Winchester Reloading Tools
The End, 1915
Recently, I was able to add this Boxed Pair of Winchester Reloading Tools to my Collection. The Box is all there, and in good condition. This set is the basic 1882 tool for the 44-40, that was offered to the end of production in 1915. There was also a decapping pin and an 1894 type bullet mold in 44-40. You could buy the reloading tool or the mold in their own individual boxes. This set is in the tall box that held both mold and tool together. A set of two tools.
My favorite item in that box, was a nice instruction sheet dated 9-4-15. It is printed on light blue, gloss paper, rather than the usual white or cream color.
A close examination answers a few questions about these tools. Why did Winchester quit making them?
Here, Winchester states their reason in writing. This may not be the whole story, but it is probably what they told their customers and dealers.
The 9-4-15 Instruction Sheet
This two sided sheet is a little different from what you normally see in these boxes. Zoom in, or scroll down to see more detail.
A few years ago, I saved a photo of one of these late production, blue instruction sheets. (The Blue did not show up in these photos) At that time all I had was a front view. That sheet had deep folds and was not a good image. Having one in hand offers a lot more information. There must be many more of these instructions out there, but it takes time to find them. Collectors tend to "Squirrel" these away. They hide them like a squirrel stashing a trove of nuts! So, I have to search them out myself.
I enjoyed reading both sides of this page. I was surprised to see a date on the bottom of the page. Before, all I had seen had a month and a day with an M after them. I thought that might be a printers mark. It was not a complete date. This sheet seems to show a complete date with the M at the end. If I am wrong, let me know!
Here, Winchester calls Reloading by the individual a "Dangerous Practice".
Your first impression might be that Winchester just wanted to sell Brand New reloaded cartridges. That is probably very true. They could mass produce thousands of cartridges easily. The profit margin was probably very high. The profit margin on these Reloading Tools was probably very low.
There is a dark side to all of this. Winchester says they have heard of disastrous results from small mistakes.
I can attest to that.
My Great Uncle killed himself firing a Model 1873 Winchester Lever Action Rifle way back about 1910. He either Reloaded some cartridges with Smokeless Powder, or fired some Reloads that someone gave him. The powder charge blew the lever open. Broke the lever links and blew off the side-plates. The long 1873 firing pin was gone! It went through his eye and into his brain.
Winchester says they had heard of a "Number" of these mistakes. Winchester was always keen to protect their reputation.
Notice in the second image they mention Black Powder twice. The reason is simple. You can not get in trouble with Black Powder unless your firearm is a piece of Junk! Before Smokeless Powder, it was standard practice to fill a Cartridge case with Black Powder, to support the bullet in the location you wanted it in the case. You had to leave room for the bullet. Then the bullet was crimped in place so it would not fall out! Some tools Neck sized as well, but that was for accuracy. You could not hold a lead bullet in place with just neck sizing. Revolvers and Magazine rifles would bounce the cartridges around. If the bullet moves, feeding in Magazine Rifles might fail. A bullet moving forward could jam Revolving guns.
Smokeless powder is much different. The powder charges were often much smaller, depending on the powder you used. Double charging a cartridge case was a possibility. ( The small Mistake Winchester is talking about. The wrong powder or wrong charge!) A disaster might be the result! Smokeless loads often had a groove or cannelure rolled into the case. That kept the bullet from moving back into the case. A crimp kept them from moving forward.
If you want to have some fun, search "Blown Up Gun Images" on the internet. You would be surprised what people do to guns! The images might make you more cautious!
Part of the fun of having these old lists, is the opportunity to read them carefully. The Calibers listed for the 1882 Reloading Tool, up to 1915, were all the old black powder cartridges. They range from the Big Sharps and Ballard type Cartridges, to the small Black Powder Rifle and Pistol Cartridges.
