The Berdan Primers

In the late i8(ios the common American military type center fire cartridges were of the early "folded-head" design, resembling the common rim fire in outside appearance. The head of the case was reinforced by a cuplike piece of metal which was inserted through the mouth of the cartridge case and pressed down until the bottom of the reinforcing cup was snug against the inside of the head of the case. A pocket in the bottom of the reinforcing cup was loaded with the priming mixture before insertion in the case. Thus when the cartridge case had been assembled the priming mixture was held in its primer cup close against the inside of the center of the head of the cartridge. A vent led through the reinforcing cup from the primer into the main portion of the case and transmitted the flash from the primer to the powder. In order to fire this type of center-fire cartridge the firing pin had to indent the smooth head of the case and crush the primer pellet against the head-reinforcing element which served as an anvil. Such cases were expensive and ignition was none too reliable.

Colonel Boxer of the British Army in his time was honored for the development of the coiled brass case with its iron base head which made a perfect gas seal and started the trend to center fire metallic cartridge breechloaders in Europe. Meanwhile, in the United States breechloaders and repeaters of superior design were already in use with rim fire cartridges. Today the Boxer case is obsolete, but the Boxer primer was such an outstanding achievement that it is the type still universally used in America. Ironically, this primer invented by a British officer, is generally referred to as the "American type" primer. It is a simple metal cup containing the priming mixture and having its own anvil crimped in across the month of the primer cup. The primer unit is seated in the primer pocket in the head of the cartridge case. The primer Hash travels through a single vent in the primer pocket into the interior of the cartridge case and ignites the powder. Aside from slight improvements in the quality of metal and in the form and method of crimping the anvil into the cup the "Boxer" primer remains unchanged even today.

Colonel Hiram Berdan of the U. S. Ordnance Department about 1870 developed a simple and cheap system of drawing brass cases and devised a new form of primer. This primer differed from Boxer's in that it did not have an integral anvil. Instead, the anvil was formed by a teat in the center of the primer pocket. Two small flash holes were provided in the bottom of the primer pocket, one on either side of the anvil, to carry the primer flash into the powder. These primers were in vogue in the United States for twenty years or more but are no longer generally manufactured for American consumption. Thus, the Berdan primer, designed by an American officer, is now the standard European type. The Boxer type primer, with its single, comparatively large flash hole has the advantage of being easier to push from the fired case, permitting simpler reloading. The case, with its simple primer pocket and single vent is somewhat simpler to manufacture. The open pocket and centrally located vent also seem to permit the use of higher intensity primers without the primer swelling or blow-back obtained with the Berdan type.

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