What is this? Ammo Thoughts on Cartridges?

Oct 22, 2014
Any thoughts on these paper cartridges?

They're a minie ball, paper....with a cap, which is exposed, built into the rear.

When I bought a pack of them in second grade in 1972, I also bought into the idea that they were Sharps paper cartridges. But then the cap in the back. Then some folks thought them tightly manufactured, fully encapsulated, musket cartridges, where maybe you tore off the cap, etc. Then we went back to thinking they weren't caps on the back, but just some unusual foil backing for a Sharp's cartridge. But they were caps.

Over the centuries since, many pointed out that they were precision-manufactured European needle-fire. People suggested a German Dreyse, others a French Chassepot. With further research, though, it turned out the Dreyse cap was inside, between the ball and the powder, and these rounds are too big for the 1866 Chassepot. And now there's even a Wiki page on paper cartridges showing the Dreyse and Chassepot cartridges, and it's not them. The Italian Carcano needle-fire had a cartridge with a rubber stopper on the back, which these don't have. A guy I met at the Wheaton, IL Civil War show years ago suggested Steyr or Lorenz if memory serves, and Steyr did make parts for the Chassepot, but the Lorenz conversions to breech loader were metallic cartridge. And the Internet only mentions those three needle-fire rifles.

I've since sold them all. I was just cleaning out some files, saw the picture I'd taken of them, was curious so I started Googling, now I'm even more confused.



Forum Host
Regtl. Quartermaster Shiloh 2020
Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
May 7, 2016
Hard to see from the small photo but they look like Smith carbine rds

Peter Stines

Apr 10, 2007
Gulf Coast of Texas
Are you sure it was paper? Some rounds were made of treated linen. The Smith used a hard rubber case. In Lyman's Muzzleloaders Handbook there is a chapter with the history of some of the various rounds of C/W b/l cartridges and how to make them. I'm sure you'll get a lot more info here.
Oct 22, 2014
Thanks, guys.

Larger than a Smith. And definitely paper--treated paper.

When I added "Lyman's" to "needlefire" in my search, I got links to a lot more needlefire systems than I had before....Merckelbagh, others. I'm starting to suspect that the cartridge could be for a spec conversion system that was one of many that never gained traction with any military buyers. Many manufacturers were taking weapons that started as flintlock or percussion and converting them to breech needle-fire. Euro, post-CW, but an interesting short-lived technology.
Oct 22, 2014
Nice pix--thanks. Good-looking cartridges. Very similar looking to the ones I'm investigating. Though with a few differences.

I'm curious how a rubber cartridge--or any organic papers or linens--didn't fuse to the inside of the weapon and cause build-up problems. I thought I remembered seeing that the original Smith cartridges are actually gutta percha which, though a rubber-like latex, hardens faster, harder and more brittle than I picture a modern rubber-substance after cooling--cleaner maybe, too. I guess I'm surprised it worked. Some of the paper needle-fires used rubber rings to create a better seal, and those caused problems.