There are no High Pressure, Jacketed Bullet Cartridges here. (30-30, 38-72, 30-40 Krag, 303 savage etc.) Those were reserved for the William Mason, 1894 Patent Tool which was also made until 1915. (You can see those in my list of Winchester Reloading Tools.)
If you actually Reload Black Powder Cartridges, you know that most of the Calibers and Black Powder Charges listed here, are Total Baloney!
My favorite example is the 44-40 WCF. The Bullet and Barrel Groove Diameter is actually .427. The Powder Charge will vary from 23 to 25 grains of Powder, depending on the Cartridge case and powder you use. So, the 44-40 is actually a 42-25!
If someone says; "The first Number is the Caliber, The Second Number is the Powder Charge!". Then you know they are a tenderfoot and do not actually shoot their rifles!
The title of this Instruction Sheet is Interesting. I have never thought of these as "Lever Tools" but that is what Winchester is calling them.
Notice that the engraving only shows the Tool and a Decapping Pin. No Powder Dipper. I'm not sure why. Maybe That was Extra? The same Illustration is on the box Label.
Fellow Collector Jim Martin sent me images of another style of "Late Production " instructions. This has the Patented "Red W" trademark. Note the light Blue color that came through better with his camera. I do not know when the Red W was filed for in the Patent Office.
His Red W instructions are exactly the same except for the Title. They seem to have a date as well, but it only says 1-10 M. That can be interpreted as January, 1910, or January 10th. Shame on them for marking them so poorly!
I did find this ad From "Forest and Stream" from December, 1907 that uses the Big Red W Trademark. So, I suspect his instructions are just a little bit earlier. Maybe January, 1910 is correct.
The Bullet Mold From This Boxed Set
This Boxed Set of Tools offers a few more clues that Winchester was losing interest in the Reloading Tool Business. The Reloading Tool is really nice, with lots of Original Blue. The polishing is not quite as nice as the earlier tools. It is a little more coarse. Not quite the fine finish.
The bullet mold is the best example of Winchester's lack of care in making these tools. All the products of Winchester were made by "Inside Contractors". Barrels, actions, stocks, screws, engraving and sights were all done by these "Contractors".
Winchester must have informed the Contractor that made Reloading Tools that they were dropping the Reloading Tool Line of Products. They probably made some kind of deal with this contractor to finish out what they had left. This seems to have resulted in lower quality in these last tools.
The first thing I noticed was a dull, thin finish on the Walnut Handles. They look like they only had a single coat applied. Earlier handles were finished just like a rifle stock, with a thick luster.
The business part of the mold is excellent. The mold halves fit together well. The mold cavity is sharp and crisp. This is a great, useable mold. It is not as pretty on the outside. Not like the older Molds.
The deep milling tool marks on top of the mold are ugly but useable. Winchester would not have passed this even a year earlier. The balance of the image shows the poor polishing on this mold. If you are familiar with Winchester Tools you will see the difference in these late tools. Lots of coarse polishing marks, but still a good useable tool! They just wanted to get these out the door!
You can see the raised areas around the caliber stamping in this photo. Polishing would flatten out and remove the raised area. So, Winchester actually produced this rough finish. Surprising, but true! The Earlier Molds usually had just as fine a finish as a rifle barrel, action or sights!
The Type 1875 Improved Reloading tool was finished much worse than this. Rough parts of the castings were filed with a coarse file, then they were dipped in a thick coat of Gold paint. They did that during a financial panic in the 1870's. By 1880 they changed their ways and made nicer blued and polished tools.
Cutting back on Reloading Tool production in 1915 may have been a result of the coming war in Europe. They may have had lots of orders for Guns and Ammunition to fill for the U.S. and other countries.
This was an interesting time. Winchester seemed to be cutting Costs and Production on their usual products. Right around this time, the Model 1894 Winchester Carbines had Beechwood Stocks. That was not a popular move. They went back to Walnut stocks later. The Winchester Reloading Tools faded away. Ideal took over.