Frankford Arsenal Primers - circa 1920's

by Colin Riley - June 18, 2012

While perusing the tables at a swap meet held by the local gun club this weekend, I came across something that I have never seen before. It was a slightly rusted tin plated steel can with a screw top lid about 3 inches in diameter and 1 3/4 inches high. Inside the can were 10 cardboard disks, which contained some copper colored domed boxer primers in holes punched in the cardboard. Each disk had holes for 50 primers and was separated by a circular piece of cloth. The primers themselves were rather intriguing. The anvil was of an unusual design and was much thicker and heavier than that which is used in modern primers.

There was no label on it except for a post-it note with the words, "Price - Best Offer ". The primers appeared to so old, that it seemed to be a longshot that they would still be functional so I paid 4 dollars really for the packaging.

Frankford Arsenal primer tin with screw top lid

Polling some of the old timers at the swap meet, nobody recognized the packaging or could tell me who made the primers.

At home, I first did a web search which came up empty. I then entered the search term "reloading primer tin screw top" into Google Books and up popped a link to page 19 of the August 1920 issue of the Arms and the Man published by the National Rifle Association. In the article was the following description of Government supplied Frankford Arsenal primers.

They are of copper, packed in a tin screw top, 500 in a case, each primer set neatly into a hole in a paste-board disc that fits the tin container.

This was from a letter written by Mr. H.A.F Sheridan of Wyoming who was having trouble getting the above mentioned primers to ignite Dupont No. 16 rifle powder in his 30-40 Krag loads.

I also found out that the primers were of the Gill primer design which was used by Frankford Arsenal for many years.

Knowing that my newly purchased primers might well be over 90 years old, I decided to make a small test lot of bullseye buckshot loads. If the primers proved not to be viable then the cartridges could be easily diassembled.

Selecting 12 primers at random, I primed and loaded some 7.62 NATO cases with 3 grains of Alliant Bullseye and a 31 cal. buckshot. As a control, I loaded another 12 rounds in the same manner using some berdan primed 7.62 military brass that I had laying around. Fired from a FR7 Spanish Mauser at a target 25 yards away, only 8 of 12 rounds using the old Frankford primers went off. Those that did fire were hang fires with a very perceptable delay. The control group with the newer primers worked fine.

While the Frankford arsenal primers were unreliable, the tin and the packaging are an interesting handloading artifact.

" LOT #1437a - 10AKAS-3 Frankford Arsenal Primer Tin " Accessed (June 16, 2012) <>

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