Winchester Shotgun head stamps


Hello! First post and all so don’t stomp on me too hard. I work for a Cultural Resource Management (Archaeology) company in the Southwestern US. One of the dateable items we frequently encounter in historic sites is various forms of ammunition brass. For my first question I was wondering about the Winchester/1901 shotgun head stamps. My understanding is that the 1901 was used from 1901 to 1919. Is that correct and was there any overlap in the beginning and ending years? I have also read that Winchester switched from “No. 12” to “12 GA” in 1920. Again, was there any overlap in the formats? I hope I phrased my questions correctly.


The 1901 is a series identifier, not a manufacturing date and a wide variety of gauges and shell brands, such as Blue Rival, Leader, New Rival and others, are known. The date ranges vary with all of these conditions so the answer to your question is yes there could be overlap. These shells were commonly sold as empty cases in boxes of 100 and some were available up to the mid-1930’s.

Winchester began changing from “No. 12” to “12 GA” in the 1920’s but the No. 12 headstamps continued on until well after WWII. There are pictures of such headstamps on Ranger plastic shells introduced in 1964 in Ron Stadt’s excellent book WINCHESTER SHOTGUN AND SHOTSHELLS. Winchester made literally thousands of different brands, loads and types of shotshells so variations and contradictions are not uncommon.

Hope this helps and welcome to the forum. Please feel free to bring up shotgun shell questions, even though they (shotgun shells) are somewhat of the red-headed step child here.

Chief Shot


Howdy Chief Shot
I would like to say Never here, (fool that I am).

The 1901 series was ONLY sold as primed empties, or perhaps unprimed empties, Never as factory loaded. That way if it came back to them, included with pieces of a gun, it was as easy “not our problem” reply.

just picking tiny little nits,

A fellow shot gun shell aficionado


Well shotgun heads are only part of what we see. They just happen to be in abundance at the site I’ve been working on since it was a “Duck Club”. Apparently the land was too poor and alkaline to be profitable for farming so it was turned a hunting club from around 1900 to 1925. Every fall the members would come out in force and fill the sky with lead. Interesting what the one reply said about the 1901 brass being sold as unloaded shells. I saw several with “Repeater” and “Leader” on them. I am under the impression from what sources I found that all Winchester shells from that time were stamped “1901” but I’m just starting to research this field. I also got to see a .38 Short rim fire, a lot of .22 WRF and a U. M. C. 44 WCF casing just going through the analysis photos today. Thanks for the help! I am also happy to hear your suggestions for any references pertaining to head stamps!


Finfan–Go to the IAA Home Page for a excellent bibliography of cartridge books:

As for headtamp guides, some of the best are:

Hogg, Ian. 1982. The Cartridge Guide. Stackpole Books. Harrisburg. 192p. ISBN: 0-811710-48-3. (A good general guide but has numerous mistakes, so verify any identification made using this guide)

Iverson, Richard J… 1988. The Shotshell in the United States. Circus Promotions. Jefferson, Maine. 233p. (This is excellent for U.S. Shot Shell

Stadt, Ronald. 1984. Winchester Shotguns and Shotshells. Armory Press. Tacoma.184p. ISBN: 0960498222

Steinhauer, Curtis. 2002. Cartridge Headstamp Identification. Calgary, Canada. CDROM.

White, Henry and Munhall, Burton. 1977. Cartridge Headstamp Guide (revised). H. P. White Laboratory. Bel Air, Maryland. 261p. (Weak on Shot Shell headstamps, but very good for metallic cartridges)


[quote=“Finfan”] Interesting what the one reply said about the 1901 brass being sold as unloaded shells. I saw several with “Repeater” and “Leader” on them. /quote]
Just to clarify a bit, Repeater and Leader were brands sold factory loaded, and those would not have 1901 in the headstamp.


sounds like you come up with some pretty cool stuff!

Luckily, the 1901 Winchester headstamps are fairly easy to “age” by using the primers. The 1901 was used on all shell sizes offered at the time, No.4,8,10,12,14,16,20,24,28,32 and 410. They were also used on the following grades - pigeon, metal lined, leader, repeater, blue rival, yellow rival and new rival. The 1901 was introduced at the onset of the smokeless powders and produced as new primed empties for many years. When the smokeless became standard they were offered factory loaded along with the standard line. 1901’s were not produced after 1919.

1901 pigeon and metal lined were made from 1901 to 1903 with a #4w primer. From 1904 to 1907 they used the new #4. Both were discontinued in 1907. Pigeon produced in no.10 and 12 only, metal lined no.4, 8, 10 and 12 only.

1901 leader was made from 1901 to 1902 with the #4w primer and 3 corrugations on the head. A 4th corrugation was added in 1902 and made until Feb. 1904 with the #4w. from Feb. 1904 to Apr. 1904 the #4 1/2 primer was produced and is pretty rare today. On Apr. 28th, 1904, the 4 1/2 was renamed the new #4 and was used until 1927. 1901 leaders were discontinued in 1919. Produced in no.4, 8, 10, 12, 16 and 20 only.

1901 repeater was made from 1901 to 1902 with the #6 primer and was produced first with 2, and then 3 corrugations on the head. The primers after 1902 were same as used in the leader line above and discontinued in 1919. Produced in no.10,12,14,16,20,24,28, 32 and 410. The 1901 no.32 and 410 were only produced from 1916 to 1919.

