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Winchester 1875 Reloading Tools

     It is great to see a picture of a Reloading Tool in a book. In most cases, a simple picture does not tell you a lot. How does the tool Work? How well does It work? There is no substitute for holding a Reloading Tool in your hand and getting the "Feel" of it. We can't always do that.

     For a website like this, the best alternative is to post a lot of pictures. Write a description.

     Here, I put two tools in the same photo. In this case, I am comparing a more common 44-40, 1875 Winchester Tool, to its larger counterpart. Most collectors get to see the smaller tool. Many have told me they never saw the bigger one in person.

     The first Winchester 1874 Reloading Tool has only shown up in 44-40 so far. I have seen them painted Gold, Black and Red. I only saw one red one, but it had about 75% paint and it looked original. This first tool seems to have been Fragile. The Handles are often bent. This first patent was issued October 20, 1874. That date was cast into the body of these later 1875 tools. On the top label of the  original shipping boxes, Winchester mentions this tool was Improved, in October of 1875. There does not seem to have been another patent filed. Not until 1880.

     These appear to be rough sand castings. Often, they are bent, but not broken, so they were probably Cast Mild Steel. They were machined in important areas. The rest of the finishing seems to have been Rough Filing, then a nice heavy coating of Gold Paint. I have noticed that the Large Tools are finished a little better. For some reason the finish was not the usual quality we expect from Winchester. It was not until the 1880 patented tool that they started polishing and bluing.

     Once Winchester "Improved" this tool, they decided it was good enough to branch out. They went into the Reloading Tool Business. Winchester did not have a lot of rifles to work with. They produced the Model 1873 in 44-40 and introduced the 38-40 sometime in the 1874, 1875 time period. The Winchester line up was small, so they decided to make these in most of the popular cartridges of the day. This includes the big Sharps Cartridges and the Popular Government 50 and 45. 

     When the 1876 Model Rifle came out, Winchester produced tools in those calibers too.

     I am always watching for the 1875 tool in 50 caliber. I have a brass Winchester mold, ( third type), marked 50 Car. which casts a short 2 groove bullet. Apparently it was made for the little 50 carbine cartridge. If there is a mold, I wonder if there was also an 1875 Reloading tool for this odd little cartridge.  

     If you have any stashed away please send pictures. Click on any image below to see a larger image.

Winchester 1875 Reloading Tool
Winchester 1875 Reloading Tool
Winchester 1874 Reloading Tool
Winchester 1875 Reloading Tool

     In the photo just above left, I could have hidden the small tool behind the large one. Enlarge the four pictures and you can see a number of differences between the two tools. The small and large tools required different Wooden Patterns for the sand casting. In both, the Oct 20, 1874 patent date was preserved. This date was Carved Into the wood pattern that formed the top half. When pressing the pattern into the sand a perfect impression was not always made. Check the images above right. I have seen a few of the smaller tools that were almost unreadable. This is not a good way to mark these tools and was discontinued on later tools, in favor of stamping.

     You will see some differences in the Gold Paint Color on different tools. Some are bright Gold and some are darker. I think there are two main reasons.

     First, I do not think paint mixing was an advanced art in the 1870's. They mixed the ingredients they had and came as close as possible. 

     Second, these tools have been exposed to different environments in the last 140 years. The climate in Humid Connecticut is much different from High Dry Colorado or Arizona. I have found some very nice tools out in the West. If they were not used, they held up well.

     You will also see darker areas on the nicer tools with lots of paint. I have wondered if this is old hardened grease, or some type of varnished finish. It is usually dried and flaked off, except in protected areas. It is nearly always there unless the tool has been heavily cleaned.

     The paint is thick on these tools. I believe they were "Dipped" in paint for efficiency of production. Once the paint hardened with age, any bump or scrape would chip or remove the paint. The shiny metal underneath rusted fairly quickly unless oiled. 

