The Firing Line Forums

Go Back   The Firing Line Forums > Hogan's Alley > Handguns: The Revolver Forum

Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old September 21, 2020, 07:45 PM   #1
Prof Young
Senior Member
 
Join Date: August 21, 2007
Location: Illinois - down state
Posts: 1,952
Cap and ball conversion to cartridge?

Shooters:
Am writing from Elk City Idaho where the men out number the women about ten to one and the guns out number everyone by about the same percentage.

Anyway, we were watching The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and in one scene Eastwood is cleaning his revolver which very clearly has the lever under the barrel that one would use to reload a cap and ball cylinder. Then, as the bad guys approach, he loads the thing up with cartridge type bullets. Is that accurate? Did they remake cap and ball revolvers to take cartridges?

Life is good.
Prof Young
Prof Young is offline  
Old September 21, 2020, 08:07 PM   #2
Hawg
Senior Member
 
Join Date: September 8, 2007
Location: Mississippi
Posts: 15,446
Yes they did. Factories offered conversions and local blacksmiths also did conversions.
Hawg is offline  
Old September 21, 2020, 08:08 PM   #3
jcj54
Senior Member
 
Join Date: February 28, 2011
Posts: 121
Remington 1858 New Model Army cartridge conversion. The next step was the Model 1875 Single Action.
jcj54 is offline  
Old September 21, 2020, 08:22 PM   #4
rclark
Senior Member
 
Join Date: February 12, 2009
Location: Butte, MT
Posts: 2,326
Basic reason for the conversions was that the conversions were cheaper than going out and buying a brand new gun. From what I understand it was very popular at the time.

For example here is a Remington Conversion replica:

Taylor1858 Remington Conversion
__________________
A clinger and deplorable, MAGA, and life NRA member. When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. Single Action .45 Colt (Sometimes colloquially referred to by its alias as the .45 'Long' Colt or .45LC). Don't leave home without it. That said, the .44Spec is right up their too... but the .45 Colt is still the king.
rclark is offline  
Old September 21, 2020, 08:28 PM   #5
Aguila Blanca
Staff
 
Join Date: September 25, 2008
Location: CONUS
Posts: 14,819
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof Young
Is that accurate? Did they remake cap and ball revolvers to take cartridges?
Yes. I'm sure a lot of local gunsmiths did it. Once Smith & Wesson's patent on the bored-through cylinder expired. the Colt factory started converting 1960 Army revolvers to use metallic cartridges. Google up Richards-Mason conversion.

There's an interesting bit of trivia associated with that. Many black powder shooters know that the bore of a .44 caliber cap-and-ball revolver is the same as .45 Colt (and .45 Schofield). This is why the modern cartridge conversions can fire .45 Colt (or .45 Schofield, for those where the cylinder is too short for .45 Colt). But Colt didn't enlarge the chambers to take the .45 Colt or .45 Schofield cartridge -- they just took the bore of the black powder chamber and pushed it through to the end of the cylinder. So those guns fired a round that was called .44 Colt.

Today's Italian clones chambered in .44 use a bullet that's the same diameter as .44 Special and .44 Magnum -- around .429 inches. The bullets are smaller than the brass because the ammunition is inside lubricated. The original .44 Colt ammo used a full-diameter, heeled bullet that was outside lubricated -- like .22 LR on steroids. There are bullet molds out there to make these heeled bullets. There was a company that sold the bullets, but the owner has retired so I don't know if another source has come along to fill the gap. The proper ammunition of a real Colt Richards-Mason conversion is today referred to as ".44 Colt Original," to differentiate it from the modern ammo that's also called .44 Colt.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.44_Colt

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Mason_(gunsmith)
__________________
NRA Life Member / Certified Instructor
NRA Chief RSO / CMP RSO
1911 Certified Armorer
Jeepaholic
Aguila Blanca is offline  
Old September 22, 2020, 12:30 AM   #6
Aguila Blanca
Staff
 
