Please help with Spencer headstamps and dates


I have several spent casings and some that are not spent that I have found with a metal detector. I was hoping someone might shed some light on the dates/calibers and scarcity of the various headstamps I have.

The first is a group shot showing two sizes, a longer variety and a shorter variety with a complete cartridge showing what I think the empty ones onced looked like. Other two photos show the headstamps on the longer ones, and the shorter ones.



Jason–Click on the following for a complete list of Spencer headstamps and their dates of use.

Jason–The longer ones are .56-50 or .56-52 Spencer. I can’t tell from the picture which. They both used about the same case lengths. The difference is the .56-52 Spencer Rifle had a slight taper or necking to hold the bullet. The case is in the range of 0.918 to 1.030 inches.The .56-50 Spencer Carbine was more straight. Case length is about 1.008 to 1.183 inches. But, once fired I doubt if they can be told apart.

The shorter ones are .56-56 Spencer Carbine. Case length is about 0.875 inches.

Hi Ron,

Thanks alot!! I also have a buch with various patterns of tick marks, some like the unfired 56-56 and some with other patterns forming almost a sunburst pattern. What do the tickmarks represent?


The tic marks were caused by the tool that held the case during the process of turning the case mouth crimp. Here’s a picture showing the typical C.D. Leet tool marks on the head of the .56-46 Spencer cartridge at the top, and on the one at the bottom an example of where the tool slipped during the crimping operation, chattering around the base and forming the circular pattern.


OK, I’ve always been told that the tics were caused by the tool used to spin the case and distribute the priming mixture into the rim. Have I been mislead - again??

Just one more hour for you to wait. I’m too old to stay up until midnight so I’ll celebrate on EST and then go to bed. ;) ;)


Ray–I’m with you. I have always thought it was from the priming operation also. But, it appears that we are both wrong and Guy is correct. According to John Barber in his book “The Rimfire Cartridge 1857-1984”, he attributes the marks to the bullet crimping operation.

Ron & Guy

I’ll bow to the experts. But why would they need to spin the cartridge to crimp it? And how did they distribute the priming mixture into the rim?

Dang, but it’s hard to admit that Guy is right. ;) ;)


Ray–Yah, I know, it is hard to let Guy win, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and admit it.

The priming IS done by centrifugal force, but, evidently the case is held in a manner that does not leave any marks. Perhaps an expanding mandrill is used inside the case during the spinning operation.

Keep in mind that there wouldn’t be any resistance on the case when the priming is being spun into place in the rim, certainly nothing to cause the tool that is gripping the case to slip and cause the damage to the heads seen on the lower case in the picture. Regarding the crimping process, the Stetson’s patent that in shown on the early Winchester labels involved inserting a lead bullet into the case, and turning the cartridge against a cutter to make a thin groove in the bullet at the case mouth, forcing the case mouth inward to grip the bullet and smoothing the the cut lead over the edge of the case mouth. If you take a look at a random assortment of the large caliber rimfire cartridges, you’ll see that many of them have had the smooth crimp that results from turning, rather the segmented crimps that result from squeezing (would that be ‘swaging’?) the the case neck into the bullet.