Winchester 1875 Reloading Tool
Winchester 1875 Relaoding Tool
Winchester 1875 Reloading Tool
Winchester 1875 Reloading Tool
Winchester 1875 Loading Tool
Winchester 1875 Loading Tool
Winchester 1875 Reloading Tool

     Going through these photos, you can see Winchester "Beefed Up" the large tool quite a bit.  As I said before, I think they were finished much better. I can't remember ever seeing a price list for these tools. If you have a price list, I would love to post it here. Winchester was big on advertising, so there must be some prices out there. Surely the large tool cost more.

    On the third picture above, you can see a slot and a round ring, on the large tool. This part sits just above the crimping and bullet seating chamber. It swivels on a pin which can be seen on each side of the tool. The small tool just has a ring machined in to the casting. It is solid. The swiveling ring must not have been necessary on the little one.

     These were early Reloading Tools. Some of the Indians at The Little Big Horn were armed with 44-40, Model 1873 Winchesters in the summer of 1876. It is entirely possible they had a few reloading tools and loaded their own. It was cheaper than buying new cartridges. You could do it around the camp fire.

Condition, Condition, Condition!

     Oddly, some folks do not understand Condition. They cannot tell what a nice tool looks like, compared to a rusty relic. When I meet such people, I always wonder what their cars and houses look like! Scary!

     I have sold a lot of the small 44-40 tools through the years. When I saw this Rusty Dug-up tool on E-bay, I could not resist buying it. I sold a 50% condition 44-40 tool to a friend, so I dug this tool, to the left, out of a box. The following pictures will illustrate Condition well enough. You may get a few laughs too. I must be a "Serious Collector" to buy a rusty relic like this.

    I do remember an "Old Time Collector" named S.P. Stevens. He had a Rusty Relic, Original Colt Walker, for sale. This was at the San Antonio Gun Show, back in the 1970's. The grips were rotted and there were still conical lead bullets in two chambers. He wanted $2,500.00 for it. I still wish I had bought it! That was my one and only chance at an original Walker Colt.

    I doubt I regret this purchase.

    The center tool is really nice with lots of paint. It has some rust showing but has been stored in a dry place and not not been used much. I got this is Arizona. The dry climate preserved this tool well. 

    The tool to the left has maybe 10% paint and has not been cared for. The paint is chipping off and bright metal is showing. There was probably paint on those bright areas in recent years. Bad storage is bad news for Antiques.

    The tool on the right is a "Dug Up Relic" with no markings, no paint and will not open. The fellow who found it had died, so I got not background information. I wish it had one of those old, dirty, tags with some information!

    The better the condition, the higher the price! This is true across all collecting fields. Mint in the Box has the greatest value. Only the very rarest tools have any value in bad condition.

Winchester 1875 Reloading Tool
Winchester 1875 Reloading Tool
Winchester 1875 Reloading Tool
Winchester 1875 Reloading Tools

Winchester Catalog Information

    Winchester did not have a big lineup of rifles. The 44 Henry Rim-fire was a sad, sad, little cartridge with a 43 caliber heel bullet, and "Maybe" 25 to 28 grains of powder. The charge changed, depending on who loaded it and the bullet weight. It was actually a rabbit gun. It could wound a person, but only a head or heart shot could be depended on to kill a person outright. A 22 long rifle offers about the same performance. Collectors do not actually Shoot Henry Rifles, so they do not know they are POP Guns! I did shoot one years ago. We fired at an old rubber tire, at about 40 yards. We stopped when we realized the bullets were bouncing back. The bullets were hitting the tire and coming back at us. They were bouncing off the ground at our feet! I have had 22 caliber rifles do the same thing.

    Winchester had built up a big company based on the Henry and Model 1866 rifle. They were making a variety of rim-fire and center-fire cartridges too. They were making money.

    They had to know they were in big trouble. If you shoot a buffalo with sixteen 44 Henry rim-fire cartridges and nothing happens, you  have a problem. They did have a great sales network and some really good marketing people. They managed to stay in business and prosper.

