An Introduction to Collecting Shotshells
by Ronald W. Stadt
In much of the Americas, sports persons speak and write of shotshells. In much of the rest of the world the same are called shotgun cartridges. Shot cartridges are another matter. They are metallic rifle and pistol cartridges (inch or metric) loaded with shot, in some instances for smooth bore barrels on rifle actions. Shot cartridges are not treated in this article. The term shotshells may be read shotgun cartridges by persons more comfortable with the latter.
The intent of this part of the web site is to inform people of possibilities before they spend much money on collectible shotshells. Much can be learned and much fun can be had without making large expenditures. For example, a major, impressive collection of all-plastic shotshells may be amassed by spending no more than a few dollars for the best of the shells.
Because of their enormous variety, shotshells are among the most fascinating and educational areas of ammunition collecting and inquiry. Many people who became acquainted with firearms through military service, hunting, and/or target shooting decide to collect the kind of ammunition with which they are most familiar. This is natural and laudable. However, before a definite collection design is formed and before much discretionary money is expended it is best to survey what is available to collectors.
First of all shotshells are described by their diameters. The main system but not the only system of sizing is by gauge. In the muzzle loading era, gauge was standardized as number of balls of lead of bore diameter in a pound. Ten lead balls of ten gauge diameter equal one pound. Muzzle loaders and to a lesser degree early breech loaders were made in more gauges than are in current use.
In addition to gauge, there are also inch and metric shotshells. Many beginning collectors vow to collect one example of each size. This is a noble but extremely difficult design and one which no collector has accomplished.
Shotshells by Size
Several advanced collectors provided information for the following listing of diameters. The subject is likely not exhausted. The .58 caliber is included because it facilitated conversion of smooth bore muzzle loaders, was not based on a rifle cartridge, and was shaped like shotshells. Japanese 30 and 36 are included because they are integral to series of all-brass shotshells. The .55 and .64 Maynards, the .55 Wesson, and .38 and .44 Stevens Everlasting shotshells add several more diameters to the listing. For clarity this writer thought it best to mention them together here. The Eley London 10-12, 12-14, and 13-16 are not included because they are simply larger internally to accommodate oversize wads for chamberless guns—first number equals size of wad; second number equals size of shotshell.
Known shotshell sizes (listed by diameter, largest to smallest, read left column first, then middle and right columns)
OO signal cannon (UMC reworked cannon rounds) 11B
O signal cannon (UMC reworked cannon rounds)
12 ga. A&B
26 ga. pinfire for aristocratic women. (Likely Sellior and Bellot.)
1 signal cannon
1,W Collath .58 (Winchester or UMC forager.)
2 inch punt
3,W Collath 28 ga. 2 ga. punt 13B 30 ga. (Sellior and Bellot) 1 3/4 inch punt 14 ga. A&B
15 mm (Land London and others.)
1 ½ inch punt
14 ¾ ga. Cogswell and Harrison
32 ga./14mm 1 3/8 inch punt 15 13mm (Sellier and Bellot pin and center fire.) 32 mm (Gevelot pinfire for a Maharajah’s gun.) 16 ga. A&B
35 ga. Peyton Hall had a 35 ga. Or .520 pinfire so head stamped.)
1 ¼ inch punt
4, DIANA 4 4 Collath
NO 30 AOA NO 30 (about 39 ga. Or 12.5mm) 3 ga. punt (A double gun is known.) 4,W Collath 40 ga. (Japanese brass)
Sellier & Bellot
1 1/8 inch punt 6,W Collath 410/12mm No. 2 Holland and Holland or Eley London head stamp 18 ga. NO 36 NPK NO 36 (about 59 ga. or 11.5mm)
11 mm (Sellior & Bellot pinfire.)
8 ga. A&B 21 ga. (Peyton Hall had a Chaudun pinfire.) 10.5 mm Gevelot center fire
9 ga. (raised H/S Eley pinfire) O74 Dreyse 10mm (Dick Iverson has a center fire.) 10 ga. A&B
22 ga. (Likely Sellier & Bellot pinfire. Also Rem-UMC experimental.)
