Restorations and rebuilds

On another thread I discussed the rebuilding of a 37mm Hotchkiss cartridge. Toward the end, John Moss raised a very important point, one that needs to be discussed. Here’s John’s comment and my response.

I hope that these beautiful restorations will somehow be marked as such. When that gorgeous cartridge develops a patina over the years, it will become “real” otherwise. We are all just temporary caretakers for our collections, and someday they will pass out of our hands, at which time the knowledge of rounds being restorations will likely not pass with them. That is the on-going problem with heavy restoration and putting bullets in cases that they were not in originally.


Your concerns have certainly crossed my mind and I debate with myself about the ethics of restoring things such as artillery shells. A discussion of these things certainly belongs as a thread of its own because, being tacked on page 3, it’s not likely to get much notice.

I don’t think there is an easy answer. I believe that the large majority of artillery cartridges, cases, and projectiles have been restored, rebuilt, or renovated to some extent. Its a part of their very nature because its seldom that a collector can acquire an untouched specimen, especially as the calibers get larger. But without some restoration they are not much more than pieces of metal and it’s my own personal opinion that they deserve better.

A collector would not hesitate to reconstruct a 200 year old building, restore an 80 year old airplane, or rebuild a 50 year old automobile. But it seems that some things, such as firearms and cartridges, should not be touched, not even to stop rust or decay.

I doubt if anyone at an antique car show thinks that those 1955 Chevys are original or that the ENOLA GAY sits in the Smithsonian looking exactly as it did the day it was scrapped. I think that most knowing artillery collectors are aware of the same thing when they see that pristine 3"/23 WW I Shrapnel shell.

Don’t get me wrong. Restoration or rebuilding with larceny in mind is unethical and should not be tolerated by any of us. How to detect such shenanigans once the object changes hands is the question. I certainly do not want to take that 37mm Hotchkiss and engrave a warning label into the case or projectile. Any written warning can be easily discarded and provenance can work both ways.

So, what to do?? I certainly don’t have the answer. Maybe someone else does??


Why not engrave the base of the projectile to indicate it has been restored. Who knows, a Ray Maketa restoration might be a hot item in the not-too-distant future. Heck, I have a hankering for one right now.

I wouldn’t engrave a restored round. I would tell another collector that it was restored if I was selling or trading it.

I think learning how to spot restorations etc is part of the collecting experience and it comes with time as does spotting fakes…

The only time I get annoyed is when a round has been sold when the owner knew it was a fake.


I have done that very thing on projectiles that are seperate. Likewise, if I restore a cardboard box I paste a note inside with the date of restoration. But, the Hotchkiss projectile is seated in the case and not easily removable. Marks on the base would probably never be seen.

It just so happens that I have one of those Ray Meketa restorations just hankering to satisfy your hankering. Any particular caliber? I can custom make one tonight if it’s not in stock. :) :)


Thanks, Ray!!

I’ll take one of your .58 Gallager & Gladding restorations, or perhaps a .36 Cofer Revolver.

Yes, the question of what to do about these is very complicated and thorny. I have absolutely nothing against restorations of these big rounds, but then the question comes up, what about, say, a 9mm Pb cartridge. If we acquire an empty case with a good headstamp, should we reprime it, put powder in it, and put a bullet we think matches what that particular country normally uses (GM, GMCS, CN, CNCS, etc.). That would look nicer than the some 200 or so empty cases that are in my auto pistol cartridge collection, most fired cases. However, to what end? They are historical objects, whether empty or not. All we can learn from them about their history is what is original to them. Anything added is only for the eyes, not for the knowledge, although there is knowledge to be acquired for the restorer as he researches it, and that I admit.

Cars ARE restored, and probably rightfully so. But if one finds a cherry original Model A ford in some storage facility where a family put it 90 years ago, it should certainly be classed different than a restoration.

Guns are a problem too. I despise the practice of “minting out” a nice firearms simply becuase it has lost some bluing over the years. The obsession with mint guns, which by there nature have no history, is beyond me. That said, however, I don’t care much for reblues unless they are expert rtestorations. I would rather have the wear. A gun that is simply scarce, and is a total rusted out wreck, should, in my opinion, be left to the ravages of time. Something that is exceedingly rare, in a firearm, probably takes on more educational value if it is restored. Really, I suppose we could say that about shells like the one you restored - these big rouds are so complex, they are in a little different class than most small arms ammunition about what can be learned from this feature and that feature.

Please don’t take anything I have said, either here or my note on the other thread, as a complaint. We all have differing feelings about restorations. Some take them very seriously. The NRA has a Gun Collec tors Top Ten award at the annual Meetings and exhibits. For the first time in history, they have rescinded the award of one of the silver medals because it was found that the Marlin 1893 rifle that won it had been restored by Doug Turnbull, who is actually the one that broght forth the information that he had restored the rifle. So, one can see that restorations not properly identified as such are frowned on in the gun collecting crowd, for sure.
Frankly, when identified, I harbor no poor feelings about them, even though I would rather own a very clean, but finishless piece that I knew had been used somewhere (my preferences are 'Old West" .44-40 rifles and 20th century military arms) and therefore had some history even if I didn’t know that history, than for the mint piece that was never issued.

I don’t have an answer for how to insure that no restoration of any size or category is passed on as original someday. Most people who do restorations have no desire that they be touted as originals - that was the case with the first owner of the Marlin in question and the auction house that sold it and the man who restored it. Once it leaves the hands of the restorer though, then the questions begin.

I thought this question deserved to be brought up again, if for no other reason, than to remind us all that not every cartridge we find, or even that are in our own collections, are necessarily “factory original.” whether or not that matters to someone is up to that individual. I have a couple of well-known and documented replicas in my own collection - actually a heckuva lot more than a couple - I wasn’t thinking of all the Cartridge Club Annual Meeting cartridges I have, but they are all headstamped as replicas. So are my 39 BSA (no headstamped original is known to my knowledge) and my 10mm Mars (I don’t know if any original 10mm Mars cartridge is known).

I think, though, that it matters to all of us when we are sold a restored cartridge and told it is original. And therein lies the crux of the problem.

I personaly would like to see a restored, reproduction, or rebuilt cartridge marked is some permenent way. Doesn’t have to be branded with a hot iron in 3 inch tall letters, but perhaps a small / tiny “R” or whatever, etched under a rim or some not easily seen area. Same with the new wildcats that are being made, a knowledgeable collector will know the 1930’s era wildcat should not have an “R-P” headstamp, but the danger is that a young or inexperienced collector might pay big bucks for this rare “double shoulder Ackley” wildcat, (Sold perhaps by an ignorant, but not dishonest, dealer, or perhaps family member of a deceased collector. Price guides, as sparce as they are, do not note there might be fakes unless it is a very, very high value round.), only to find out later he bought a reproduction for what an original should be priced, and be soured on collecting bullets.
Another and very inportant reason for marking reproductions, rebuilds, or restorations & etc, is that when sold the buyer may very well have been told of the status, but when he sells or trades it the story might not be passed on, (through no fault of his own) and by then it might have enough missing paint or a patina to sell for a very high price.
What I’m trying to say is that good intentions are not the best way to prevent a fake, reproduction, rebuild, or restored cartridge from hurting someone down the road.
John Moss also brings up this problem in his above post.
As I see it, if its yours, you can do with it what you want. The problem arises later, and when it comes down to it we are just custodians, and it’s our job to ensure the honesty of our collectables.

I also have no answer to the question but one thing I would like to say.

If a restored item is getting a permanent marking (stamp, engraving or whatsoever) it will definately damage the item for all times.
What if someone wants to take apart such a restored item and even strip the new paint to have single components in his collection? (I DID THAT IN THE PAST)
He will end up with a case, fuze or projectile with a useless marking which ruined the item for ever without any good reason. Future historians may call one names for that.

So far most people with a good knowledge of ordnance were in most cases able to tell apart repainted from original items.
Besides all that, we here discussing this issue are about 10-50 people. Out there in the world are hundreds or even thousands of people which can not see a particular item not being shiny and polished and they do not follow our talk here. Will any of them care?

Also not to forget. Nowadays almost every collector is doing digital photography. Many items in originaly condition are getting photographed and stored on computers. It is unlikely tat all images in the world will disappear beacuse those having taken them are gone. Means that these images will be available to the interested community which should use them to make their own conclusions on items.

Of course there is no help for those who want to believe the item they bought 5 mins ago is wonderfull and praise the pristine condition etc., being enthusiastic, telling everyone and jumping around from happiness not noticing the still wet paint on their fingers…

Just my thought, don’t shoot me now.

Good comments by all. Hard to disagree or argue with any of them.

I collected Martial Arms for many years and had a very respectable collection before I decided to move on to other things. One aspect of “restorations” that was always a point of disagreement among arms collectors was one of timing. Pete kinda touched on it regarding wildcats. I completely agree with what he said BTW. Anyway, if someone had a nice Trapdoor carbine with a tang screw made from a bolt out of an Ace Hardware store, everyone agreed that it was totally unacceptable. But if that tang screw was an old rusty one that some sourdough had replaced back in 1888, why then, that was OK and maybe even added to the value. I did not necessarily agree with that opinion and always asked, “OK, give me a cutoff date when a replaced screw is proper vs when it’s not.” A lot of “Eeerrs and Aaahhhs” but rarely an answer.

The same can be applied to cartridges. If I have an original Everlasting case and I pour in some original black powder and seat an original PP bullet, what say you?? If a hide hunter did the same thing back in 1888, what say you then??

John, I think one of the big reasons for rescinding that medal for the Marlin had to do with the embarrassing fact that a lot of people, including some big-kid experts had been duped. And the value of the rifle plus the suspicion that it was done for monetary gain wasn’t lost on the judges. I’m sure there was a lot of teeth gnashing involved and they would rather that it could have been done more quietly, but somebody threatened to blow the whistle. But, I applaud them for rescinding it.


Ray - in the case of the NRA/Marlin medal, the auctioneer who sold it for the fellow who originally did the restoration offered it as a restoration, and it was him and Doub Turnbull who “blew the whistle.” I don’t agree it was embarrassment on the part of NRA - the only guy that should have been embarrassed is the guy who displayed it without mentioning restoration. I think NRA simply did the right thing when presented with the facts.

Regarding the thing about an fellow in the 19th century reloading a cartridge, and therefore is it a “restoration” etc, the firm answer is yes. It is not a factory load. Only the cartridge case has facotry-original significance. This doesn’t mean that the entire cartridge can’t have historical significance, and be interesting and of value to a collection. I have a .45 cartridge in my collection, along with the box, from the Armed Forces of the Philippines Reloading Factory. It is a lead bullet reload with a non-typical (for Philippine .45) nickel primer. Factory original - no, it is a reload, reload being the operative word here. Is it a significant cartridge? In my opinion, yes. Would it still be significant if John Moss reloaded the same case with the same bullet and the same primer - absolutely not! My opinion only. Context is everything!

[quote=“Pete deCoux”]Same with the new wildcats that are being made, a knowledgeable collector will know the 1930’s era wildcat should not have an “R-P” headstamp, but the danger is that a young or inexperienced collector might pay big bucks for this rare “double shoulder Ackley” wildcat, (Sold perhaps by an ignorant, but not dishonest, dealer, or perhaps family member of a deceased collector. Price guides, as sparce as they are, do not note there might be fakes unless it is a very, very high value round.), only to find out later he bought a reproduction for what an original should be priced, and be soured on collecting bullets.

Surely a wildcat round first made in the 30’s with components available then is still the same wildcat round if made yesterday with components available yesterday. Because it was made yesterday doesn’t in any way make it a fake or reproduction, in my opinion. If possible I would like to have a wildcat round that was “made” in the year of it coming into being but one loaded a year after, 5 years, 10 years or 20 years is still the same round. When I die the new custodian of my collection will have to do as I have done, loads of research. I enjoy my wildcat collection (and the rest of my collection) for what it is. Just think in 2090 someone will pick up a couple of the wildcats in my collection and say to his mate look this round is about 80 to 85 years old and this one is 150 years old notice how the primers and bullets changed over the years…same enjoyment as I had…

Still the above is only my opinion and like noses everybody has one :-)

Well now I’ve seen everything. A serious discussion about wildcats. :) :)


[quote=“Ray Meketa”]Well now I’ve seen everything. A serious discussion about wildcats. :) :)


It had to happen one day… ;)

Frankly, I agree completely with Armourer on the question of wildcats - nice to get one done by the original individual who made it, but since none are a factory product, or they would not be “wildcats,” one loaded today is still the same cartridge. It is quite a different topic than that which I answered of reloads of cases that left the factory as loaded ammunition and had been fired one or more times. Just as loads in cases where the manufacturer makes only the case, as in Starline, is again, another topic as well.

John Moss

This thread has kinda wandered away from where it started, but you all know that I like wildcats so I’m not about to pass up the chance to talk about them.

It’s just my own opinion but not all wildcats are equal. I have mine sorted and catalogued into 3 broad groups, old, new, and competition. These categories fit my collecting interest but probably are not appropriate for yours.

To each his own and whatever turns you on. I also drive a Toyota and a Ford and my wife has red (gray) hair.


A collector/dealer I know some time ago acquired some scarce rifle cases, found the appropriate bullets for them, and assembled them together with the appropriate powder charge. Does that make them phony? restorations? I’m pretty sure he told people when he sold them what he did - but not 100% sure, and I’d be willing to bet that few (if any) were ever marked in any way. They weren’t hugely expensive (well…depends on your collecting budget) but is that legit?

I guess the important question is, is there an intent to deceive? Was that dealer adding value to the cases by assembling them with the proper components, or was he making forgeries? It isn’t like he was trying to create .70-150’s from 12-gauge shot shells.

Cyberwombat - I will not label the rounds you speak of as it is not necessary to call them fakes, reproductions, etc. I will simply say that the bottom line is the loads in question were not factory-original loads. You mentioned that he put in a proper powder charge? Do you mean that he knew, and had available, exactly the same powder that the factory used in these cartridges, or simply that he put in a “safe” powder charge? (Often the powders factories use are not available to the public in the small quantities that reloaders purchase). Either way, the cartridge is not factory loaded. If it is not the same powder, that could confuse in later years, although Lord knows, factory loads are confusing enough since two factory loads in any given caliber and bullet weight, but of different loading lots, could have different powders in them. Regardless, in the past, we have helped identify some unknown cartridges by the type of powder in them. Lew Curtis has had some success with this, as I recall. So, non-factory powder charges can lead to future confusion.

Just my opinion - don’t jump on me for it because we are all entitled to our opinions - good cases found empty are best left empty, until such time as they can be upgraded by known factory loads of the same caliber, case and primer material, headstamp variation, etc. for one’s collection. Otherwise, again just my opinion, we do a real injustice to future researchers. I have done my share of primary research in my my own field of auto pistol ammunition, and some odd loads have been real thorns in the side, with bullets and such in them that my gut feeling told me were totally inappropriate, but with no solid documentation to prove it!

John, you make good points, some I had not considered. Mind you, I’m not defending what was done; at the time, it made me uncomfortable, and still does. It is not something I would do personally (never mind the fact i have no reloading tools anyway).

“Surely a wildcat round first made in the 30’s with components available then is still the same wildcat round if made yesterday with components available yesterday. Because it was made yesterday doesn’t in any way make it a fake or reproduction, in my opinion.”

My point is that a wildcat or any other round originaly developed and made in the 1930’s and then made yesterday with CURRENTLY MADE COMPONENTS, is not the same original round. So it should not command the same value and historical signifance as the original round. If, I say IF you bought a round that you thought was original & later found it was not. would you be not too happy, & want your money back or would it not make any difference to you? My point is original is worth more than repoduction, and unless marked in some way for future buyers SOME ONE is going to get stung. We didn’t all start out knowing the exact color a 105 mm APIT shell should be painted, or how to tell an original from a fake, so how can we expect a novice collector to know, say, a .400 Whelen should have an FA 22 headstamp and not an R-P 30-06 headstamp?[quote][/quote][quote][/quote]