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Old September 7, 2018, 01:33 PM   #1
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Phase out date for percussion and cap and ball fireams ?

Anyone have any idea what time period-say 1880s or 1890s-when muzzleloaders and percussion gun finally way to cartridge guns for general civilian use ?
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Old September 7, 2018, 01:40 PM   #2
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1870s. Still used for years after, though, by poor people or folks that didn't want to upgrade. Heck, Rogers and Spencers were being used in the Spanish American IIRC.
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Old September 7, 2018, 03:55 PM   #3
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For your average person, I imagine cap & ball revolvers would be in common usage into the 1880's. Most people probably couldn't afford to get anything nicer than an old cap, and probably wouldn't need to get something better if they could afford to do so. Just my guess though.
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Old September 8, 2018, 08:56 PM   #4
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Well.. Im still using them in 2018! LoL
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Old September 8, 2018, 11:01 PM   #5
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Cap guns were made by isolated men gunsmiths throughout the twentieth century until the flintlock renaissance began. They are made today by gunsmiths in Red China.
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Old September 9, 2018, 12:51 AM   #6
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Copies of Colt's Percussion revolvers ( also known as "brevette colts" ) were still being produced in Belgium as late as 1920 or 1930 for sale in the Middle East and Africa. They were especially popular in Turkey.

One can only assume loose powder and caps were more common and easier to obtain than cartridges.
I can guarentee that it was easier on caravans and traders to stock and sell powder and caps and bar lead than to try to carry the plethora of different cartridges .

As an example, I knew an exchange student from Kenya back in 1974 who came to the BP shop and bought a .54 TC Hawken, several roundball molds, several Maxi molds, and a case of caps. He was taking them home where he could get plenty of BP but cartridges (even then) were difficult to get and very expensive. We were also given to understand that ML firearms were also essentially unregulated.

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Old September 9, 2018, 07:45 AM   #7
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Another aspect

Not to mention that black powder can be made from common ingredients. Lead can easily be molded into minis or round balls.

Thus the only thing that is "special" are the percussion caps themselves.
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Old September 9, 2018, 12:16 PM   #8
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" powder can be made from common ingredients..." A very unsafe thing to do though. Even the pros blow up their plants on a fairly regular basis.
Horace Smith & Daniel Wesson filed their patent for a revolver chambered for a self-contained metallic cartridge in 1856. Bored-through cylinders were invented around 1852 by a guy working for Sam Colt, who refused to accept it. The S&W Model 1 was a .22 and was introduced in 1857. The S&W patent expired in 1870 and everybody else jumped.
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Old September 9, 2018, 03:03 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Ricklin View Post
Not to mention that black powder can be made from common ingredients. Lead can easily be molded into minis or round balls.

Thus the only thing that is "special" are the percussion caps themselves.
And aren't much special at all...I also make my own caps with a mixture of pottasium chlorate and phosphorus and they work very well...
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Old September 10, 2018, 06:16 PM   #10
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Way before the Civil War. Rifles & pistols both: Volcanic_Spencer_and Henry's all fired rim fire cartridges. As early as 1855~~ maybe even before? As all gun manufactures were infringing on one-another's patent/s in that era~ I do believe
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Old September 10, 2018, 06:59 PM   #11
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I think the "breakover" point where more cartridge guns were in use than cap and ball probably came in the late 1870s. Of course, many were bore-through cap and ball guns.
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Old September 11, 2018, 10:42 PM   #12
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The U.S. Army got the preponderance of the Colt 1873 Peacemakers during the 1870s. Once their orders were filled then the guns got into the civilian market. Any Peacemaker in civilian hands before 1875 was either a special order or stolen ("lost") by the trooper. Civil War guns were frequently converted to center or rimfire in the early 1870s.
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Old September 12, 2018, 02:09 PM   #13
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Old September 12, 2018, 03:10 PM   #14
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It's been a while since I saw the movie Sgt York, but I seem to recall scenes of Alvin York using a black powder rifle (shortly before WWI). Ordinarily, I would dismiss any movie scene as being historically relevant however Alvin York himself was heavily involved in this movie (even to the point of demanding Gary Cooper as the actor as a condition of allowing the story to be filmed) and I can't imagine him allowing the showing of him using the wrong rifle type
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Old September 12, 2018, 04:04 PM   #15
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I do remember my grandfather telling me about hunting with a Cap & Ball rifle as a teenager,,,
He was borne in 1901.


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Old September 13, 2018, 06:26 AM   #16
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Colt was producing the 1851 Navy (C & B) up through 1873. One of their most popular selling revolvers and one has to remmed er that combustible cartridges were available for many many years afterwards as there was a market for them.
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Old October 19, 2018, 03:43 AM   #17
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Doyle is correct.........Alvin York and many of his folk and neighbors were still shooting and hunting with muzzleloading rifles, I would think likely both percussion and flintlock rifles, in the years leading up to York's service in WWI. Certainly this would be into the early 1900's.

