cases were actually tinned or stannic stained. This is a relatively simple process not requiring any sort of special set-up or electrical gizmos. Early tinned military rifle, carbine, and revolver cases were intended to prevent the accumulation of verdigris due to leather cartridge belts and to prevent the bad reactions from contact with black powder and mercuric primers. They worked as intended.

Tinned cases did not hold up under repeated reloading but that was not a big concern with military cartridge cases. It was a problem with commercial cases that may be reloaded hundreds of times and so nickled plating was preferred.


I think the casing I seen was possibly stannic stained, as stannic stained can have a very bright and shiny appearance almost like chrome sometimes. Nickel usually looks more like highly polished silver wear. More of a whitish color. I think Ray is on to something.

Nickel plating was used fairly frequently in American everlasting drawn or turned brass cartridge cases beginning in the late 1870s; nickeling isn’t seen, as far as I know, in the UMC type folded head cases. Probably the plating of the everlasting cases was a notion picked up from the Maynards Pete has mentioned. It also shows up in the 7.5 m/m Swiss 1911 match cartridge cases of a certain period. Jack

My only experience with tinned cases involved efforts to reload some 19th Century .45-70 Frankford Arsenal cases quite a few years ago. The cases were extremely difficult (in fact nearly impossible) to resize, and most of them split on the first firing. Whether that was the result of the specific brass alloy used or the tinning I have no idea. These were not fired cases, but rather a group of duds which I disassembled. So the resizing difficulty should not have involved mercuric priming.


The tinning on the inside of a black-powder case was not expected to last more than a couple of years, maybe five at the most. By that time, the powder would have devoured the tin and then chemical reactions would take over. After 100 years, who’s to say exactly what caused the condition that you describe.


As I remember, these FA cases were dated in the early 1890s. I was surprised that modern Large Rifle primers fit the primer pockets perfectly. As I said, I remember about all of them split longitudinally after one or two reloadings, so they are all long-gone. The brass was extremely hard. I think the black powder was just a hard cake inside, and I had to pick it out.

Dennis: What is now called the large rifle primer in this country was developed by WRA in the late 1870s and within a few years displaced competing designs by USC, UMC, and others. It was used by Winchester to load .45-70 cartridges for government contract no later than 1879. Winchester also developed the small (rifle and pistol) primer a few years earlier. The firm’s identification for their iteration of the basic Boxer primer type was initially no. 1 for the small primer and no. 2 for the large. Several years ago a friend gave me a batch of pre-1900 .45-70 brass he’d been loading before Santa brought him a quantity of newly-produced cases and among them was a very early unheadstamped WRA case which he had been loading with modern large rifle primers, just as the makers had intended over a hundred years before. Some things just don’t change a whole bunch. Jack

Re Nickel plating, it was NOT just a North American thing.
The 1882 Kynoch catalog states "Any of our cases may be had Nickel plated at extra cost"
I have here Brit shotshell cases from 1881 Nickel plated.
Jim Buchanan

[quote=“ArmourerJim”]Re Nickel plating, it was NOT just a North American thing.
The 1882 Kynoch catalog states "Any of our cases may be had Nickel plated at extra cost"
I have here Brit shotshell cases from 1881 Nickel plated.
Jim Buchanan[/quote]

Thanks for the info Jim!