Friday, October 21, 2016

Colt Revolvers

The letters between Colt and their "Allies" (big distributors) contain some surprises.  Colt as late as 1874 was still making both cap and ball revolvers and metallic cartridge revolvers.  For reasons that elude me, the metallic cartridge revolvers are called "Breech Loaders."  But the cap and ball revolvers are strictly speaking breech loaders as well.  They were loaded into the cylinder, but this is still behind the breech.

Enlighten me.


James Gibson said...

My opinion, and its Colt's opinion of what was a breechloader or not that we don't know, is that Colt is right to call the cartridge guns breechloaders and the cap and ball guns not. If you interpret the breech as the rear of the revolving cylinder, only the cartridge guns can be loaded there. The Cap and ball guns had the powder and then the ball rammed in from the front of the cylinder with only the cap on the rear of the cylinder. ANother way to look at this is a pepper box. Six shots in a rotating cylinder, essentially a Colt revolver without the barrel. Thus the cap and ball Pepper boxes are actually muzzle loaders, while the cartridge versions were a breech loader.

Cincinnatus said...

Well, technically, the cylinder has a breech end. And cap and ball revolvers are loaded from the front end of the cylinder.

As with anything of course, terminology is always haphazard and catching up to new tech or using old terms for new things.

dittybopper said...

Robin is correct. For a revolver that shoots metallic cartridges, the cartridges are inserted into the rear of the cylinder, the "breech end" of that cylinder. For cap and ball revolvers, the ammunition is loaded into the front of the cylinder. If the revolver is a "pepperbox" style, then it literally is a muzzleloader.

Interestingly enough Colt and other manufacturers sold sold cartridges for cap and ball revolvers. They would have a slug with a combustible paper cartridge holding the powder charge glued to the back. It's a much more convenient way to load the gun: Pop a cartridge in a chamber and ram it down, and keep ding that until all the chambers are full, then cap all the nipples and you're ready to go. It's not much slower than reloading a Single Action Army.

The reason why modern shooters load from a flask of powder and a separate ball, and often smear some kind of grease over the chamber mouths is because no one makes cartridges for those guns any more, even though they are relatively popular.

You can replicate this, though, at least for the .44 caliber revolvers, by using the 30 grain .44/.45 Pyrodex pellets glued to the back of a slug or ball (Duco cement works well), and dipping the bullet/ball in some melted beeswax to coat it. Just like the original cartridges, they are fragile, so they need to be kept in a container that will keep them from jostling against each other.

Or you could purchase some nitrated paper and make the paper part using that paper, glue, and a wooden form, but the pellet thing is much easier.