COLLECTING RELOADING EQUIPMENT
Today's throwaways are tomorrow's collectibles. It has always been the case but sadly many people are either ignorant of this or simply cannot be bothered to hoard "junk". It was the same half-a-century ago; something which was no longer serving any useful purpose was considered to be rubbish and consigned to the dustbin. Nowadays it would probably have been worth many times its original purchase price. Nostalgia is a major factor in collecting, recalling past years, childhood memories of items with which we were once familiar. It will be the same with the present generation in years to come.
I have been as guilty as many others in my younger days, give away something in haste and repent at leisure. So it was with some of my cartridge loading equipment when I closed my small business in 1967. Just a few small items remain, simply because nobody wanted them at the time, and now I treasure these as they are memories of a bygone era. My worst regret is parting with my faithful Erskine loader but this foolishness has now been rectified, something which I shall relate in a future article.
Collecting covers a multitude of fields, all based on individual interests, preferences and whims. Cartridge collecting nowadays has a strong and growing following, all of us bemoaning those rare gunmakers' brands which were fired in their tens of thousands and the spent cases disposed of.
Even after I took up the collecting hobby seriously around thirty years ago I never in my wildest dreams thought that anybody would ever be seeking out antique loading equipment. After all, turnover machines, re and de-cappers and the likes were just tools to do a job. How wrong I was.
Earlier this year Paul Collis, an avid collecting of such items, contacted me. His home is in Australia but he had just made another of his fairly frequent visits to the UK primarily to source anything related to the loading and reloading shotgun shells. He informs me that his trip was highly successful and he has now returned down-under with a sizeable number of "goodies".
There are plenty of the smaller mass-marketed tools still around. Many cartridge collectors have a few which they have acquired such as turnover machines which are affixed to the edge of a table in the manner of a bean shredder, brass re and de-cappers, powder measures for loading singly, wad punches for cutting wads from sheet felt and re-sizers for swollen paper cases. There were many varieties of these which can be obtained quite cheaply from collectors who have no real interest in them or have duplicates. If you have some cartridges to swap then all the better.
Car boot sales can also be a good source for finding these old tools. In many cases stall holders have no idea what they are selling and are glad to get 50p or a pound for a piece of "useless junk".
Traders at antique fairs may be more knowledgeable but usually they do not put any value on such items.
GUNMAKERS' LOADING EQUIPMENT
Reloading cartridges today borders on rocket science! This is because modern propellants require an exactitude in terms of ballistics with loading data sheets needing to be consulted in order to obtain performances and to work within the required breech pressures. Get it wrong and you could be in big trouble.
During the latter part of the nineteenth century and up to World War II it was a much simpler procedure. Bulk smokeless powders such as Smokeless Diamond and many similar were easy to load and a grain or two more or less made little difference. The same applied to black powder.
Many of the larger gunmakers had a cartridge loading room and employed a female workforce. Here the equipment had to be capable of loading on a much larger scale and a number of machines became available from the late 1880s when the centrefire cartridge replaced the pinfire.
The Erskine loader, as already mentioned, I am leaving for a separate article but it was one of the early machines which offered bulk production. However there were other firms who recognized a demand by the UK's many gunmakers, one of which was Henry Dixon, of Sheffield, who was a gun implement maker and electroplate manufacturer. He designed, and in 1887 patented, his "Climax" loader, advertising it as having "improvements in cartridge loading machines".
In effect it was a follow-on from the Erskine which, according to the Dixon catalogue, "enabled more precise measurement of charges and better control of wad pressures as required by smokeless powder".
Many of these machines have survived, the majority being in private collections.
William Bartram, also of Sheffied, had designed and patented another type of bulk loader in 1869 which he described as "improvements in apparatus for filling and closing cartridges".
This was listed in Birmingham gunmaker C. G. Bonehill's 1896 catalogue, described as a device for rolled turnovers and a multiple measuring attachment. The latter was situated over a block which accommodated rows of five capped cases with a slide beneath the measure which was operated by a rachet and pawl.
Hence those hand-loaded cartridges bearing gunmakers' names in your collection are likely to have been loaded with either a Bartram, Dixon or Erskine machine.
END OF AN ERA
Hand-loading by gunmakers came to an end with the advent of World War II. Gone were those old powders, one of the only remaining bulk powders was Greenwood & Batley's "Greenbat", similar to Smokeless Diamond. G&B were catering for those small loading concerns which still survived such as J. Bentley, Liversedge, Yorkshire. Apart from these, commercial hand-loading was no longer economically viable. Yet there was still a market for equipment and components for shooters to load their own ammunition.
In 1966 Cogswell & Harrison published their own catalogue of reloading equipment. The introduction states "To meet the demand for reloading equipment we are importing selected, simple to operate American presses and tools which cater for both metallic ammunition and shotgun cartridges". All the products were supplied by Lyman.
Thus everything prior to 1939 was obsolete and became collectible.
RARE .360 CARTRIDGE LOADER
My good friend Ronnie Crowe has sent me a photograph of a rare .360 bore loader. The .360 shotgun has long been obsolete, the favourite of many Victorian specimen collectors and taxidermists. A little smaller than the ubiquitous .410 its light shot charge, often of dustshot, inflicted minimal carcass damage on small animal and bird species.
This item of equipment is for loading cartridges singly. One might wonder why these collectors bothered to load their own when Eley supplied ammunition. Perhaps cartridges were difficult to obtain when there was only a small demand for them especially when the shooting of rare species was drawing to a close.
It is a matter for conjecture but certainly this reloader is a rarity.
THE PAUL COLLIS COLLECTION
The Paul Collis collection is a virtual Aladdin's cave of cartridge loading equipment. Viewing it one wonders if there is anything left to collect in this field! Yet there surely is and Paul is looking to acquire any item which he does not already possess.
If you have anything which you think might interest him then he can be contacted at :
His collection can be viewed on his website: www.paulcollis.dphoto.com
- The invention of the centrefire shotgun created a huge demand for cartridges.
- Gunmakers required equipment which would load bulk supplies.
- The principal manufacturers of these loaders were Bartram, Dixon and Erskine.
- Usually these loaded in quantities of 100 at a time.
- Larger gunmakers and smaller cartridge manufacturers employed a female workforce.
- Loading equipment for single cartridges was in demand by sportsman seeking to develop their own loads.
- One of the rarest of these is a .360 bore loader for the specimen collector and taxidermist.
- Various types of single loaders and accessories such as turnover machines, wad punches and re-sizers are still to be found but many were thrown away when more modern equipment became available in the 1960s.
- Car boot sales can often yield a collector's item.
- Collecting vintage loading equipment is a fascinating hobby.