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History of Cartridge Conversions. Colt 1860/Remington 1858

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by Ruggz1515, Jan 16, 2019.

?

Which cartridge conversion would you take?

  1. Colt 1860 Army Richards Conversion

    48.7%
  2. Remington 1858 New Army Conversion

    51.3%
  1. Ruggz1515

    Ruggz1515 Member

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    Hello THR!
    I have been doing some research but find myself all too confused about percussion revolver cartridge conversions back in 1870s.

    I'm wondering if I could get a somewhat 'less fuzzy' answer as to what was the more prominent of the cartridge conversions in the old west before the Colt SAA really took over?

    Was it the Colt 1860 Richards conversions that were a bit more prominent (because I read that you could send in an 1860 Army BP revolver to Colt and they would convert it for you)? Or was it the Remington 1858 New Army conversions?

    I know that after the Rollin White patent ended these conversions really took off for a short time, but what happened to the Remington conversions after they paid their royalties? Did they keep making them?

    Thanks THR!
     
  2. Tommygunn

    Tommygunn Member

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    There was more available than just Richard-Mason conversions, there was a Thuer conversion, usually done by gunsmiths. Probably the Colt was the most common, but we should remember, there were other guns available as well, Smith & Wesson, Marlin (yes, they made revolvers) and others too.
     
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  3. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    This is a fairly deep subject and there is not a lot of information about them. I'm going to suggest Dennis Adler's book on cartridge conversions. It has plenty of information and beautiful color photos. Then you can decide if you wanna fork out +$150 for the McDowell book, it's more of an academic study.
     
  4. BobWright

    BobWright Member

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    The Colt revolver was far and away more plentiful, and the name "Colt" just had a magic sound to it, even back in those days. As I recall, the Army bought more Colts than Remingtons during the Civil War, so more men would have been more familiar with the Colt. And the early conversions of Colts were centerfire while the Remington was rimfire, a .46 Short R.F.

    Bob Wright
     
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  5. Ruggz1515

    Ruggz1515 Member

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    Ah thank you! 150 bucks for a book is quite steep, however the book by Dennis Adler should probably provide all the info I really wanna know. Again I appreciate it.
     
  6. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    It probably will and there's good stuff on them in his other books. The McDowell book is more of a textbook. Everything you could possibly want to know and then some but no coffee-table book pictures. For what it is, there is none better but it ain't for droolin'. If you decide you do want the McDowell book, put it on your wishlist at Amazon and keep an eye on it. It was $250 when I added it to mine but I eventually lucked out on a new copy listed for $60.
     
  7. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Howdy

    Although private gunsmiths did convert Remington New Model Army revolvers to shoot cartridges, most were done by the Remington factory in Ilion New York, under license from Smith and Wesson, who controlled the Rollin White Patent. According to Neal and Jinks, S&W and Remington signed a contract in February of 1868 (only a few months before the White patent expired) to convert a total of 4,574 revolvers to fire cartridges. These revolvers were converted to fire a 46 caliber rimfire cartridge. I believe they were five shot revolvers, not six, because of the size of the cartridge. The work was done between September 1868 and April 1869. Most were purchased by B. Kittredge and Co. of Cincinnati, a large S&W distributor. S&W charged Kittredge $3.3625 per pistol for the conversion. S&W kept $1.00 of this amount as their fee, and paid the remaining $2.3625 per pistol to Remington.

    I paid less than $150 and more than $60 for my copy of McDowell, and no I ain't saying how much. If you want detailed descriptions, as well as many, many photos of the various types of conversions, as well as terrific engineering drawings, this is the book for you. The Adler book gives a nice overview and lots of glossy color photos, I have both, but it does not compare to the McDowell book. There are four McDowell books on Amazon right now, each less than $145. The Adler book costs $45. You get what you pay for.