    When the 1873 Model 44-40 came out, Winchester did a little better than the 1866. The sales department managed to sell 720,000 odd rifles.

    The Winchester marketing department exaggerated everything about this new Rifle and Cartridge. 

    A Winchester or Ideal 44-40 mold will cast a .427 bullet. That is 42 caliber, not 44. There is no possible way even the early balloon head cartridges could hold 40 grains of 2F Black Powder. The catalog reloading instructions say to fill the case with powder, then press in the bullet. If you reload, you know that will not work. You can't compress the powder 1/4 inch to get the bullet all the way into the case! The body of the thin case would swell. You might get 28 grains of powder, and a cardboard wad into a case and have room for the bullet. That is about all! The modern Silhouette shooters compress the Black Powder charge of 45-70 and 45-90 cartridges about 1/16 of and inch.

    Despite these wild exaggerations, you could reload the so called 44-40 center-fire. That was an important improvement.

    The 42 caliber bullet was actually smaller than the 44 Henry ( .435 bullet) and the powder charge was only slightly larger. The repeating action limited the length of the cartridge. No wonder the Real Riflemen stuck with the Sharps and Remington Rolling Block!

    When Winchester brought out the 1874 and 1875 reloading tools, they were already in the cartridge business in a big way. They were producing a large line of rim-fire and center-fire cartridges. The list of center-fire cartridges for the reloading tools is the same as the list of center-fire cartridges Winchester was producing and selling. Some were really odd cartridges.

    Ed Curtis kindly sent some copies of old original catalogs. I made the best pictures possible. These came out nice and clear. You can see what Winchester was offering and how much they cost. I appreciate his help because I had always wanted to know these details.


    I really like to look hard at these catalog ads. It is also important to notice what is NOT there.

    The small 1875 reloading tools were made for the small centerfire cartridges listed.

    The big calibers for the Large $6.00 tool interest me. The 40-70 would be the 2 1/4 Sharps and Remington bottleneck. Then the 42, 2 1/4 inch Russian Berdan and 43, 2 1/4 Spanish? The 44-60 would be the 1 15/16 Sharps bottleneck. Then back to a 2 1/4 in bottleneck case we commonly refer to as the 44-77.

    Remington made a Rolling Block Sporting Rifle in 45 Sporting, or 45 Peabody Sporting Cartrdge. These are really scarce rifles. You seldom see them. Tools and cartridges are scarce too!

    I find the 50, 1 3/8 inch carbine cartridge really funny. There were a few Remington Rolling Block Cadet rifles chambered for it. That's it! I find it strange that Winchester offered 50 carbine tools all the way through the end of production of the 1894 tools. I have heard of people finding empty cases with metal detectors in Montana. My guess is simple. The converted 50-70 Sharps carbines would kick the snot out of you. The 50 carbine cartridge was a light, lower kicking load, and cheaper. ($33.00 vs. $37.50 per 1,000)

    The missing cartridges in 1876? There is no 45 Gov. or 45-70. The cartridge was introduced in 1873, but there were no tools until later. There is no 40-90 bottleneck or 44-90. Sharps chambered rifles in 50, 2 inch and 50 2 1/2. These were common cartridges, except the 50 - 2 inch, in 1876. Maybe Winchester made no tools, because they did not make the cartridges at that time.

    The last two lines are really interesting here. Bullet Swages! None of the collectors I know have ever identified a Swage as Winchester, though they were listed in all these early catalogs. Do any of you have a nice one in the original Box? We would sure like to see a picture!

Winchester 1875 Catalog
Winchester 1876 Catalog

    These two pages are interesting. The page on the left is from a catalog dated January of 1876. Only the old 1874 tool is pictured. I used the same Jan. 1876 catalog to show the list of cartridges available in the reloading tools. It is clear they were making the Improved tool in 1876, in small and large sizes. Winchester had not made a new engraving of the new tool yet.

