W. & C. Eley, Eley Bros, and Eley Brothers Limited Advertising Sheets

W. & C. Eley

Born into a family of silversmiths and cartridge manufacturers, William Thomas Eley and Charles Eley took over their father’s business upon his death in 1841 and founded W. & C. Eley. They continued making percussion caps and their patented wire cartridges which the company had become well known for.

Eley’s Patent Wire Cartridges from the collection of Rebekah Newcomer

Eley’s patent wire cartridges were a muzzle-loading shot concentrator that allowed for the shot fired from shotguns to retain its spherical form longer before expanding which allowed greater range and regularity in each shot. These were especially important as the concept of the choked barrel would not become mainstream until many decades later. Eley sold various styles of these shot concentrators filled with different size shot, with and without wire baskets, and in every bore size.

They were extremely popular and likely helped contribute to England’s delay of adopting breech-loading cartridges and shotguns.

This advertisement shows a couple things that would would help propel Eley into one of the most popular cartridge manufacturers. On the left you can see they started to standardize on their own version of a numbering system for their percussion caps which became the standard. Throughout the years they would also provide gun manufacturers with chamber and cartridge gauges which helped standardize chambers and ensure Eley cartridges would fit perfectly! This partnership with gun manufacturers is also clear on the right page where they instruct customers to go to various gun dealers for testimonials on their cartridges.

Eley Brothers (a.k.a. Eley Bros)

In 1851, William Thomas and Charles’s younger brother, Henry, would join the firm and the company would change its name to Eley Brothers. One of their first ads should look very familiar as it’s nearly identical to the last one. This also shows that they used Eley Brothers and Eley Bros interchangeably and can not be used to date a cartridge box that may use one or the other.

The next ad is very similar as well but there are a few changes. They change the wording a bit on the left, add in a couple gun manufacturers on the right and importantly add a couple small lines about patent cartridges for revolvers and breech-loading shotguns and rifles.

One of the first patent cartridges they made was for an oddly shaped cartridge for the Adam’s revolver. It became known as the dustbin cartridge due to its appearance of a small trash can when upside down.

Cartridges from the collection of Gary Muckel, Photographed by Author

The breech-loading cartridges mentioned were likely their earliest pinfire cartridges which they began making by 1858 and advertising by at least 1860. So this ad would date to around then. Stay tuned for an article on these pre-1861 Eley pinfires in the near future.

In 1861, William Thomas Eley would patent an improvement to his earlier pinfire shotshell which was prone to issues and begin dedicating much more space to them in his ads. He emphasized that they should always ignite and were able to be reloaded two or three times.

Eley’s 1861 Patented Improvement to Pinfire Shotshells from the collection of Aaron Newcomer

This ad also mentions their new copper pinfire revolver cartridges which they began making by the late 1860s for 12mm, 9mm and 7mm Lefaucheux and other pinfire revolvers.

Eley Brothers Limited

In 1874, Eley became a limited company, raising £200,000 (about $22,000,000 USD in today’s dollars based on the historic exchange rates and inflation.) Each brother was given 15% of that in cash as well as many shares of the company. Around this time they also began to really increase the amount of cartridges they were making.

You can see in one of their early adds they now made shotshells in nearly all of the sizes and also began making 15mm and 5mm pistol cartridges. They also finally begin using the term pin-fire cartridges. The vast majority of Eley pinfire boxes and cartridges found come from this era as they ramped up their production and made many variations.

Eley boxes
Eley boxes

As time went on they kept loading up their advertising sheets with their many awards from various expositions. They also have more and more types of cartridges pictured which is actually a smaller and smaller subset of their full product line. By this time their dealer catalogs are dozens of pages long and they have become one of the largest ammunition manufacturers and would continue to grow for the coming decades.

Eley Pinfire Shotshell Box of the collection of Aaron Newcomer

If you liked this post you may also like my post on factory drawings/blueprints for how Eley Bros made pinfire cartridges and some of the Eley pinfire cartridges for sale: