The brass-copper cartridge - success or not?


It is well known that the early smokeless powders had a tendency to decompose and attack the metals. For instance, the 7 x 57 cartridges that the Spanish government purchased from DMK in the 1890’s were internally varnished to prevent the gunpowder to attack the case from the inside. The same was true for the first lots of spanish made ammunition in this caliber; I don’t know when this practice was abandoned.

But I didn’t know that the same problem could be related to black powder, and that in the US a company named Coe Brass had invented, in 1876, a brass-copper metal blank that would prevent this problem. The blanks were apparently sheets of brass and copper bonded together, by a mechanical process. The brass face would appear on the outside in the finished cartridge, and the copper face would form the interior of the case.

I would like to know if someone knows what happened to this copper-brass cartridge invention. Was it ever adopted by any government or private ammunition factory?

And by the way, which cartridge is the one depicted?


The circumstances which led to the invention of the copper-brass cartridge which is illustrated, were, principally, the reports received in this country, in 1876, relative to great losses by corrosion of cartridges whose shells or cases were made of brass alone, and whose construction permitted the powder to come directly in contact with the inner brass surface of the shell.

It was reported that, under certain climatic or atmospheric conditions, brass shelled cartridges, which had been stored for a certain time in arsenals, were found to have been so badly corroded on the interior as to render them unserviceable, and that the quantity so spoiled, in European countries alone, amounted to many millions; and samples of very badly corroded shells were shown to the inventors and patentees
of the copper-brass shells, Messrs. Leet & Chapin, of Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1876, and there was an apparent necessity that shells possessing all the elastic qualities of brass, and also non-corrosive, should be provided as a substitute for brass shells.

The inventors of the copper-brass shell caused considerable quantities of their shells to be made and tested in the winter of 1876-7. These tests were made by the ordnance officers of this and foreign countries, for the purpose of determining, first, the elastic properties of the compound shell; second, the adhesiveness of the two metals one to the other, under excessive expansive and retractive strains; third, strength under excessive and numerous successive charges of powder; and, fourth, the rigidity of the metal relative to the requisite qualities of anvil-resistance against the blow of the hammer, at the point where the primer is inserted in the head; and the results of said tests wrere eminently satisfactory.


The manufacture of the double metal for the production of the above-described copper-brass cartridge-shells requires that the metals be firmly united previous to rolling; that nothing shall enter into their composition which can in any way render the quality of the scrap metal unfit for re-melting and working; that the metal shall possess such ductility and homogeneousness as will permit it to be rolled, drawn, annealed and headed, and in every way treated, in the manufacture of cartridges, identically like a single metal sheet. These results are all successfully obtained from this metal, which is manufactured and furnished by the Coe Brass Manufacturing Company.[/i]


schneider–Interesting article. It is new information to me. The cartridge shown is most likely a .43 Spanish. It could be a .44-77 Remington, but is is more likely the .43 Spanish Remington.


There would not have been too many brass cased cartridges that the US Army would have stored in their arsenals in 1876. That said, assuming these tests were conducted in this country, the fact that we have not heard of these copper-brass cartridge cases may be a pretty good indication that they were not a success.


There is a US patent for this cartridge case. Unfortunately, since the loaded examples would appear to be just another brass cased cartridge, most likely unheadstamped, it would be tough to determine if you have one without pulling the bullet.

Does anyone know if the high copper content US Cartridge company cases were developed to address the brass/black powder corrosion problem also.


I think so too. Maybe there are samples over there and nobody knows…


I’m disappointed at how little interest this thread has generated so far. I find this to be the type of thing that keeps me interested in this old dirty ammo.

If you’ll look at the source document that you extracted the information from when you started the thread, you’ll see the results of the US Ordnance Department’s tests in 1877 and again in 1880 after the cartridges were stored in humid conditions. As the results were quite favorable, contrary to my first impression prior to searching for more information, I can’t imagine why there is not much published about this.


Guy - there have been 142 “looks” at this thread. Not everyone can add anything to a subject like this. I can’t but found it iinteresting enough to print out, one of the few I am now printing (used to do every single thread) since I have no more file room left, and seemingty, no time to do any filing anyway.

John Moss


Some smokeless powders deteriorated very rapidly but others seem to go on for ever.

I am at present working my way through some tins of thirty year old powder that came to me when a friend died.

I can only estimate the age by the price labels on the tins and my knowledge of when he was active. One tin has a batch number which includes the number 78 and I guess that was the year of manufacture.

The powder though is still fine and stable although it has been stored in an outbuilding and has been through thirty years of summer heat.

As the powder gets used up I will have some empty cans to pass on if anybody is interested, drop me a line.


The cartridge in question may actually be a 10.66 Russian Berdan; Coe Brass Manufacturing Company was one of the suppliers of brass to the Russians.


Guy–Yes, I agree, it could be a 10.66 Russian Berdan. Hard to tell the .43 Spanish, .44-77 Rem. and the 10.66 Russian Berdan apart just based on that picture.


Well, this is certainly true. I haven’t had any response to my other thread about .50 caliber ammo and european bidders for 13,2 Hotchkiss ammunition in 1931. Possibly the things I’m asking about are too arcane, but who knows… maybe they ring somebody’s bell.


[quote=“JohnMoss”]Guy - there have been 142 “looks” at this thread. Not everyone can add anything to a subject like this. I can’t but found it iinteresting enough to print out, one of the few I am now printing (used to do every single thread) since I have no more file room left, and seemingty, no time to do any filing anyway.