    First off, the Colt Thuer conversion was not done by gunsmiths, they were all done by Colt, either in Hartford or London. Alexander Thuer's design was an attempt to get around the White Patent. White's patent for a 'bored through' cylinder was taken to mean a cylindrical chamber bored through the cylinder. So Thuer came up with his design which relied on a 'reverse' tapered cartridge. The chambers were bored with a taper to match the cartridge. This managed to get around the White Patent. The Thuer cartridges came in 44, two 36, and 31 calibers. The cartridges were rammed in place from the front using a modified loading lever. All that prevented the cartridges from jumping forward when struck by the firing pin was the friction generated by ramming them into the cylinder. Percussion cylinders were modified to accept the cartridges, and a conversion ring containing a spring loaded firing pin was mounted at the rear of the cylinder. The Thuer Conversions were produced from 1869 until 1872. They were not very commercially successful, only about 5,000 were made. They are extremely rare and valuable today.

    Here is a photo of a typical Thuer cartridge.

    thuer%20conversion%20cartridge_zps7gad7hzr.jpg




    The White patent was due to expire in 1869, and it was obvious sales of the Thuer conversion were not going to take off. Colt designers were working hard to come up with a successful cartridge design, and produced many prototypes. The most promising was designed by Charles B. Richards.

    This is a Richards conversion based on the 1860 Army Colt. The cartridge it fired became known as the 44 Colt. This cartridge was designed to fit into the smooth chambers of the 1860 Army Cap & Ball chambers, so it used a heeled bullet.

    Richards%20Conversion%20with%2044%20Colt%20Cartridges_zpsri8k0jva.jpg




    The cylinder was cut down to remove the nipple area at the rear, and a new ratchet was formed.

    Cylinder%2002_zpsej3byzfp.jpg




    A conversion ring was screwed to the frame. The ratchet portion of the cylinder fit inside the conversion ring. The conversion ring had a loading gate.

    Loading%20Gate_zpsveoabefw.jpg




    The hammer was shaved off flat at the rear and a spring loaded firing pin was mounted in the conversion ring. A rear sight was also machined onto the conversion ring.

    Frame%20Mounted%20Firing%20Pin_zpsi7ncnvli.jpg




    An ejector assembly was fitted into the hole under the barrel where the loading lever had been.

    Richards%20Conversion%20Ejector%20Assembly_zpsugu0qd9f.jpg



    The Richards conversion was produced from 1873 until 1878, coincidentally being produced at the same time the 1873 Single Action Army was being produced. About 9,000 Richards Conversions were built. Interestingly enough, many of the parts for the Richards Conversions were not converted from Cap Lock revolvers, but were made up new.




    William Mason was one of the best designers at Colt, he was the principal designer of the 1873 Single Acton Army.

    Mason obtained patents for improvements to the Richards design in 1872. The Richards-Mason Conversions eliminated the expensive extractor assembly of the Richards Conversion, substituting a simpler extractor screwed to the side of the barrel. The Richards-Mason Conversions had a much smaller lug under the barrel to accommodate the simpler extractor mechanism. It also did away with the conversion ring mounted firing pin, instead a firing pin was fitted to the hammer nose. Richards-Mason conversions were produced on the 1860 44 caliber sized frame, the 1851 and 1861 36 caliber sized frame firing a 38 caliber rimfire or centerfire cartridge. There were also Pocket Models converted using the Richards-Mason system.

    There were about 16,000 Richards-Mason Conversion revolvers made.



    The last of the Colt Conversion revolvers is simply known as the Open Top. Produced between 1871 and 1872. This model was actually not a conversion revolver per se, these were designed and built from the ground up as cartridge revolvers. They had no conversion rings, the cylinder accommodated the cartridges and filled the entire space between the barrel and recoil shield. They fired the 44 Henry Rimfire cartridge. This model was unique in that it had a small rear sight machined on top of the rear of the barrel. When the Single Action Army started being produced in 1873, Open Top production ceased with about 7,000 made.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2019
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  8. LRDGCO

    LRDGCO member

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    One of the most elegant firearms I have ever seen is the Richards Mason 1860 Conversion replica, made, I assume, by Uberti, and sold by Taylors. Gorgeous.

    For anything other than admiring, I would prefer a Remington NMA conversion.
     
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  9. Ruggz1515

    Ruggz1515 Member

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    Thanks for that, I really do appreciate it! I wonder, is it true that you could send your Cap and a Ball revolver into colt and they would convert it for you back then?
     
