American-made, reloadable, patented, pinfire shotshell by William H. Smith of Charlestown, Massachusetts

William H. Smith Pinfire Shotshell

This is one of the very few American-made pinfire shotshells. It was patented on 8 February 1870 by William H. Smith of Charlestown, Massachusetts.

The main idea for his improvement was around the safety issues of loading a shotshell that was already primed. He designed the system to allow it to be loaded ahead of time and then primed later when one was ready to use it.

This worked by unscrewing the plug and pushing the pin in and placing a percussion cap in and then screwing the plug back in which would also act as an anvil.

He also mentioned the fact that priming a typical pinfire shotshell required special tools where all one needed here was a screw driver, knife or even a finger nail to simply unscrew the plug.

He filed his patent on 23 December 1869 and it was approved just a month and a half later. This 1869 date is printed on the headstamp along with his initials. This example has a pin that is wider at the bottom so it won’t fall out the top pin-hole. It is a curious design having the wide, flat part of the pin hit the primer when most everything else has a typically pointed end hitting it. Even the patent drawing shows the typical pointed pin in the cap.

Those two features along with the tiny hole punched out of the top of the case (which could’ve held the string for the patent card) make me think that this could potentially be the patent model he made for this. It is very likely it never went into production as this is the only example that has ever been known to exist. And that wide pin ensure this pin never falls out as it would’ve been meant to stay in the patent library. But I have no way to prove this and would love to some day find more examples to know for sure I am wrong!

This example was part of the White & Munhall Laboratory Reference Collection as indicated by the 10,389 etched into the side of the case. The number is recorded in their paper records matching this specimen as well. From there it made its way to the long-time collection of David “Doc” Frederickson who passed away in 2021.

I could not find much information about William H. Smith of Charlestown, Massachusetts but it seems he may have just been an entrepreneur. A couple years later he also patented an improvement to window-screens to better keep flys and mosquitos out. He also made many offers to supply the Naval shipyard in Charlestown with all sorts of supplies from stationary to nails to stone to hay to paint and many other things though his bids mostly seemed to not have been accepted.

But his 10 gauge pinfire cartridge is definitely a great addition to my collection and helps tell a little more of the story of the relationship between the United States and pinfire cartridges.