Ideal Shotshell Reloading Tools

The Black Powder Cartridge News|Summer 2020

Ideal Shotshell Reloading Tools
The Barlow Years
Marc Davison and Tom Quigley

Excerpt from the Ideal Hand Book #1 of 1 891, showing the basic set of shotshell hand loading tools.

Much has been written about the Ideal line of cartridge reloading tools, but rarely does something surface on the shotshell tool line. The purpose of this article is to present the chronology and development of these reloading tools during the initial 20 or so years of the Ideal Manufacturing Company, from around 1891 to 1910, when John Barlow was the owner and proprietor. This period is covered in the Ideal Hand Books through issue #19. It also marks the beginning of the transition from primarily black powder shotshell loading to smokeless. While there were numerous shotshell reloading tools prior to this time, the reloading process was slow, tedious and required multiple handling steps. Barlow’s patents introduced new and innovative ideas to improve loading speed and efficiency. His shotshell tool line evolved considerably from the few hand tools listed in the first Ideal Hand Book to the complete and state of the art lineup shortly after the turn of the century.

John Barlow founded the Ideal Manufacturing Company in 1884, upon leaving the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, where he had worked the prior 14 years; 10 of those years in the reloading tool and cartridge department. One of his significant patents while working at Winchester was the “adjustable chamber” version of the 1880s reloading tool originally patented by V.A. King. Barlow’s initial challenge as he launched his new Ideal Manufacturing Company was not so much a technical but rather a business one, as he had no business background, no brand identity, and no sponsors or agents. By the end of 1886, the shooting fraternity began to recognize and accept the Ideal brand with overwhelming enthusiasm. Barlow accomplished this through resourcefulness, persistence and targeted advertising – when he could afford it. At this time Marlin, Colt, Winchester, Stevens and Maynard were all carrying the Ideal tool line.

Barlow published his first Ideal Hand Book in 1891, “To the shooters of pistols, rifles, and shotguns,” although the shotgun tools and discussions seem to almost be an afterthought. Even the testimonials presented in Ideal Hand Book #1 were all cartridge-related except one, which referred to the shotshell tools as “little shotgun implements.” Nothing in the tool and reloading instructions mentioned shotshells, likely because handloading of shotshells had been around for a considerable period of time and the methodology was simple – prime, insert powder, wads, shot, top card, then crimp (or not). It would seem there were not nearly as many variables to manage, as when casting bullets and loading metallic pistol and rifle cartridges. Things would clearly change over the next 18 years, with an emphasis on improving the speed, efficiency and consistency of reloading shotshells; all while gaining market share in an area of reloading that had plenty of room to develop, especially with the advent of smokeless powder.

Ideal Hand Closer, pre-1895.

IN THE BEGINNING (1891 - 1893, Ideal Hand Books #1-4)

The first four Ideal Hand Books contained the same lineup of simple hand reloading tools. These included the Pocket Shot Shell Loading Tool labeled “The New IDEAL,” which could be used for paper or brass shells, and functioned as a capper, decapper, rammer and extractor. It would later be renamed as the “Ideal Pocket Loader” in Ideal Hand Book #9. The tool came with a funnel and wooden base to hold the shell while decapping. The companion item was the Ideal Hand Closer for roll-crimping paper shells (later to be renamed the “Ideal Pocket Closer” in Ideal Hand Book #7). These two simple pocket tools were actually first produced around 1886, prior to the Ideal Hand Book #1.

They were extremely popular and always in high demand, and would continue to be part of the Ideal shotshell tool line through the Barlow tenure – almost 25 years – and into the Lyman years until being discontinued after Ideal Hand Book #34 in 1948. Other shotshell implements advertised in Ideal Hand Book #1 included the “Brass Shot Shell Loading Tool” specifically for loading brass shells and similar to the Pocket Loading Tool, which functioned as a capper, decapper and rammer.

Ideal Pocket Loader, post-1896.

This was available in 10 and 12 gauges only. A “Shell Resizing Tool” was available for rifle and pistol calibers, but by the time Ideal Hand Book #4 was published in 1893, it was now available for brass shotshells. Also by now, roundball moulds were being offered in 10 and 12 gauges with cast diameters being .015 inch smaller than gauge diameter. All powder and shot was measured with a standard hand dipper or the Ideal Loading Flask. It is interesting that under Barlow, Ideal only produced wadcutters for cartridge calibers, but never produced them for shotshells. It wasn’t until 1925, with Ideal Hand Book #26 that Marlin began selling wadcutters for shotshells.

Brass shotshell reloader.

THE NEXT FOUR YEARS (1894 - 1897, Ideal Hand Books #5-9)

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Summer 2020