Join Date: September 25, 2008
Location: CONUS
Posts: 14,819
Taylor's also offers reproductions of Colt's pre-SAA cartridge conversions:

https://taylorsfirearms.com/hand-gun...avy-model.html

https://taylorsfirearms.com/hand-gun...rmy-model.html

https://taylorsfirearms.com/hand-gun...rmy-model.html
__________________
NRA Life Member / Certified Instructor
NRA Chief RSO / CMP RSO
1911 Certified Armorer
Jeepaholic
Aguila Blanca is offline  
Old September 22, 2020, 01:06 PM   #7
DaleA
Senior Member
 
Join Date: September 12, 2002
Location: Twin Cities, MN
Posts: 4,670
And once, when I told a gun grabber for the gajillionth time that you CANNOT just buy a gun online and avoid a background check, they told me you COULD buy a black powder handgun and then buy a conversion cylinder and no check would be necessary. They are correct. That could be done. I should have replied honest to pete is that REALLY where the gang-banging handguns that commit most of the murders are coming from???
DaleA is offline  
Old September 22, 2020, 03:23 PM   #8
Armybrat
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 10, 2009
Location: Round Rock, Texas
Posts: 820
My brother has a .38 rimfire 1861 Remington conversion just like this one:
Attached Images
File Type: jpeg 26C17E5E-D836-4BFB-A394-3ABF7F3BD0A1.jpeg (291.2 KB, 26 views)
Armybrat is offline  
Old September 23, 2020, 02:20 AM   #9
Driftwood Johnson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: January 3, 2014
Location: Land of the Pilgrims
Posts: 1,940
Howdy

This is a screen shot of Clint reloading his 1858 Remington with a fresh cylinder loaded with cartridges in Pale Rider.



The prop guys converted a Cap & Ball 1858 to accept cylinders for cartridges. It may have only been capable of shooting blanks, I don't really know.

Smith and Wesson was the licensee to the Rollin White patent for revolvers with bored through chambers that could accept cartridges. This patent expired in 1869. As the patent licensee, in February of 1868 S&W signed a contract with Remington allowing Remington to alter a total of 4,574 Cap & Ball revolvers to fire cartridges. Remington did the conversions at their factory in Ilion NY. New five shot 46 rimfire cylinders were used. S&W received a $1.00 royalty on each revolver converted. These are the revolvers that were the historical basis for what Clint was shooting in Pale Rider.

In addition, after the White patent expired in 1869, many gunsmiths did their own conversions of the 1858 Remington to cartridges.

Aguila Blanca is correct about the bore diameter of 44 caliber Cap & Ball revolvers and the development of the 44 Colt cartridge.

This is a Colt Richards Conversion. Not the Richards-Mason Conversion, that came a few years later. This is basically a 1860 Army Cap & Ball Colt that has a been converted to shoot cartridges by substituting a cartridge cylinder, adding a conversion ring behind the cylinder, and removing the loading lever and adding an ejection rod. Four original 44 Colt cartridges are pictured with it.






Colt produced three or four different 'cartridge conversion' revolvers before finally bringing out the Single Action Army in 1873, four years after the White patent had expired. It is true that after the end of the Civil War Cap & Ball revolvers were a glut on the market, and it was often cheaper to buy one of them and convert it to firing cartridges than it was to buy a new cartridge revolver.


Because the groove diameter of 45 Colt is .451, and the groove diameter of '44' caliber Cap & Ball revolvers is the same, or very nearly the same, several manufacturers started businesses about 20 years ago or so producing cartridge conversion cylinders for modern reproductions of Cap & Ball revolvers. Ken Howell was one of these guys, Walt Kirst was another.

This is an Italian replica of the 1858 Remington Cap & Ball revolver with a 45 Colt conversion cylinder made by Ken Howell.






This is how you load it. You drop the loading lever to free the cylinder pin, pull out the cylinder pin and pull out the cylinder. The cap with six independent firing pins is a slip fit and you pop it off, load five (not six) cartridges and pop everything back in place. Of course you are careful to position the empty chamber under the hammer.