23 ga. (Likely Sellier & Bellot pinfire.)
9 mm (rim fire and Sellior & Bellot pinfire) 24 ga. 7mm rim fire
5mm rim fire
Samples of some different shotshell sizes
(left to right) ELEY LONDON No 2 (Not 2 gauge or 2 bore; just number 2.) ELEY LONDON GASTIGHT No 8, COGSWELL & HARRISON 14 ¾ LONDON 14 ¾, SELLIOR & BELLOT 18, FABRIK SB IN PRAG 30, ELEY 360.
Shotshells by Function
Second, like other ammunition, shotshells are distinquishable by function. Most shotshells are sporting loads. That is, used for hunting or target shooting. However, shotshells serve many other purposes. Many collectors call other than sporting loads devices. The following list of shotshell devices was constructed by collectors in several countries over several years and is probably not complete.
Action proving/training dummies
Message sender (See Rutterford no. 9 p. 16 re WW I Rem-Umc case, projectile, etc.)
Animal correction (rice load for elephants and rhinos)
Mine (military) launcher
Anti Zepplin (6 .38 and one or more .50 cal. buck shot on string) Mortar booster Automobile test track (e.g. electric primed .410 marks where braking begins) Movie blanks Barrage balloon cable cutter (1942 ICI Metals Division, Birmingham) Parrot nest igniter (South America) Barrel cleaner/oiler (Primer squirts oil into barrel.) Pine tree seeder (Seeds inaccessible, rocky areas.) Barrel protector/snap cap (Snapping emits protective chemical from sponge like material.) Place finder-- position allocator driven game shoot Bird scare/popper Propeller (aircraft) coating tester (Several sizes of rock chips; related to North African campaign.) Bomb disposal (various loads) Powder sample shipping Bomb practice Pyrotechnic Canopy (jungle leaves) clearance followed by surveyor's flare. Rabbit or rat "Boltem" smoke shell Cattle Cracker or mustering ammo Radar defeater (Metal chaff or flakes) Cigar humidor Riot/guard (buck shot, tear gas, pepper spray, plastic/rubber pellets/balls/darts, bean bag etc.) Deoderizing (1918 German defense against gas attacks) Sales person samples (cut away, window, pierced primer, powder samples, etc.) Dog training Seismic exploration/testing
Engine starter (diesel, jet)
Signal cannon Explosive forming Signal flare (military, naval, survival) Flechette/dart/scimitar "SIMFIRE" (4 bore shore alloy cans simulate live firing) Forced entry/lock buster Snap cap Gold mine "salter" (home load only) Stamp or envelope wetter Gunfire simulator (military) Table favor (e.g. Winchester Leader 8 ga.) Harpoon propeller Tracer High line (electric) connector wedge driver Tree fertilizer Incendiary (e.g. forest; box label in ACCA Journal #90)
Weed control ("Fusilade" for beets, rape, potatoes in ACCA # 95.)
Kiln/furnace cleaner Whale marker
Water charge launcher (crowd control)
A few devices: WINCHESTER No. 3 signal cannon, typical Winchester window shell, Smith & Wesson Fiocchi police slug, Remington UMC proof cartridge, Remington Arms tracer, Schonebeck blank.
Facsimilies of shot shells should not be confused with the above devices, all of which fit in chambers and most of which go bang. Because some collectors enjoy this sideline, the following listing is offered as an example of some of the varieties that have come to our attention. .