  10. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Skimming through McDowell most of the contracts for converting revolvers were for the military.

    Bear in mind, that not all 'conversion' revolvers were actually converted from Cap and Ball revolvers. Some were built up as cartridge revolvers from frames and other parts already in stock in the factory. I am not speaking about the Open Tops, which were designed from the ground up as cartridge revolvers, I am speaking about the Richards, and Richards Mason conversions. McDowell does mention at one point that the Richards Conversions became very popular with men of all walks of life, and some military officers and soldiers sent their personal Colts to the factory in Hartford to be converted by the Richards system to fire cartridges.

    Bear in mind also that the cost charged to the Government by Colt to convert a Cap and Ball revolver to fire cartridges was about $3.50, in 1871 dollars of course.

    When the Single Action Army came out in 1873, Colt was charging the government $13.00 for each revolver.

    So there was a fair amount of financial incentive to convert the older C&B revolvers, rather than buying a new cartridge revolver.
     
  11. geo57

    geo57 Member

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  12. il.bill

    il.bill Member

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    I used to make a point of reading all the posts from rcmodel and most of the threads to which he contributed.
    I always learned something ...

    Now Driftwood Johnson is the guy I follow. His posts are always worth reading, and the pictures! It is a genuine treat. Folks like him make The High Road my Number 1 firearms related internet destination.

    Thank you, Gentlemen!
     
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  13. Mizar

    Mizar Member

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    There is a little bit more interesting technical trivia about the Colt cartridge conversions, starting with the Richards - the ratchet's position correlating to the chambers and the hand. If you compare the picture of the cylinder from Driftwood's post (#7) to a percussion cylinder you will notice that the new ratchet's position is rotated by 30 degrees. In the percussion cylinder ratchet's teeth are positioned to point to the center of the chambers, while on Richards (and the following models, including 1873) the teeth are facing in between the chambers. This was done because there was no space left for the old style ratchet to be cut once the chambers are bored. But that did bring another problem - the old style, single finger, hand lacked enough leverage and could not rotate the new cylinder for full cycle, so they made it with two fingers. The top one starts the rotation and then the second one engages to finish the cycle. That same hand design was used and with the old style double action Colt revolvers up to the introduction of Mk. III new style double action mechanism, but there it served a slightly different purpose - to positively lock the cylinder in firing position.
     
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  14. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    That's high praise and well deserved!
     
  15. Malamute

    Malamute Member

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    Keep in mind that in the 1860s there were some problems with some of the Remington percussion pistols, to the point some were pulled from service by local cavalry officers due to there being a number of them bursting cylinders. He mentioned in the writing I saw that the men had lost all confidence in them, so he ordered they all be turned in and they went out in the field without pistols. There were other similar accounts, I dont recall exactly when or how it was resolved, but it likely had some effect on the reputation of the remington percussion pistols.

    I dont have the book at hand, but the title and author are https://www.amazon.com/Guns-American-West-Joseph-Rosa/dp/067110036X if anyone wishes to see the references mentioned. It has numerous original accounts and letters, including the info Ive mentioned in the past about the different types of caps not working well with incorrect applications, such as Colts revolvers having the caps fly to pieces and lock up the gun when used with caps meant for Starrs revolvers, and Starrs not firing when used with caps meant for Colts. The caps coming apart sound familiar? Its not simply the design of the gun being "at fault", but the lack of appropriate caps for Colts types pistols that contribute to the problem.
     
  16. StrawHat

    StrawHat Member

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    Driftwood Johnson, you mention the Richards conversion being built from 1873-1878. I thought it started in 70 or 71? Regardless a very slow gang solution and revolver.

    Kevin
     
  17. geo57

    geo57 Member

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    StrawHat, FWIW several online sites state that they were built from 1871 - 1878. Now mind you I'm no " expert " like others here. I'm merely passing on some info I came across. Below is a snippet sample from one site :

    " Production ran from 1871 to 1878 (to use up stocks of percussion parts), with S/N from #1 to #8700. "

    Hope that helps.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2019
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