Yes, it's true - there really is a hobby called Cartridge Collecting, and it really is about collecting cartridges.
What sort of cartridges? Well, you can take your pick, and as there are probably at least 1000 different calibers to choose from and you can either select one of them or several of them or lots of them or all of them.That's one of the nice things about the hobby - you can suit yourself and your pocket about what you collect. You can, for instance, if you are a collecting nut like me, collect virtually all small-arms calibers from shotshells through to .22 Shorts and be endlessly and permanently broke because of it. Or you can specialise, as some collectors do, in just shot shells or just .22 cartridges or something else that takes your fancy.
Whatever it is that takes your interest in this never-ending hobby, you can be sure there will be other collectors around who will be glad to trade, buy or sell with you, help with identifying particular cartridges and generally help you to expand both your collection and your knowledge of your chosen subject.
So, let's have a quick look at the hobby, how one goes about getting involved in it, and the contacts and reference material that can help you understand it more.
First, it should be pointed out that cartridge collecting as a hobby has been thriving all over the world for many years. There are vigorous clubs of collectors in such places as Canada, Britain, Europe, South Africa, Australia and in most States in America. As well, there is a strong club here in New Zealand which was started in 1961 and now has almost 200 members.
Through both the local club and those overseas it is not difficult to locate a group of collectors who have a strong interest in any specific type of collecting. Once you've got that network of contacts organised, the sky's the limit as to where your collection can go. But that takes a while to get organised. Usually the hobby starts when a shooter discovers he or she - and, yes, there are some women collectors - has accumulated by accident a pile of cartridges, odds and ends that have somehow been picked up along the way. Slowly the interest and the collection grows until it moves out of a shoebox in the wardrobe into a wooden box in the basement. And probably somewhere along the way you may run into one of THEM - a fully-confessed collector who is immediately identified by the all-over twitch at the mention of the word "Cartridge".
In which case, the New Zealand Cartridge Collectors Club may well be worth joining.
Collections often begin like this.....
.....and can end looking like this.
The club produces an excellent bulletin every two months which gives details of new and old cartridges, answers members' questions and conveys general information about the hobby. As with most of the overseas clubs, the NZCCC holds meetings several times a year, where members bring along their surplus cartridges to buy, sell or swap. Sometimes there is an auction of the better-quality cartridges, and these are often keenly sought. Inevitably at these gatherings there is a great deal of knowledge swapped about, and newer or younger club members can obtain a wealth of information about the whole hobby. Most of the older or more senior club members are more than happy to pass on information, realising that only through new and younger members becoming involved will the hobby survive.
Until the recent changes to the Arms Act in New Zealand it was necessary for a collector to obtain a special collector's licence from the police if he/she wanted to collect cartridges other than the normal shotshells and rifle rounds. Pistol, revolver and machinegun cartridges were unlawful except with the licence. Now, however, that section of the law has been done away with, and any collector may collect whatever takes their fancy.
Of course, it is still the individual responsibility of every collector or gun-owner to take maximum safety always with whatever weapons or associated materials may be involved in their hobby.
Once a collector starts in on the hobby, it doesn't take too long for the collection to outgrow the shoebox or basement crate, and the collector begins to realise there is a need to have individual rounds properly displayed so he/she can sec just exactly what the collection holds.
The best thing I've found for housing a growing collection is one or several Sylko cotton reel cabinets. For some years now these cabinets have been obsolete in this country, but they can be still sometimes found, usually in the storerooms of older material shops. With a bit of bargaining, the shopkeeper is often glad of a few dollars and happy to be rid of an outdated piece of equipment.
The cabinets come in various sizes, from single decks of about a dozen drawers to big double-deckers with as many as 50 drawers. These drawers measure 34cm x 42cm x 3cm deep and have either Perspex or glass fronts. They are divided lengthwise by this dowelling rods which originally separated the reels of cotton.
To prepare the drawers for cartridge displays, the dowel rods are cut out along with their front holding bar, leaving only the glass or Perspex front. The drawers are then lined with corrugated cardboard - available from commercial firms selling packaging materials such as plastic bags, paper and cartons.
The drawers can be subdivided across their width using thin slats of trim-wood, such as that used to hold glass in cabinet doors, with the subdivisions being distanced according to the length of the particular type of cartridges to be displayed, and how many rows you want or the drawer will take.