1901 blue rival and yellow rival were made from 1901 to 1904 and used the #3 primer. Both discontinued in 1904. Produced in no. 10,12,14,16,and 20 only. ( factory notes indicate production of the 1901 yellow rival but it is rarely ever seen today )

1901 new rival was made from 1901 to 1919. They used the #2 primer and made with smooth heads, and later, 1 corrugation. produced in no.10,12,14,16 and 20.

There is also a “WRACO 1901” headstamp produced in 24 and 28 gauge only. These can be found with the 4 1/2 and new #4 primers.

As for the “GA” instead of the “NO” on the headstamp, these were introduced sometime in 1920. It is not accurately known when the “GA” was stopped, but it was most certain very short lived at 1 or 2 years at the most.

Good luck with your dig!!!



#2 primer
#3 primer.
#4w primer.
#4 1/2 primer(called the new # 4 primer)
#6 primer


Very interesting ! Thank you very much.
You look like to be an expert about Winchester shotshells.

  1. Have you pictures about these different primers ?

  2. What other primers were used in Winchester shotshells ?





there were a few other primers used by Winchester over the years -

1878 - 1885 an all brass primer measuring .210" was used on the 1st quality, SQ and XX lines.

Ranger shells featured a small protected copper primer for a very short time in 1926 only and was known as the improved new #4. Not seen too often today.

Standard primers for 1927 - 1930 were the “staynless” #4 and had a copper center. 1930 - 1933 was the same primer but featured a nickel center. 1933 - on was the #209 pretty much standard.

410’s were produced with .175" copper, .175" nickel, .210" nickel, #33 western (looks like a miniature battery cup), and #209.

There were also experimmental primers here and there that were not adopted, such as a large version of the original #4 (.25") that had a very short run on early smooth head metal lined shells sometime between 1894 - 96.

I will get images of these to you shortly.

  1. Ok, it is very kind.
  2. If I show you pictures of primers could you tell me which is their denomination ?
    Indeed i don’t know if they are used for shotshells or other ctges.
  3. You know only Winchester staff or also other companies ctges ??
  4. There is a guy specialized in Winchester ctges who wrote a book.
    Are you this guy ???
    (I am lost on this forum because people use nicknames without writting in their description at least the initials of their name)




more than happy to assist you with primer questions if I can, my collection consists of pre 1940 Winchester shotshells ONLY. Sorry, but I have no info on other manufacturers.

I emailed you some images.



Thank you very much !

  1. Please could you correct the following infos (one or two pieces, sign or name engraved, aso)

From left to right
Top row:
210 brass (5.34 mm): 1 or 2 pieces ?? , brass
175 copper (4.45 mm) : 1 or 2 pieces ???, copper
N°6 : 1 piece, copper
N°4 : 1 piece copper (W impressed)
N° 4 1/2 : 2 pieces, outside brass (engraved : ???), inside copper,
Bottom row
New N° 4: 2 pieces, outside brass (WRA Co New N°4), inside copper,
Stainless N°4 copper : 2 pieces, outside brass, inside copper
Stainless N°4 nickel : 2 pieces, outside brass, inside nickel
N°33 Western : 2 pieces, outside brass, inside copper
N°209 : 2 pieces, outside copper, inside brass

  1. Here is a view of the new N°4

  2. How do you call this one ?
    it is from 1898
    They say “tombac”. which color is it in fact ?? copper or brass ?

  3. How do you call this one ?
    it is from 1898
    They say “tombac”. which color is it in fact ?? copper or brass ?

  4. There was a topic, not too long ago, about comparaison of a winchester primer with a gevelot (or gaupillat) primer.
    I don’t find it anymore ! Have you the link please ?




In the realm of Winchester primers, how reliable is ’History of Winchester Primers’ by George R. Watrous???

If it would be of any use to finfan, I could make a copy of it and send it to him.

You wouldn’t happen to be at Harper Lake would you???




your primer list looks correct. The .210 and .175 were 1 pc. The no. 4 1/2 was identical to the new #4 except engraved WRACO no. 4 1/2.
The second illustration you show is the #4w, some call it just #4 or old #4. It was engraved with a plain “W”.


no.4 1/2 primer


thank you very much

About other primers used, could you correct me :

N°2 : 1 piece, copper
Improved N°2 : 1 piece, copper
N°3 : ??
large version of N°4 : 1 piece, copper ??
Improved N°4: 1 piece copper ??



Another question :

If I understand well the Winchester primers called :

111 (4.40 mm)
135 (5.30 mm)

were NEVER used for shotshells ??



Another question :

the Winchester primer called 210 brass (5.34) used for the shotshells is it the same as the one used for 25-35 ctge ?



JP, you are correct. All primers before 1904 (new #4) were one piece. The .210" brass (no.2) was used from 1878 to 1884. In 1884 the no.2 was changed to copper. The #3w, #4w and #6 were all copper. The 4 1/2, new #4 and staynless #4 were copper with a brass protected ring. In 1930 the staynless 4 was changed to a nickel plated primer with brass ring.

Here is a picture of one I forgot to mention, the 6.45. It was a very large oversized battery cup used only in the WONDER line of shells in 1920.