Advertising pieces (in store and out—some as high as two stories)
Mugs (usually large plastic)
Ash tray Nickerchief slides Beverage coaster Pins (lapel and stick) Book ends (large facsimilies cut in two) Pocket knife Cigarette lighter Pollinator, for fruit trees Condom package (French) Salt and pepper shakers Gun & accoutrement carry all (like a golfer's pull cart for shotgun sports) Shot glasses/tumblers and such Gun cleaning kit- (Rods, brushes, etc. contained in a large simulated shell) Stamp or envelope wetter Humidor Thermos Key ring fob Trailer hitch cover Match safe (Kynoch’s are very elaborate.) Umbrella stand Waste buckets
Shotshell Collecting Specialties
Based on the above, one can well imagine collectors who specialize as follows. (This writer is fortunate to be on first name bases with experts in these and other specialties.)
By country or geographic area of origin
(e.g.- United States, Canada, British Commonwealth,
Continental Europe, Australia, etc.)
8 gauge worldwide Police and military. REM-UMC game loads (USA and/or England) All-brass or all-plastic construction 18 gauge worldwide Kiln and other industrial Floberts (9mm and smaller) Only "top wads"An especially fascinating specialty is called "top wads." For example, in the United States of America, from the early days of breech loaders well into the Great Depression, hardware distributors and stores loaded shells suited to local needs. Many commercial loaders were in the western, central, and eastern fly ways. Note the geography of these shotshells:
Clark & Co. Utica, New York; J.P. Dannefelser New York, N.Y.; O. Hesse Red Bank, New Jersey; E.A. Kimball Tacoma, Washington; Kirkwood Boston, Massachusetts; L. Phillips Columbus, Nebraska.
Shotshell Information Sources
Anyone committed to collecting shotshells should be interested to pursue information that answers questions and dispels confusions that the foregoing bring to mind. "Look before you leap." is the theme of this article.
The first step for being informed re any kind of ammunition is to join the IAA. (See instructions this web site and join.) IAA is the premier organization of its kind. Serious collectors buy back issues of itsJournal from the IAA and watch for opportunities to buy other issues via estate sales/auctions. The Journal and IAA membership directories provide the following.
- Feature articles about shotshell development and functions, manufacturers, commercial loaders, etc.
- Questions and answer sections.
- Annotations of articles in other journals and newsletters of regional groups and how to join the same the better to add significant library materials.
- Lists of upcoming cartridge shows.
- Names and addresses etc. of members by collecting specialty.
Another immeasurable source of information is other collectors. Use IAA and other (UK, Australia, N.Z., etc.) directories to locate collectors with similar interests. Visit the same as travels permit. Nearly all ammunition collectors are hospitable and anxious to show their stuff. As well as examining collectibles, look carefully at bound and other library items. Books, monographs, newsletters, etc. should be your next order of business. Make notes and prioritize a want list of memberships and purchases of printed material.
Also pay attention (a) to what kinds of storage cabinets collectors buy or build, (b) how they organize their collections, and (c) how they make inventories of their collections—so they do not buy duplicates at shows or while visiting other collectors.
Books for Shotshell Collectors
The major books of interest to shotshell collectors are:
Iverson, Richard, The Shotshell in the United States, Revised Edition
Dick has produced three books. His Encyclopedia is out of print. Watch for it at shows. The book pictured here and his Eley book (see below) are available. Write Dick at 3215 14th Avenue, Rock Island, Illinois, USA and buy or trade for two books.
Bacyk, Ted and David, The Encyclopedia of Shotgun Shell Boxes, SOLDUSA.COM
Must have for collectors of USA shotshell boxes. Log on to SOLDUSA.COM and purchase on line.
Ruterford, Ken, Collecting Shotgun Cartridges, Stanley Paul and Co. Ltd.
Essential to understanding UK shotshells but, out of print. "Beg, borrow or steal it." Also look for Ken’s "Collectible Cartridges". Ken is the master drawer of shotgun cartridge head stamps and case side prints. He has produced twelve booklets of the same, a "Millennium Edition", and Ken Rutterford’s "Head Stamp Numbers."
Ken accepts mail orders for these. Outside the UK they are ten pounds stirling each, including postage. Address Ken Rutterford, 20 Pembroke Gardens, Moredon, Swindon, Wilts, SN25 3EW, United Kingdom. The fourteen booklets are more than two inches thick and well worth 140 pounds because they are the major key to essential understanding of UK shotgun cartridges.