These conversion cylinders are made of modern arsenal steel and are safe to shoot with mild Smokeless ammunition, but I only shoot mine with ammo loaded with Black Powder.

The Kirst system is a bit different. He uses a conversion ring mounted to the frame with a single firing pin, very similar to the Colt Richards Conversion. The cylinder can be reloaded on the gun by carving a loading groove onto the frame, enlarging the groove already there for loading caps onto the nipples.

It is true that one can buy a Cap & Ball revolver and legally convert it to a cartridge firearm by adding a conversion cylinder, at least in the eyes of the BATF. State laws may vary. Technically, when you put in the conversion cylinder you have transformed it to a cartridge firearm, if you put the original Cap & Ball cylinder back in you have made it a non-firearm again. There are some legal difficulties though if you alter the frame in anyway, such as carving a loading slot.
Driftwood Johnson is offline  
Old September 23, 2020, 12:59 PM   #10
T. O'Heir
Senior Member
 
Join Date: February 13, 2002
Location: Canada
Posts: 12,081
"...Is that accurate?..." Nothing in any movie, especially an Eastwood movie is remotely accurate.
"...cap and ball revolvers to take cartridges..." Yep, but not while sitting by a camp fire.
"...the men out number the women about ten to one..." You may want to move. snicker.
__________________
Spelling and grammar count!
T. O'Heir is offline  
Old September 23, 2020, 11:09 PM   #11
Jim Watson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: October 25, 2001
Location: Alabama
Posts: 16,440
As the cartridge revolvers came out, Colt was left with a lot of cap and ball parts.
Many of the "conversions" out there were never completed as cap and ball, some of the barrels used had no provision for a rammer.
Jim Watson is offline  
Old September 24, 2020, 11:24 AM   #12
Bob Wright
Senior Member
 
Join Date: July 10, 2012
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Posts: 2,895
As to Colt revolvers, at least the larger calibers, the early 1860 conversions were the Richards conversions, which did use the cap-and-ball barrel which had the provision for the loading lever. The Richards-Mason conversions used a new barrel, which was used on the 1872 Open Top in .44 Rimfire.

The earliest Remington conversions were made under license from S&W and chambered the .46 Short rimfire cartridge. Using the rimfire cartridge allowed the cartridge cylinder be utilized without altering the firing pin, or hammer nose, and the gun could be converted from cartridge to cap-and-ball or back again at will, with no other alterations.

I think Remington paid Smith & Wesson twenty-five cents per gun so altered and sold. Colt had the same option, but chose not to avail themselves of the opportunity.



Bob Wright
__________________
Time spent at the reloading bench is an investment in contentment.
Bob Wright is offline  
Old September 24, 2020, 11:32 AM   #13
Bob Wright
Senior Member
 
Join Date: July 10, 2012
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Posts: 2,895
And, while we're on the subject....................

The US Army had many of their 1858 Remingtons converted to .44 Centerfire, and these took the same cartridge as the converted Colt 1860 Army models, the .44 Colt. Ammunition produced by Frankford Arsenal bore the printed legend on cartridge packets as "For Colt and Remington Revolvers." This had led many to believe that the .44 Remington round, intended for the Remington 1875 Army to be identical to the .44 Colt.

Some years back a noted Remington collector gathered enough revolvers and cartridges to try chambering the .44 Colt in the 1875 Remington revolver. His (Their?) conclusion was that some Colt cartridges could chamber in the Remington, but they were not readily interchangeable.