York writes of the local shooting matches and use of the muzzleloading rifles in his autobiography: "Sgt York, his own life story and war diary". Pall Mall, TN is a very rural area, even to this day. Though I doubt a muzzleloader is the common hunting arm these days, it is not hard to realize that the rural South, 100 yrs ago, would still have been a very remote and simple lifestyle and devoid of a number of modern devices more common in urban and northern areas.

The state of TN has created Alvin York State Park, and very plain and simple site. Seems as if some of Yorks firearms were on display......but my memory fails me
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Old October 19, 2018, 09:07 AM   #18
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Can does not mean should

Agreed, not suggesting anyone make their own black powder. If you do choose to do so, please be far far away from me and my loved ones, and stick with small batches.
My point is that it is possible to do so.
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Old October 19, 2018, 11:24 AM   #19
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From Walter M. Cline's book, "The Muzzle-Loading Rifle Then and Now," Mr. Cline stated,

"A remark was made by one of my mountaineer friends, as a party of us sat around the camp fire one night while on a hunting trip in the Cumberland Mountains, when the conversation turned to the old days, when we all used muzzle-loading rifles. This man, a true mountaineer, said that he "wished there had never been any other gun made except the muzzle-loading rifle, because in that case we would always have had plenty of game."

Also on that same page (p.16 in my copy) it was stated that, "Very few shots were thrown away by men who used the muzzle loading rifle. It was accurate, economical of ammunition, and deadly."

Still is, and though it certainly is a cartridge gun world we live in today as Americans, I don't believe the m.l. guns, flint or percussion, ever really went by the wayside. There just always seems to have been a constant little stream of a "Black Powder Creek" flowing right along, all along. I can only imagine in certain places in the Appalachian country, the m.l. guns are still used commonly. Nothing more than an opinion here.

Two books I've had for quite a few years now, might should be on most any traditional muzzleloading gun buff's shelf. They are; "The Muzzle Loading Cap Lock Rifle," by Ned Roberts, and Walter M. Clines book that I mentioned earlier. They contain stories and info you just can't find anywhere else...and again, that's just my opinion.

On July 4th, 1942, there was a "chunk gun" beef shoot held at Jimtown, Tennessee. Guess who won 1st place? "Sgt. Alvin C. York, of Pall Mall." He got the right hind quarter of the beef (Chapter 14, Ned's book). There must have been some close scores at that shoot, as it's written that, "The record shots were measured with fine dividers, family heirlooms and true antiques, in the hands of three judges well versed in all the fine points of 'greasing your chin' with a hard-won quarter o' beef." Alvin York was awarded 1st choice of the beef "After a lot of exacting work and due deliberation..."
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Old October 19, 2018, 06:55 PM   #20
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Phil Sharpe's 1937 book "Complete Guide to Handloading, had a whole section on muzzleloading. First time I read it I learned that the precision shooters used a false muzzle to to start their bullets, and that the muzzleloaders had / have a national association, still active.

So, based on that cartridge guns were to the fore, but there was a powerful interest keeping the original smoke poles going......front runner of the BR crowd. Book is available for down load from:
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Old October 19, 2018, 08:29 PM   #21
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Lest we forget, the Great Depression meant that very poor families in the Appalachian Mountains preferred muzzle loaders as they were cheaper to use than cartridge families.
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Old October 21, 2018, 04:15 PM   #22
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Horace Smith & Daniel Wesson filed their patent for a revolver chambered for a self-contained metallic cartridge in 1856. Bored-through cylinders were invented around 1852 by a guy working for Sam Colt, who refused to accept it. The S&W Model 1 was a .22 and was introduced in 1857. The S&W patent expired in 1870 and everybody else jumped.

That is not quite correct. The guy who worked for Colt was Rollin White. He came up with the idea to bore chambers all the way through a cylinder to accept metallic cartridges while still in the employ of Colt. He kludged together a prototype from a Cap & Ball revolver, but it was such a monstrosity and so impractical that Colt dismissed the idea. So White patented the idea himself. His patent models were pretty bizarre, and would not have been practical to produce. But the idea of boring the chambers of a revolver all the way through was key to the patent.

Here is White's patent drawing, dated 1855. Part of what was impractical about this design was it employed a spring loaded magazine to load the chambers.

Daniel Wesson independently came up with the idea of boring chambers through a cylinder for his new revolver design. He planned on using a small 22 caliber rimfire cartridge of the type developed by Flobert in France. Wesson did not know about White's patent. When Wesson's patent lawyers did a patent search, they discovered White had already patented the idea of boring the chambers through a cylinder. Smith and Wesson met with White and attempted to buy the rights to his patent, so they could produce cartridge revolvers. White refused to sell the patent outright, so an arrangement was made where S&W would be licensed to produce revolvers using White's idea of boring the chambers through the cylinder. In return S&W paid White a royalty of $.25 for every revolver they made using his patent.

Also part of the contract was that White would not have the right to manufacture firearms using the ideas in his patent, and White would be responsible for chasing down patent infringements. This last part was White's undoing because once other manufacturers realized what a good idea it was to bore a chamber all the way through, there were plenty of infringements to the patent, and White spent most of his money preventing infringement of the patent.

It is interesting to note that contrary to popular belief, S&W never 'owned' the White patent. White continued to own it and licensed S&W to make revolvers using the ideas of his patent. However S&W bought up and controlled a few other patents that later allowed them to make their Top Break revolvers.

The White patent was effectively in force until 1869, when it expired. White attempted to get the patent renewed, but failed. So all through the Civil War, the only American company legally able to manufacture cartridge revolvers was Smith and Wesson. That is why most of the revolvers used on both sides in the Civil War were Cap & Ball revolvers, which were already becoming obsolete.

Here is a photo of the three different sizes of Tip Up revolvers Smith and Wesson was manufacturing at this time. Top to bottom, the 32 Rimfire No. 2 'Old Army', 32 Rimfire No. 1 1/2, and 22 rimfire No. 1.

This photo shows how the Tip Ups worked. To load you unlatched a latch at the bottom of the barrel and rotated the barrel up, hence the name Tip Up. You pulled the cylinder out, ejected the empty brass by poking them out with the rod under the barrel, loaded the cylinder with fresh cartridges, put it back in place, and rotated the barrel down to latch it in position. Smith and Wesson experimented with making a 44 caliber Tip Up, but decided the mechanism was not strong enough for a cartridge that large.

The White patent expired in 1869. Smith and Wesson thought the other revolver manufacturers would be ready with new cartridge revolver designs once the patent expired, so they designed a totally new type of revolver, which they thought would probably be better than whatever the competition unveiled. What they came up with was a large 44 caliber revolver that was loaded by unlatching the barrel and rotating it down.

The first one was the American Model, but I do not own one to show here. Instead, here is the next model, the Russian Model, chambered for the 44 Russian cartridge.

These revolvers featured automatic ejection of the spent brass, which was a new idea. Here is what the Russian looks like as it is broken open and about to eject the spent brass. As the barrel is rotated down, the ejector rises and lifts the spent brass up. When the barrel is rotated all the way down, a spring snaps the ejector back down and the brass should fall clear. In practice, I have learned to give the gun a sidewise flip as I pop out the empties. This helps propel them out. If I don't, the ejector can snap back down and a piece of brass can get caught under it. Which is a pain to clear.

I have rotated the barrel down far enough to raise the ejector almost all the way. If I rotate the barrel a little bit further, a spring will snap it down and the brass should fall clear.

It was very fast to reload these revolvers, much faster than the Colt Single Action Army. Because this style of revolver broke open from the top, they were called Top Breaks.

Anyway, 1869 rolled around, and S&W introduced their revolutionary new revolver, and Colt did not have anything ready to compete with it.

Once the White patent had expired, Colt built some 'conversion' revolvers based on their Cap & Ball revolvers, but it was not until 1873 that Colt introduced the Single Action Army, which was a continuation of the Colt percussion revolvers, but had been designed from the ground up to accept cartridges. This is a Colt Richards Conversion, one of several types of 'cartridge conversion' revolvers Colt made before bringing out the Single Action Army. It was modified from the 1860 Army Colt Cap & Ball revolver. The cylinder was machined to accept cartridges, a breech plate was installed in the frame behind the cylinder. The breech plate held a modern style spring loaded firing pin. A loading gate was added on the side, and an ejector mechanism was mounted where the earlier percussion loading lever had been.

The cartridges shown are some original 44 Colt cartridges. The 44 Colt was simply an adaptation to fit into the chambers of a percussion 44 Colt. Groove diameter was actually around .451 (the same as the later 45 Colt cartridge). The 44 Colt bullets were heeled bullets, meaning the rear of the bullet was slightly smaller in diameter than the main part of the bullet. This way, the 'heel' of the bullet fit inside the brass case, and the outside dimension of the bullet and brass case were the same. Just like modern 22 Rimfire ammunition.

As stated, the Colt Single Action Army first appeared in 1873, and the Army purchased large numbers. At the same time, the government was surplussing out large quantities of percussion Colts and Remingtons left over from the Civil War, so percussion revolvers were available much cheaper than the latest technology, and there were plenty of them.

Remington introduced their version of a cartridge revolver in 1875, but Colt already had a foot hold in the cartridge market, so nowhere near as many Remingtons were produced as Colts.

So all in all, from the earliest days of metallic cartridges in the 1850s, until the 1880s or so, Cap & Ball revolvers gradually gave way to cartridge revolvers.

It did not happen all at once.

There were many other revolver manufacturers too, this has just been the highlights.

Last edited by Driftwood Johnson; October 22, 2018 at 11:19 AM.
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Old October 21, 2018, 08:21 PM   #23
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Now that, dear readers, is a post!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Old October 21, 2018, 10:25 PM   #24
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and an intelligent one. I'd say for the average citizen the cutoff would have been around 1880.
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Old October 22, 2018, 03:04 AM   #25
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Excellent info....thank you !
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