Rutterford, Ken R., Cartridges of the British Isles: Great Great Granfer's Shotgun Fodder, Arima Publishing, 2006
Order from Arima Publishing, ASK House, Northgate Avenue, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, IP32 6BB, t:(+44) 01284 700321
Orders from North America are easiest via Amazon.com.
[photo not available]
Iverson, Richard J. Eley Shotshells. I828.
Great checklist. Buy direct as indicated above.
Hedlund, Dale J. KYNOCK, Armory Publications
Definitive, illustrated corporate and product history. Contact George Hoyem email@example.com
Tucker, Errol Shotshells of Australia, 1988 and Revised Editions, Australia Cartridge Collectors Association. Also a third book, Shotshells of Australia Addendum 2000
1988 or Revised Edition is a must have but out of print so hunt. Buy Addendum 2000 from Errol Tucker Bellambi M/S 2, Dubbo, NSW, Australia.
Gracia, B.W., The Lutrell File, Pictorial Reference to First Generation New Zealand Shotshells, (Red plastic cover) also The Second Lutrell File.
Must haves but out of print. Buy at any reasonable price
On Line Resources
One especially good resource is Curtis Steinhauer's "Shotshell Headstamp Identification" page which lists dozens of companies that made shotshells, often with a bit of history about the company, and usually some photos of some of the headstamps used. (This is part of a much larger site covering many different aspects of cartridge collecting.)
You may also find useful information by using one of the on line "search engines" such as Google.com where you enter the word or phrase or several words that yo are looking for and in a matter of seconds you can get up to several hundred links to sites where that term is found. There may be an entire page devoted to exactly what you are looking for, or maybe just a brief mention, or sometimes the right words but in a totally unrelated context.
Auctions are good sources of information and specimens. More than a few collector groups conduct auctions during their annual meetings. (Some collector groups have monthly meetings, excepting perhaps during hunting seasons.) For example, three silent and one live auctions are held during the St. Louis International Cartridge show (March or April in St. Louis, Missouri, USA) See IAA Journal listings of shows/meetings.
Several auctions important to ammunition collectors are:
Pete de Coux U. S. Auctions: PdBullets@commspeed.net
Victor Engle: VICENGEL@SUSCOM.NET
E-mail Pete and Vic, leaving name and snail mail address to receive announcements re next auctions. These auctions always have hard-to-get shotshells and boxes in their very informative auction booklets—which are great reference items in their own right.
SOLDUSA.COM Log on to subscribe to auction catalogs. Free. Usually groups of shotshells and often very good boxes.
Ward Auctions: E-mail wardscollectibles.com to learn of next auction. Always boxes and often good shotshells.
While acquiring library items and becoming acquainted with collector groups and journals/newsletters, acquire several useful tools such as rules and magnifying glasses. See list of recommendations this web site.
The importance of joining collector groups cannot be over emphasized. Their publications and meetings/shows/swap meets are critical to essential learnings. Groups of special value to shotshell collectors are:
- IAA, of course
- United Kingdom Cartridge Club
- Australia Cartridge Collectors Association
- New Zealand Cartridge Club
- Nebraska Cartridge Collectors
- Kansas Cartridge Collectors Assocation
- Rocky Mountain Cartridge Collectors Association
- Look at annotations of articles published by these groups in the IAA Journal. E-mail or snail mail for sample copies and membership costs.
- The best ever newsletter for shotshell collectors was published by the Shot Shell Historical Society. But it is no more. Ask advanced collectors if they were members and try to examine/copy/borrow/buy the monthly issues that were published from 1990-1999. ( Hint: Collectors may refer to the same as Windy’s newsletters.)
Buy wisely. Rarity and condition apply to pricing of all manner of collectibles. Design a collection and want lists according to your priorities and resources. Be sure to include library materials. Plan your collecting and work your plan.