John Moss[/quote]
In a similar way to protect cases from corrosion, I put in the old forum a drawing of a ctge (7.62 mosin if i remember) with the inside of the case in aluminium.
And there is also a French Gras ctge with the case gold plated inside


Guy’s reference to the Russian Berdan and the Coe connection caused a tiny bell to tinkle in my head. In his Small Arms and Ammunition in the U.S. Service, 1776-1865 (published 1956) Berk Lewis included Lt. Metcalfe’s description of the Frankford Arsenal cartridge display at the Philadelphia world’s fair of 1876. Item 161 in that display was a .42 (10.66 m/m) Berdan rifle cartridge described as “Russian, made in Russia; phosphor-bronze case; Berdan’s return pocket anvil.” When, in 1972 Lewis published a fuller version of the Frankford Arsenal cartridge display under the title “Small Arms Ammunition at the International Exposition, Philadelphia, 1876” he changed Metcalfe’s wording slightly by adding “(reddish)” after the word “case.” The tenor of this thread makes me wonder if perhaps item 161 isn’t another approach by the Russians, with or without the assistance of Coe, to achieve a similar end. Jack


In our sale 10, lot #24 we offered this sectioned case.
With a handwritten scrap of paper stating this is a “Cutaway of pistol case Kellog’s copper lining of case, circa 1877-78”, this half sectioned, .965” / 24.51mm long, drawn brass unfired case, shows a folded head {measuring .460” at head}, a large empty Berdan primer pocket, and a full copper lining. We could not find any patent listed with Kellog as inventor in this time frame, however U.S. Patent #192,676, July 3, 1877, by James H. Bullard does cover this bi-metal case drawing process, but does not list Kellog. So who was Kellog?


The guy at The Cartridge Collectors Exchange seems to have been able to unearth the definitive facts about this odd brass-copper alloy. In the article titled The intriguing copper-brass cartridge case… ( he also manages to present the pictures and the patent posted in this thread as if they were the result of his own research on the matter.

He refers to this thread, where he heard of the copper-brass cases for the first time, saying: In January, there was an interesting, if not (sic) somewhat limited, discussion on the International Ammunition Association’s cartridge forum regarding cartridge cases made from two layered copper and brass sheet metal and cups produced by the Coe Brass Manufacturing Company of Wolcotville, Connecticut.. Anyway, this discussion being so limited, he does his own researching on the subject, which of course is praiseworthy.


He says: This bi-metal case construction was something I had not heard of before, and I was a bit skeptical until I began searching for more information… and the output of his searching is the text and pictures originally posted by yours truly in this thread. Somewhat expanded, true.

He says: I was also able to locate Leet and Chapin’s 1878 patent for this ‘improvement in metallic cartridges’… and the result of his locating abilities is the patent drawing posted by GuyHildebrand.

Well, life’s like that. Or so they say.



I’m not sure what you’re trying to say, but being that the “guy” of “The Cartridge Collectors Exchange” is Guy Hildebrand, might that make things better?



The “Mill Rolling” method of making “Bi-metallic” cartridge brass was still a very expensive process in the 1880s and 1890s, Given the technology of the times.

Both Black Powder and early Semi-smokeless and Smokeless Powders contained quantities of what can only be described as “acidic” compounds, which attacked the Zinc in Brass, but not the Copper metal. (or only very slowly). The other Point is that in the 1880s and 90s, Shell cases were still “Armory reloaded” for Training Purposes (even in the USA), so also the products of combustion were liable to eat into the brass case (whether Laquered or not.).
So a method of Internal protection was necessary for both (a) Long term storage & (b) Reloadability—hence the varnishing (Storage) and the attempts at “copper surfacing”… By the 1900s, Smokeless Powder Knowledge had improved to an extent that the Copper coating was unnecessary, and varnishing was used, because it was cheap, and then of course (except in cash strapped Small countries) Ammo was no longer “Re-Loaded” except for Local use (The US still did reloading into the early 1920s (Box labels detail the care of cartridge cases), but WW I had show that Cartridge brass is a very expendable item, to be produced in Billions, and used almost immediately.

The Germans did take up this “Bimetallic” system, but not for case protection from the Powder, but to coat Steel during the case drawing system ( “Eiserne Hulse” of 1916-17) and to prevent atmospheric rusting after loading.

The Soviets took up this system with improvements in the late 1930s as well, more successfully than the Germans had in WW I; The Germans had, in the meantime, moved on to “Galvaniziert” ( electrolytic coating) and “Bonderised” ( Phosphated) Steel Cases…the phosphated cases were externally Lacqured, but left uncoated internally…the “Make and Shoot” principle…hence by the 1960s, German WW II Steel case ammo was corroding from the inside due to Nitric Acid Powder decomposition. (Much discussed both here and on Gunboards etc.).

Whether the Germans in WW I actually availed themselves of the original US Patents, or arrived at the solution via “Parallel development” is unknown.
The Engineering and physical properties of “Bi-metallic” strips of metal were well known by WW I; and German Rolling Mill Technology was well enough in the Fore to adapt to making Bi-metalilic sheets using Steel as the Base metal, with thin copper as a “shield” metal.

Why the US patents of the Copper-brass case did not have success? Most probably Cost. ( at the time).

Doc AV
AV Ballistics.


I agree that I should have done a better job with the credits in the article on my web page. I have edited it to make it clear that the initial information on the Coe Brass Manufacturing Company’s copper-brass cartridge case that was presented in the thread was not the result of my own research on the subject. I found the subject to be most interesting and do appreciate your having shared what you found.

I also need to point out that I have done a poor job of informing anyone who visits my web site as to just who the Old Ammo Guy is, since I think the only place where I have included my full name is on the page that provides the mailing address for sending orders. I need to work on that.