What makes shells collectable?


I knew almost nothing about the world of cartridge collecting until I spent some time today looking through your forum here.

My question is, when do shells pass over from the realm of being “old shells waiting to be used up” to being “collectables”?

The thing that got me wondering is that picked up as part of a gun trade a number of cases of C-I-L 16g “Imperial Magnums” in metallic gold boxes. These are in plastic cases and have 1 1/4 oz of shot (have 4’s 5’s and 6’s).

On the one hand, these are of fairly modern design, in good condition, and the only equivalent loading available in the U.S. right now (Federal Premium Magnums) goes for around $26/box, so maybe their value is still as ammunition to be used in the field.

On the other hand, from the internet research I did, it seems that these shells are over 30 years old, and the boxes are in pristine shape, so maybe they have, or will develop over time, collector value that surpasses their using value.

I appreciate any thoughts you all may have on this subject.



I am not a collector of shotshells, but the main IAA page has an article on the ‘art’ of collecting them: http://cartridgecollectors.org/shotshellintro/shotshell.htm


I will give my opinion on collecting. Some will disagree, probably, but that’s o.k. as in a sense, that of itself will agree with some of my opinions.

Firstly, every cartridge ever made, and some yet to be made, are collectable if they fit a category or simply grab the interest of someone who wants to put one away. A shooter friend of mine for years put away one cartridge from every box of ammo he ever bought to shoot, and kept the empty boxes as well. In fact, it was from him, years ago, that I got in the habit of saving just one round in boxes in my collection. He denied vehmently being a cartridge collector, almost making it sound like that was a disease, and yet, by the time he passed he had several thousand cartridges in cigar boxes, sorted only in groups by a range of calibers. Obviously, even though an active shooter, he had saved more than just one from each box of ammo he bought. He used to ask me for one when I was shooting factory stuff, just as I do with friends and fellow shooters sometime even today.

I collect, primarily, auto pistol. A new headstamp that just came out yesterday, even though worth only 1/50 of the price of a full box of that ammo, is just as important to my collection than one of the same caliber, with a rare headstamp, made 50 years ago. I don’t pretend that there is the same excitement in adding the new cartridge as there is the older and rarer cartridge, but none the less, one is as important in the overall picture of my collecting specialty as another.

Some collect for investment. These people, wisely, usually collect only scarce and rare cartridges. Their collections, up until now, have appreciated in value, and will bring, if sold, pretty much the full market value of each cartridge. Many of us, though, care little about value. Sure, all of us like having that “one of a kind” round that is rare and valuable. It adds interest and value to our collections. But few of us have collections where we will ever get the full value, or even what we paid, for every cartridge we have, especially if we sell it as a collection. In my own collection, since I have headstamps as a primary interest, are many new or fired empty cases, because my own situation makes it difficult to get cartridges in any other way from other countries. For the most part, they are worthless as a market commodity (some empty cases are so rare that is not the case, but they are few in the overall quantity of material that has been made), and yet I treasure them for the headstamps they bring to my collection.

What should one collect? First and foremost, they should collect cartridges that bring them pleasure in owning them. If you don’t give a hoot about some rare 9mm Parabellum round, one of my favorites, but those CIL shotgun shells are interesting and enjoyable to own for you, then that is what to collect. Some people want to collect everything in ammunition. That is fun, but is a hard road to follow without severe limitations, or simply unlimited space for your collection, and a budget that would make some small countries happy to have. Others specialize from the start in acquiring on those cartridges that intensely interest them. I started collecting by looking for one round of the country and era to go with each of the auto pistols I was collecting at the time. Eventually, I sold the pistol collection and kept the cartridges! By that time, I had dozens of variations appropriate to each of the pistols I sold.

Don’t be a slave to a collection. That is a fault I have. Sometimes, I find an auto pistol caliber, or individual round, that for whatever reason means nothing to me. It just doesn’t grab my interest. But, I will pay the price for it anyway because without it “there is a hole” in my collection. When you get right down to it, that is kind of silly. I have learned though, that if I pick up some round that grabs me for some reason or another, just because it isn’t auto pistol doesn’t mean I can’t keep it. At one time, I would not have kept it, because it was “outside my field.”

Cartridge collecting is a hobby, a past-time. Do it the way you want, not the way someone else tells you is the “right way” to collect. Enjoy it. One day you will find that it is not the cartridges that you enjoy most, but the friendships you have made in seeking out those cartridges, and the knowledge you have gained in studying them.

Now, about my statement above regarding some that will disagree. That is because they are collecting the way they like, and they may not agree with the way I collect. That’s great - the very best way to collect. The way YOU want to, and as long as sincere, for the motives that drive you to collect.

By the way, did I mention it is pretty much a great hobby, practiced by wonderful people from every corner of the globe? You will met many of them right on this Forum!

P.S. I don’t collect shotshells, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a picture of the round and box you were talking about appear on this Forum. It is all interesting!

I think any cartridge from the oldest to the newest is collected by someone somewhere, as John said collect what you like.

I collect any calibre cartridge I haven’t got and if I can’t find a calibre I haven’t got then I look for a headstamp I haven’t got. I will be specalizing at some point, I can’t afford this approach much longer and don’t have the space. (so my wife tells me).

It’s a great hobby, Welcome.

I agree with John.
I usually collect only one sample for each caliber.Since my interest is general,it is impossible to collect every cartridge and every headstamp at the same time.

  • @ DaveH: Collecting cartridges is an interesting hobby. People today collect a large variety of items [coins, stamps, beer labels, matches and even door knobs] and in my opinion is nothing wrong or strange if somebody likes to collect cartridges, shell cases, ammo boxes, etc. This hobby is linked together with knowledge about weapons, history, geography and so on. Liviu 06/25/08

Unlike some who are fascinated by minute variations in headstamps, I prefer full boxes. Maybe just beacuse I am lazy and find it easier to tell what it is than trying to remember what might be special about a single round.

However, i like U.S. military rifle ammunition, and really cannot get excited about (even U.S.) pistol ammo, and would be bored silly with a stack of .22 boxes or shotshells of any type.

Guess that retailers have figured out that they can sell ice cream in many different flavors, and there is a customer for just about every flavor.

Of course cartridge collectors are perfectly normal. But, I don’t know about those who collect bayonets, soda machines, antique cars, toy soldiers, or toilet paper. (Yes, I actuall know very nice people who collect each of those!)

[quote=“John S.”]…
Of course cartridge collectors are perfectly normal. But, I don’t know about those who collect bayonets, soda machines, antique cars, toy soldiers, or toilet paper. (Yes, I actuall know very nice people who collect each of those!)[/quote]
Off Topic
I try collecting money, however this goes not very good (-;

Regarding John Moss’s posting about cartridge collecting… I disagree!!! Well, I agree with some of what he said. Actually I agree with most of what he said! Okay, okay, he’s right! But I don’t agree with how he said it!!

Well put, John!


Well said John! As you can see from my last posts I collect Herter’s headstamps. Why? not because they are valuable but I remember when Herter’s was the Cabella’s of the sporting goods it had everything a young hunter could want or dream of so part of the collecting is nostalgia. Thanks Vic