Bob Wright
__________________
Time spent at the reloading bench is an investment in contentment.
Bob Wright is offline  
Old September 24, 2020, 01:05 PM   #14
Driftwood Johnson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: January 3, 2014
Location: Land of the Pilgrims
Posts: 1,940
Prior to the Richards Conversion Colt made the Thuer Conversion. The Thuer Conversion was an attempt by Colt to circumvent the Rollin White patent on revolvers with cylinders bored through to accept cartridges. The Thuer Conversions used an odd cartridge that was tapered, narrower at the rear than at the front, and the chambers were tapered to accept this cartridge. It was thought that because the bored through chambers were not cylindrical in shape, but were tapered, Colt could get away with making them without being sued by Smith and Wesson. The Thuer Conversions were mostly built on the 1851 Navy Colt and 1860 Army Colts, but there were some rare ones built on the 36 Caliber Pocket Models, the 36 Caliber 1862 Police Models, and some very rare 31 Caliber 1849 Pocket Models. There were even a few non-factory Thuer Conversions built on the Walker and Dragoon Models. The White Patent expired in 1869, and the first Thuer Models were also made in 1869. Only about 5,000 Thuer Conversions were made, from 1869 until 1872, they never sold very well because of the strange, reverse tapered cartridges.



More photos of my Colt Richards Conversion:

See my earlier post for a view of the right side of the revolver.

Completely disassembled except the screw holding the ejector rod assembly in place was too bunged up so I did not attempt to remove it.







This is the ejector rod assembly. It fits into the hole in the frame where the loading lever ram would normally go. The screw visible on the side of the barrel in the photo above is what held the ejector rod assembly in place. This was a complicated assembly. The ejector rod assembly of the later Richards-Mason Conversion was simpler and less expensive to manufacture.






The cylinder.






A comparison of the Richards Conversion Cylinder and the cylinder from a modern Italian replica 1860 Army Cap & Ball revolver. The earliest Richards Conversion cylinders were made by cutting down the C&B cylinder. The nipple area of the cylinder was machined away. Then a new ratchet star was machined from what remained. Later Richards Conversions had new cylinders made up from scratch. I have not lettered this one, I should, but I believe this one has one of the cylinders made from scratch, rather than a cut down C&B cylinder. Two of the 44 Colt rounds are sitting in the cylinder.






Frame






A Conversion Ring was added to the frame to take up the space of the missing nipple portion of the cylinder.






A frame mounted, spring loaded firing pin, similar to a modern Ruger firing pin, was mounted in the Conversion Ring, and a raised rear sight was incorporated onto the top of the Conversion Ring. The front of the hammer was machined away forming a flat surface to strike the firing pin.






A loading gate not too different from a SAA loading gate was mounted onto the Conversion Ring.





The White Patent was due to expire in April of 1869, and it was felt there would be little possibility of it being renewed. The Thuer Conversions had not proved to be commercially successful, so Colt engineers were hard at work coming up with experimental designs to convert existing stocks of C&B revolvers to cartridges. Charles B Richards was one of the best designers at Colt. His first patent for a breech loading revolver was granted on August 18, 1868. Another patent was issued in July 1871. The final patent was issued on July 25, 1871.

In A Study Of Colt Conversions, and Other Percussion Revolvers, author Bruce McDowell states, "It is impossible to determine the exact date the Colt factory machinery started turning for the production of the Richards System, or the conversion of the Colt Model 1860 Army percussion revolvers to accept metallic cartridges". McDowell goes on to mention some letters from Army officials dated January 1871 inquiring about converting existing revolvers to fire cartridges. He states that an order was placed by the U.S. Ordnance Department to 'clean, repair, and alter or convert' 1000 revolvers on the last day of January, 1871. Colt records seem to indicate that by December 4, 1871 Colt had finished making the parts for that contract.

A table in McDowell's book seems to indicate that the majority of contracts for Richards Conversions had been completed by 1873, but a few were converted as late as 1880, long after the Single Action Army appeared in 1873.

The later Richards-Mason Conversion was a simpler conversion. The ejector rod mechanism of the Richards Conversion had been simplified, the frame mounted firing pin was eliminated in favor of a hammer mounted firing pin, and the Richards Conversion rear sight was eliminated in favor of a notch on the hammer nose, similar to the rear sights on most Colt percussion revolvers.
Driftwood Johnson is offline  
Old September 24, 2020, 06:12 PM   #15
Bob Wright
Senior Member
 
Join Date: July 10, 2012
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Posts: 2,895
That hammer, in your disassembled view, looks much like a Ruger Three Screw hammer!

