Western 38 Special with 38 S&W Headstamp

Blundered into this reloaded Western 38 Special:

with 38 S&W headstamp. So where would this fall in the Western chronology; between W.C.Co. 38 S.&W. SPL and WESTERN 38 S.&W. SPL.?

I don’t think it is anything other than a headstamp mistake. No time-line to it.

In other words setting up the line to make .38 Spl’s but putting a .38 S&W bunter into the headstamping machine & then not catching the mistake until some of it goes out the door & needs recalled due to liability insurance coverage. If it were possible I wouldn’t want to shoot a .38 S&W Spl. in a handgun chambered for a 38 S&W

Not a common occurrence but it does happen.

When I was starting to get serious about collecting (early 1980’s) another collector in Butler PA told me he picked up a Remington box of .30 W.C.F. got them home & opened them & found a R-P .32 Win Spl. headstamp on all 20 rounds. So he want back & looked through the other boxes & found a couple more of the same boxes. I got my box from him, & I understand even more were found at that store but those got sent back to Remington.

First attempt to reply went off to Never-Never land when I tried to save it. Anyway, when I checked my few Western 38 S&W, 38 S&W SPL, and 380 AUTO, I noted the lettering of WESTERN uniformly tight and even. The lettering on this headstamp is uneven, relatively large between and E and S, and S and T; and less large between the T and E, and E and R. Stylistically, the strikes me as crude, perhaps indicating “early.” Case measurements are also less by a few thousandths than 38 Special but far closer to 38 Special than 38 S&W or 38 Long Colt.

It may well be early, I don’t know enough to comment on that, but being SPL length & having an S&W headstamp is a mistake.

I checked Otto Witt’s 38 Special hst book. He doesn’t show this headstamp. The one closest to it is WE03D (WESTERN 38 SPECIAL). The spacing around the “ST” looks similar to me as does the “38”. WE03D is the closest of any of the Western headstamps that Otto illustrates. He dates it like WE03 A, B & C as from sometime between 1917 and 1929. All of these three earlier cases are headstamped “WESTERN 38 S&W SPL” with different arrangements of dots among the letters. My guess is that both the headstamp above and WE03D were from the late 1920s.

This makes the hst WE03D the first Western 38 Special without the S&W marking. Although Pete is could well be correct that it is only a headstamp error. I checked the 1927 Western Catalog and they were producing both the 38S&W and the “38 S&W SPECIAL” and the “38 Special - Police”.

I think there is a possibility that they first made the rounds without the 38 S&W Special, they could have gotten directions screwed up and intentionally produced them without the Special instead of without the S&W. This is just a variation on Pete’s suggestion, but instead of the wrong bunter being used, the direction coming down could have been screwed up during the initial conversion of the headstamp. I suspect that this could be intentional production since the 1925 Western catalog illustrates both the 38 S&W revolver round and the 38 Special FMJ round with the “WESTERN 38 S&W” headstamp and the wadcutter load with the “WESTERN 38 S&W SPL” headstamp.


Whoa, good thinking Lew & great research.

Nice to learn, this forum is great!

Intriguing information, Lew. Perhaps it isn’t a reload. The primer is nickel-plated, the bullet is a .353" diameter 120-grain FMJ. Under the bullet is a paper wad and a random-sized irregular-shaped flake powder.

Strange, I went back through all the Western Catalogs and lists on the IAA website up through 1938, and the 38 Special bullets were all between 148gr or above (up to 200gr). There were wadcutters in the late 20s in 120gr.

Nothing in the catalogs and pricelists sounds like your 120gr FMC.

A paper wad under the bullet sounds strange for a production Western load, but that may be the result of my experience being almost entirely with 9mmP.

Regardless, a great headstamp. If anyone else has one of these, please post the info.


I know there are theoretical differences in dimensions between .38 S&W and .38 Spec cases but is this not just a trim length error? Both cases have a common stamping and then diverge at the trim stage? looks likely?

Vince, I doubt it. In my experience, which is all a lot more recent than when this cartridge was made, manufacturers try to use cups that minimize the scrap from case mouth trim when making cases. I’m sure this is not always the case for a lot of reasons, like small lots which don’t justify a special order of cups.

Like most answers, lots of things are possible, including that a partially made item got transfered to the wrong production line.


Vince - the differences in measurements between .38 Special and .38 Smith & Wesson caliber cartridges are not just theoretical. A .38 Smith & Wesson cartridge will not enter the chambers of a properly chambered .38 Special caliber revolver. The .38 S&W cartridge is like me; too fat! :-)

Best I can do is these two .38 S&W variations with the small gap / space between the E & the S. Not even close to d"Artagan’s example.

Nothing even remotely similar in my Western .38 Spls or in any of my other S&W’s


I just found six of these rounds in an old rusty Police Positive. Not sure what to do with them.