    The page upper right was labeled 1875, in ink, but may actually be later in 1876. The list of cartridges and reloading tools is the same in both catalogs. I am guessing Winchester still had some of those old 1874 tools left.

     This raises questions.

    Did Winchester make the Large "Improved" tool first?

    Did they keep selling the 1874 tool until they ran out, if you ordered a 44-40?

    Did they sell the small Improved tool in all the other small calibers? 

    Did the early, large, 1875 tools really have a Berdan chisel with a flat, wide, head on the chisel?


    Looking at the catalog does not make everything clear, but now I know a lot more than I did before.


    The list of calibers available for the Small 1875 reloading tool includes the 50 Remington Pistol Cartridge. I do not have a mold or tool in this caliber. I do have cartridges.

    At first, I thought this cartridge was a bit big, for the small tool. As you can see in these images, that is not the case. This is an early Frankford Arsenal, Benet, internal primed center-fire cartridge. These are not re-loadable. They were for the 1871 Remington Rolling Block Pistol.

    Winchester was making a re-loadable, external primed, center fire cartridge in this caliber. As I mentioned earlier, if they made the cartridges, they made an 1875 reloading tool for it.

    Basically, this is a short 50-70, with a 7/8 inch long case. I always save damaged 50-70 cases and cut them to 7/8 if possible. You can fire these in a regular 50-70.

Cartridges For the 1875 Reloading Tool

    If you collect reloading tools, you will find yourself collecting cartridges. Don't fight it. Go ahead and get some books about cartridges too.

    Traveling around to Gun Shows, I find an astounding lack of knowledge about reloading tools and cartridges. The focus is always on the firearm.

    Show someone a 50-70 Benet, internal primed cartridge and they will say, My Rifle is a Center-Fire. That is a Rim-fire. (Duh!)

    There were certainly a lot of rim-fire cartridges. Big, heavy rim-fires were abandoned almost immediately. There was an early attempt to make a 50-70 rim-fire by Frankford Arsenal. It was dropped right away. The Trapdoor Springfield's did not do well with these cartridges. The breech block closes and pushes at an angle. If a cartridge sticks or is tight, the rim will be compressed. It will blow up in your face. Sharps made a few rim-fires early on. If the cartridge did not go in easily, pressure from the sliding breech block could ignite those too.

    Frankford Arsenal developed Internal Primed Center-fires in their early testing. They look like a rim-fire because you cannot see the primer. The Martin Internal Primed Cartridge looks like it has a primer. It also is inside the case. The Arsenal persisted in making these for a long time. They cannot be reloaded.

    Commercial Manufacturers made a lot of little rim-fire cartridges. The Big cartridges were External Primed Center-fires. These were much better cartridges. It was a great selling point as well. You could reload the cases.


    These are cartridges used in the 1875 reloading tool. Not all, but some. 

    Upper left, you see early Frankford Arsenal internal primed cartridges. This is one of my areas of interest. We find these all over the West. Especially around old forts. They are not considered a

re-loadable cartridge. All cartridge manufacturers made these in external primed, re-loadable versions.

    I like the History, the Cartridges and of course the Reloading Tools. 

    Left to right, a 58 caliber cartridge. A 50-70. A 50 caliber 1 3/8 carbine cartridge. A 50 Remington Pistol. Winchester made all of these as external primed, re-loadable cartridges, for many years.

    The three 50 caliber cartridges are interesting. All of them could be fired in the Sharps 50-70 conversion carbines. The full size 50-70 - 1 3/4 inch was considered a very good Buffalo Hunting Cartridge. The other two would probably be fine for deer and smaller critters in that order.

    Upper right, the 40-90 bottle neck made in later 1875 tool production. The 40-70, 2 1/4 inch. The 40-50 bottleneck. The 45 Peabody sporting cartridge.

    These are all I have here. They will give you an idea of what Winchester was doing in 1876.

    As their cartridge production expanded, more re-loading tool calibers were offered.

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