Bob Wright
__________________
Time spent at the reloading bench is an investment in contentment.
Bob Wright is offline  
Old September 25, 2020, 06:21 AM   #16
Mike Irwin
Staff
 
Join Date: April 13, 2000
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 40,388
Interesting note...

Remington revolvers converted to .46 Rimfire were issued to black troops (Buffalo Soldiers) serving in the American South West. Even more interesting were that some of the black troops were also issued Remington rolling block rifles chambered in .46 Extra Long rimfire.
__________________
"The gift which I am sending you is called a dog, and is in fact the most precious and valuable possession of mankind" -Theodorus Gaza

Baby Jesus cries when the fat redneck doesn't have military-grade firepower.
Mike Irwin is offline  
Old September 25, 2020, 10:06 AM   #17
Driftwood Johnson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: January 3, 2014
Location: Land of the Pilgrims
Posts: 1,940
Some of the Richards Conversions were issued to Indian Scouts.

McDowell states "In any event, there is no question that the U.S. Richards were issued and used well into the 1880s, until the 23,060 Single Action Army revolvers purchased from 1873 until 1880 finally made them obsolete."
Driftwood Johnson is offline  
Old September 25, 2020, 10:41 AM   #18
Driftwood Johnson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: January 3, 2014
Location: Land of the Pilgrims
Posts: 1,940
Quote:
I think Remington paid Smith & Wesson twenty-five cents per gun so altered and sold. Colt had the same option, but chose not to avail themselves of the opportunity.
Hi Bob

Here is what Neal and Jinks have to say about the cost of the Remington Conversions in Smith & Wesson 1857-1945:

"In February of 1868 Smith and Wesson and E. Remington & Sons signed a contract whereby Remington was granted license to alter a stock of their 44 percussion revolvers to 46 RF. The primary purchaser of these revolvers was to be B. Kittredge & Co. of Cincinnati. All revolvers were altered by Remington at their Ilion factory, using five shot cylinders marked "April 3, 1885." After alteration they were shipped to Smith & Wesson for inspection. B. Kittredge paid Smith & Wesson $3.3625 per pistol for the alteration. The company kept $1.00 of this amount as their payment and paid the remaining $2.3625 to Remington."

"The work was done between September, 1868, and April, 1869, with shipments being made to Smith & Wesson as they were completed. A total of 4,574 revolvers were altered. Of this number, 50 did not pass inspection. This was the first group inspected. Forty-nine of them were shipped to J.W.Storrs and one kept as a model. Including that lot that J.W. Storrs received 400. B. Kittredge received 4,141, M.W. Robinson 31, and Wexell & DeGress 1."


So it looks to me that S&W received $1.00 for each revolver that was converted.

You may be confusing the twenty five cents amount with the royalty for every revolver S&W made and paid to Rollin White as the licensee of his patent.

B. Kittredge was a large distributor of Smith and Wesson Firearms, as was J. W. Storrs. I don't know who Wexell & Degress were.

Last edited by Driftwood Johnson; September 26, 2020 at 10:45 PM.
Driftwood Johnson is offline  
Old September 25, 2020, 12:18 PM   #19
Bob Wright
Senior Member
 
Join Date: July 10, 2012
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Posts: 2,895
Quote:
You may be confusing the twenty five cents amount with the royaltee for every revolver S&W made and paid to Rollin White as the licensee of his patent.
Drift,

I think you hit the head of the nail there, as in thinking back I believe that was said of Colt, balking at the fee to Rollin White.

Thanks for the correction.

Bob Wright
__________________
Time spent at the reloading bench is an investment in contentment.
Bob Wright is offline  
Old September 25, 2020, 08:45 PM   #20
Mike Irwin
Staff
 
Join Date: April 13, 2000
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 40,388
White first offered the bored through cylinder to Colt, for whom he worked.

