By Dick Fraser
This is all really Rich Rains’ fault. He threw down the gauntlet at one of his .22 box collector meetings at the St. Louis International Cartridge Show (SLICS) some years ago. Referring to the letter/number box filling date codes rubber stamped on the bottom of early Remington .22 boxes, he proposed that if you wrote down enough of them a pattern would emerge and decode itself.
So I did. All my Remington boxes; .22’s, center fires, rim fires, etc. D19D, C21P, F8P, J11A, L17A, 20OT, I9A, P9B, E7RPX, G30H and on and on and on. No revelation, just spots before my eyes. OK, I thought, let’s try grouping them by label characteristics.
At the turn of the last century, Remington Arms (Ilion, NY) and UMC (Union Metallic Cartridge Company, Bridgeport, CT) were both owned by Marcellus Hartley, but their products were marketed separately. Around 1911, believing that Winchester had an advantage in being able to market their guns and ammo together, it was decided to do the same with Remington-UMC. Box labels start to change. As new labels were produced Union Metallic Cartridge Company gave way to Remington Arms – Union Metallic Cartridge Company with the red ball logo still saying UMC and the script word Remington added – cartridges were still pictured with the UMC headstamp. About 1914 the red ball logo changed to read Remington UMC and the cartridge headstamps were depicted as REM-UMC. The companies were incorporated together in 1916 and the new labels read The Remington Arms Union Metallic Cartridge Company, Inc. In 1920 the name was changed again, and Remington Arms Company, Inc. started to appear. Kleanbore priming comes along in the late 1920’s and is prominently featured on the label.
Approximate dates of box labeling…
So, some examples of grouping the date codes as they appeared on various labeled boxes gave us thus:
UMC R-U U logo R-U RU log The R-U Rem Arms Kleanbore
B22C D19D I20A K8L N30P C25K
A3XAX C21P J11A N27P P20S X14E
B3A F8P F25C L17A 09BR Z25N
B13ABY E7RPX G30H J20K M1O Y23B
B6O D19W H14L N11E 20OT E07G
Having collected Remington ammo for the last 60 years and living in Connecticut I had picked up various tidbits of information that would serve as useful clues in solving this puzzle. Clue number 1 came from an interview I did with an old Remington employee many years ago. I remembered him saying that the significant part of the date code was the number (which was the day of the month) and the letters immediately before and after the number – the letter before referred to the first or second half of a specific year, and that the letter following was the code for the month within that half year. The month code came from a six-letter word that changed with each half year. The order of the letters in the word became the order of the months in that half year. For example, if the code was GM14RXV6 the date portion was M14R. If M stood for the second half of 1957 and the month code word for that six-month period was ORCHID then the date would translate to August 14, 1957.
Looking at the groupings again it started to materialize. The letters preceding the number in the UMC group were all A or B. The R-U U logo group was all C, D, E, and F. The next group F through J. Then J through N, etc. So the year codes appeared to be in sequence starting with A, with some overlaps between groups as old labels were used up. But the letters didn’t appear to be used up at a rate of 2 per year, and in what year did they start?
Clue number 2 – At some time in the past I had been given the interpretations of two codes. D19WFJ was stamped on the bottom of a plain, otherwise unmarked UMC style box of experimental .30 S&W Automatic cartridges that had come from old-time cartridge dealer John Hintlian. He was tireless in running down leads and making deals with everyone in the ammo business. His files and collections filled rooms at the motel he owned on the Berlin Turnpike. He must have come upon the code interpretations or knew the right someone at Remington because beneath the stamped code, in John’s distinctive handwriting, was the interpretation AUG 19, 1912. M1O appears on the bottom of a box of .30-18 AUTOMATIC cartridges (a special run made for John Browning for an experimental carbine he had invented); I can’t remember who had translated this for me as July 1, 1921. Applying these two to the sequential-starting-with-A theory they meshed perfectly, revealing that at this time only one letter was used for a whole year: A=1909, B=1910, etc. Further research would reveal that the letters O and Q were not used, perhaps because they could be confused with 0 (zero). Starting in early 1923 (letter code P) the year code was applied to the left of the month code, for example, 20WP. This pattern is used until 1927 (letter code U) and then changes again to a system yet to be deduced.
Now to the month code, the letter immediately following the number. They were numerous, but I had found no more than seven different for a given year. When all 18 years were aggregated there were a total of only 12 different letters – ABCDE KL OP R WX. Maybe if the year codes in the earlier years were simpler than the ex-employee told me then the month codes could be also. Then I remembered the Remington salesman’s catalog….