For cartridges such as shotshells or rounds the size of.303 or 7.62 Nato ammunition, usually five rows can be accommodated. This means up to about 60 shotshells or as many as 100 of the .303 or 7.62 Nato rounds call be held in each drawer. But it is a good idea not to cram them in. Inevitably, the collection will grow, so leave plenty of room for expansion. With smaller cartridges, such as pistol and revolver, as many as eight or nine rows can be fitted in, with several hundred being held per drawer. However, for the very small cartridges, such as .22 rimfire, I find it is safer and easier to keep these cartridges in the 50 or 100-round boxes that some brands are sold in - this means it is less likely that one of the tiny rounds will get mislaid, and it is also easier to check the head stamps quickly.
At the other end of the scale, the very large British big-game cartridges can take up a large quantity of room, and the massive .475 No. 2 Nitro Express rounds, with their 3 1/2 inch cases, can only fit three deep in the drawers. Nevertheless, three rows of these big-game rounds, perhaps ranging from the .600 Nitros to the long .400s and perhaps also including some of the big American Winchester, Sharps or Remington rounds from the buffalo-hunting era, will make a very impressive display.
Even just one of these cabinets, with perhaps two decks of 16 drawers, will comfortably hold a collection of 1000 rounds, with a few spare drawers left over to take a few specimen packets of .22s or clips of military ammo. Some collectors seek only one round of any particular caliber, and such collections, while being somewhat smaller, are often very comprehensive and valuable. Others, like myself, chase every variation of every cartridge we can find, which inevitably leads to large (and very heavy) collections soon being accumulated.
But there are so many variations for an individual to become interested in, there is always something to keep the interest up.
In New Zealand there are collectors whose sole interest is shotshells - and there are many thousands of them, with a new crop each year. Others specialise in pistol and revolver rounds, another chap has more than 1600 variations in a collection of .303 military and sporting rounds, while another bloke who has a general collection has taken a special fancy to .22 cartridges and their packets - he has almost 1300 different .22 packets from all over the world.
Some collections in this country hold as many as 15,000 individual different rounds, while several collections I know of overseas hold more than 30,000 specimens. Obviously, to keep tabs on such collections it is necessary to have some form of cataloguing so that the characteristics of each cartridge can be recorded. For those who have computers, such systems are ideal, although they may present problems of portability.
Others record the cartridge details in hand-written catalogues which they take to swap-meetings so they can instantly check what they have and what they want. Such hand-written catalogues are fine, but they can also become outdated after a few years if the collection grows. Each collector should work out a cataloguing system that suits the collection. For myself, I use several day- to-a-page diaries, one for imperial measurement rifle and machinegun rounds, the second for metric rifle and machinegun, and the third for pistol, revolver and rimfire. Each catalogue is then subdivided into further sections, such a 7.62 Nato, 5.56 Nato, rifle over .400, rifle between .300 and .400, .22 rimfire, etc.
Whatever method is adopted, it is essential the catalogues be kept up to date - it is so easy to allow them to get behind, and their usefulness ceases totally in such circumstances.
Inevitably, in the cartridge-collecting game, the collector comes across cartridges left in leather belts and containers that have become heavily covered in green verdigris, while others are encrusted in a sort of rust or crud from being left lying in the bottom of an old tin or box. Such cartridges can often be quite well cleaned up and restored by the careful use of brass-bristle suede brushes, old towelling cloths and a bit of white spirit. The white spirit soon shifts the verdigris, and the brass bristles will usually grind away a fair amount of the crud without marking the cartridge case.
However, be careful not to damage any lead projectiles. Such projectiles, such as are found on old revolver rounds, are often covered with a white, powdery oxidation, most of which will come off with gentle brushing. But the final clean-up of the lead should be done by briskly twirling the cartridge nose in a bunched piece of towelling, which will bring up the lead polish nicely.
I don't believe it is necessary to polish the brass case of an 80-year-old cartridge until it looks as though it is brand new out of the packet. If a cartridge is almost a century old, it should be allowed to show at least some of its age. Dulled brass can still look attractive, provided it is simply kept clean and tidy.
For those collectors who decide to collect packets, and who want to keep them clean and pristine, they can be wrapped in clear plastic so the packets can be handled and seen without getting finger-stained. However, before they are wrapped, it's a good idea to note briefly the details of the head stamp and other special features of the cartridge not listed on the packet, and leave this information under the plastic so it can be read any time.
This is just a brief introduction to the cartridge collection hobby. Those interested in New Zealand Cartridge Collectors Club activities can obtain more information from the club secretary.