When they refused he offered it to Smith and Wesson.

Colt later tried to sue to overturn the patent but was turned away by the courts.

Sent from my SM-G981U using Tapatalk
Mike Irwin is offline  
Old September 25, 2020, 09:39 PM   #21
Carmady
Senior Member
 
Join Date: February 26, 2013
Location: on the lam
Posts: 1,505
Here's Clint loading cartridges into an altered 1851 Navy (I think).

www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkY9qLEK_b8

Edit: not an altered 1851 Navy, but a cartridge revolver which looks like an 1851.

Last edited by Carmady; September 25, 2020 at 09:45 PM.
Carmady is offline  
Old September 25, 2020, 11:22 PM   #22
Driftwood Johnson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: January 3, 2014
Location: Land of the Pilgrims
Posts: 1,940
While White was working for Colt he came up with his idea and created a couple of crude patent models. His models actually featured a bizarre loading feature, the bored through chambers was almost an afterthought.

White brought his models to Colt but Colt passed on the idea.

So White patented it himself. The patent was granted on April 3, 1855.

In 1856 Daniel Wesson was designing his new, tiny 22 rimfire Tip Up revolver. It was a revolutionary design, all the revolvers made up to then were percussion revolvers. Wesson's design utilized chambers bored through the cylinder so cartridges could be loaded from the rear. He investigated the patentability of his new revolver and discovered White's patent, which covered the bored through chambers.

Wesson wrote to White on October 31, 1856 and suggested they meet. White replied on November 3, 1856 indicating he would be happy to meet with Wesson. They met on November 17, 1856.

Wesson wanted to buy the rights to the patent outright, but White did not want to sell. Instead, the agreement they signed stated that White gave Smith and Wesson exclusive rights to manufacture revolvers with bored through cylinders and S&W would pay White a royalty of $0.25 for every revolver they made. White gave up the right to make revolvers under his own patent.

Wesson also insisted that White would have to defend the patent against all patent infringements. He had learned a hard lesson while working for his brother Edwin how difficult it could be to defend a patent against patent infringements. This clause eventually proved to be very expensive for White.

Last edited by Driftwood Johnson; September 26, 2020 at 10:31 PM.
Driftwood Johnson is offline  
Old September 26, 2020, 12:31 PM   #23
Dave T
Senior Member
 
Join Date: April 16, 2000
Location: Mesa, Arizona
Posts: 1,428
Good stuff gentlemen! Thanks to all who have contributed to our knowledge of this era and its revolvers.

Dave
__________________
RSVN '69-'71
PCSD Ret
Dave T is online now  
Old September 26, 2020, 03:44 PM   #24
Drm50
Senior Member
 
Join Date: November 10, 2014
Posts: 914
I just recently sold a Colt , one of the remakes that was converted to 22rf. Gun was in mint shape. Shot it a box. There was no ejector, had to poke them out with stick. There was a loading gate installed.
Drm50 is offline  
Old September 26, 2020, 05:09 PM   #25
Aguila Blanca
Staff
 
Join Date: September 25, 2008
Location: CONUS
Posts: 14,819
Quote:
Originally Posted by Driftwood Johnson
This is a screen shot of Clint reloading his 1858 Remington with a fresh cylinder loaded with cartridges in Pale Rider.



The prop guys converted a Cap & Ball 1858 to accept cylinders for cartridges. It may have only been capable of shooting blanks, I don't really know.
http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Pale_Rider
__________________
NRA Life Member / Certified Instructor
NRA Chief RSO / CMP RSO
1911 Certified Armorer
Jeepaholic
Aguila Blanca is offline  
Reply

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 10:58 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2020, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
This site and contents, including all posts, Copyright © 1998-2020 S.W.A.T. Magazine
Copyright Complaints: Please direct DMCA Takedown Notices to the registered agent: thefiringline.com
Contact Us
Page generated in 0.12023 seconds with 11 queries