Clue number 3 – Some time in the 1980’s a leather bound Remington salesman’s catalog came into the hands of a friend who ran a gun shop in the next town over from Bridgeport. The catalog was from the ‘teens, and the salesman had written in his prices in code and in the back the translation of the code, as follows:
B L A C K P O W D E
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
These were all the same letters as the month codes! And if we instead make E=10, R=11 and X=12, for the twelve months of the year….. I went back and checked this against the two known translations….
EUREKA!! I had it – the pieces, learned over 20 years, had finally come together!! At least for 1909 into the 1920’s at which time they got fuzzy.
Another clue came along – the Remington Society’s gun barrel dates of manufacture at http://www.remingtonsociety.com/rsa/questions/barrelcodes. It started with 1921 and reconfirmed the BLACKPOWDERX month code. It also clarified that as time went on the letters I, O, Q, and V would not be used as year codes. But despite their apparent long-term use on rifle barrels, around 1928 the month codes on ammo boxes started changing significantly – BLACKPOWDERX was history.
So, to recap at this point, the code for the date Remington boxes were filled with cartridges was rubber-stamped on the bottom of the box. The number is the day of the month. The letter before the number stands for the year; the letter after stands for the month. In the “P” through “U” years the year code appears immediately after the month code. The year code letter A =1909, B=10, C=11, D=12, E=13, F=14, G=15, H=16, I=17, J=18, K=19, L=20, M=21, N=22, P=23, R=24, S=25, T=26, U=27. The month code letter B=January, L=February, A=March, C=April, K=May, P=June, O=July, W=August, D=September, E=October, R=November, X=December.
And a few caveats – for whatever reason perhaps 5% of Remington codes do not follow this interpretation, and boxes and labels were used sometimes way after the time period you might logically associate them with.
So with that information nailed down I made a presentation of my findings at the seminars of the 2007 St. Louis International Cartridge Show (SLICS). It was well received, and the members requested that I write up my findings for the Journal. I agreed to do so.
Sitting at the SLICS 2009 seminars I am reminded that I had not fulfilled my promise, and I resolve to tackle it when I get home. I review all my material and come to the same conclusion – 1909 to 1927 is sound, but something happened in 1928….
In the intervening time since my presentation, Dan Shuey of Winchester WRACo headstamp fame had given me Clue number 4, two internal Winchester documents he found amongst the files of a former Winchester employee. The earlier one, dated 3/29/62 revealed that by that date they had figured out the Remington code sequence but still assumed one code letter for each year. The later one, dated October 1, 1963 showed they now had the year codes for 1957 through 1963: L=1st half of 57, M=2nd half of 57, N=1st half of 58, P=2nd half of 58, etc. The Winchester boys had deduced that Remington was on the half-year system explained earlier, but they were still fumbling with the months apparently not realizing that they changed constantly. The handwritten note at the top says “WMB [Walter Bellemore] This is M. L. Robinson’s [Merton L. Robinson worked in Winchester’s Research & Development] attempt in breaking the Remington code. Any additional info we may have in the future would be appreciated by him.”
After a week of playing with my write-up, talking with Rich Rains and others, and wondering what happened in 1928, it struck me – what if they started the half-year system in 1928, continuing the alphabet but now using two letters to a year and deleting the same letters the gun barrel guys did. It would look like….
Year 1st half 2nd half
1928 W X
29 Y Z
30 A B
31 C D
32 E F
33 G H
34 J K
35 L M
36 N P
37 R S
38 T U
39 W X
40 Y Z
41 A B
42 C D
43 E F
44 G H
45 J K
46 L M
47 N P
48 R S
49 T U
50 W X
51 Y Z
52 A B
53 C D
54 E F
55 G H
56 J K
57 L M
58 N P
59 R S
60 T U
61 W X
62 Y Z
63 A B
WOW!! It worked out perfectly.
The letters repeat every 11 years, so you have to have a general idea of what time period a box comes from before you can pin it down. Some clues include DUPONT being added to most labels in the mid-30’s, the letter R being deleted from the product code after WW2, the child warnings starting in the early ‘60’s, and a general knowledge of when cartridges were introduced. Around 1950 the date codes start to be stamped or impressed inside the side flap.
Now we can date most any Remington box filling to the day 1909 through 1927, and to within 6 months 1928 through 1963. How many years past ‘63 did they continue this sequence? That will have to be the next step in the investigation. Any clues??