Remington, L.L. Hepburn, Capping Tools
L. L. Hepburn was an interesting fellow. There is a great article about him on the Remington Collectors web site. He seems to have started as a small town New York gunsmith. I used to have an over and under 40 caliber rifle he made. It was a nice, handy little rifle with short barrels. Normally gunsmiths made over and under shotgun/rifle combination guns. It took quite a bit more skill to make an over and under rifle, with both barrels regulated to the same sights. The article mentioned above, says he made Four barrel rifles. I have not seen one of these, but I would think that required even more skill as a gunsmith.
His reputation came to the attention of E. Remington and Sons. They hired him. He was a competitor in some of the Creedmoor matches, once doing very well with a rifle he made himself. This rifle may have been a prototype for the Remington Hepburn Rifle. He also worked in the factory.
The early Centerfire cartridges used a Berdan type primer. The anvil for the primer in these cartridges, was part of the cartridge. There were two or three flash holes. None in the center like we have today. The earliest de-capping solution was to drill a hole in a wood block to hold the cartridge. Then you would poke a hole in the primer with a simple awl and pry it out. Sharps described this process in their 1875 catalog on page 18. ( Get a copy of "Fourteen Old gun Catalogs" by Satterlee. The book is cheap and has tons of information.)
Scroll down and look at the Sharps instructions below. That will give you an idea of the early reloading process before de-capping tools were introduced.
Louis Lobdell Hepburn came up with this patent in 1875 and Remington marketed it in many versions through the years. The patent illustrated a Shotgun tool, but you can see that he was thinking of rifle cartridges as well.
The wood handle labeled C in the drawings could be used for two different purposes. F in the bottom image was a shotgun shell. The wood handle was used here to seat wads. In the Middle image, the handle has the outline of a rifle cartridge drawn inside with a dotted line.
The shotgun re and de-capping tools are very common. The image of the Remington Catalog to the left shows they offered a variety of brass shotgun shells. If you bought a box of 25 shells they were packaged with a de-capping tool.
Remington sold a lot of these shotgun tools. The Rifle caliber tools are a little less common, but they were very popular.
At some point in time, Remington changed most of their cartridge production to the more traditional primer type we use today. These have a single center flash hole. Other companies like Sharps stuck with the Berdan type primer. The last Sharps catalog had dropped sale of the Awl as a decapper. In 1880 they offered a "Cap Extractor and Re-Capper", for $1.25, in their list of Reloading Implements. None of these tools is illustrated, but just about everyone assumes this is Sharps selling the Hepburn patent tool in rifle calibers.
So, how many of these do you need? To the near left you can see the ones I had handy here. I have more, but like most collectors, I would have to dig through some boxes to get out more. I always try to buy calibers I do not have. I have a particular weakness for 50 caliber tools like this in any of the different models. Just this little picture gives you an idea of the variety of these tools out there. Black Japanning, full nickel, nickeled but painted gold on the head, and the nickel and gold painted tool without Berdan chisel for the later centerfire cartridges. They all look similar, but a closer look reveals a few interesting details.
This image is from a Remington Catalog of about 1882. I see a lot of these for sale. They were very popular. These days not many people think of solid brass shotgun shells and Berdan primers. These items must have been top of the line stuff in their day. Shotgunning has always been more popular than Rifle shooting. Having good reliable shotgun products was important to profit margins.
If you look at the picture of four shotgun shells upper left, you will see that Remington offered brass shells using a variety of primer types. The number two shells used basically the same primer we use today. Every company had their own patent for an anvil inserted in the primer. These used a central flash hole.
Recently, I was wandering through a gun show and came across this tool. Normally I don't pay much attention to shotgun tools. This one was cheap and in nice condition. It looked sort of familiar, but is a puzzle. I pulled out a Remington catalog and looked at the shotgun shell images above. The long skinny decapping pin looked like it would fit the shotgun shell top left. The Remington No. 1 and Berdan primers are probably the same primer with no anvil inside. I do wonder if a percussion cap would work on this shell as well. The regular old $1.25 Primer Extractor above would work fine on these cartridges. Maybe not so well with a percussion cap. The tool is marked 10, and C.M. Bissell. Without a clear ad or more information, this tool may remain a puzzle. I show this tool along with a Remington cartridge tool. The similarities are striking, but inconclusive!
Was this an experiment by Remington that failed? Was it offered for a while, then dropped from the line? Why was it in a tiny gun show in New Mexico? I had never noticed one of these before. I can't find a patent for Bissell, except for Vacuum Cleaners. I doubt this would be a patentable tool. This many be a tool that was made special for Mr. Bissell. The arms factories like Remington would take orders. Remington had a huge manufacturing facility making everything from farm equipment to typewriters. Any information would be appreciated.
Other than the differences in finish, there are few variations in these capping tools. In the earlier tools with the Berdan chisel, the caliber marking is in the slotted groove where the cartridge fits, to remove the primer. (See image to left). In this case it is 40 caliber. At first, all the 40 caliber cartridges were bottleneck cartridges. Later, the straight 40 caliber cases were introduced. Sharps used the straight cases in the Model 1878 Borchardt Rifle. I noticed that some of these tools had an odd T shape mark in the groove used to push in the primer. I dug out some 40 caliber cases to determine what was going on. It seems the T mark was used for a period of time, to indicate a tool for the straight case. The bottleneck cases will not fit. Below, you can see the 40-70 UMC straight case in place and the 40-90 bottleneck below it. Sometime around 1878, it became convenient to mark the tools, to make it easier to tell the difference. Tools for the bottleneck case have no T.