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Thread: 1812 Musket Balls?

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  1. #1

    Feb 2008
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    1812 Musket Balls?

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Name:	1812 Round ball 001.jpg 
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ID:	650774I recently received these musket balls from a rock dealer who received them from another rock dealer (and so on) and was told they came from British Toronto from 1812. They do seem to be the right size (.70 +/-) but are a little inconsistent. I think I remember seeing musket balls from upstate NY somewhere that were not oxidized. I don't know if it is the dirt, or if they were found in water, or marsh, or what. Is it possible that 200 year old lead would still be grey? I would hate to offer these as British Brown Bess balls if they were made in someone's garage last March. Hopefully, some of our Upstate New York or Canadian brothers will give me a little input on this, as I am in way over my head. Thanks
    Last edited by High Plains Digger; Jul 03, 2012 at 10:59 PM. Reason: photo

  2. #2
    Educator

    Feb 2006
    Occupied CSA (Richmond VA)
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    You asked "if they were found in water, or marsh", so you seem to already know that lead which is found in an underwater environment or in wet marsh mud will not have the usual white-ish "dry-ground dug" patina. (The constant presence of water prevents the lead from oxidizing.)

    I personally well-understand your ethical dilemma. I myself do not want to sell (or even give away) any "relic" that I'm not 100%-certain is the real thing.

    So, in the case of those lead balls, I'd suggest you measure them super-precisely with Digital Calipers. Genuine 200-year-old Brown Bess (.75-caliber) musketballs measure between .71 and .72-inch in diameter. (Early-1800s era .69-caliber musketballs measure .66 to .67-inch in diameter.)

    One other tip for you:
    "Modern-era" cast lead is quite soft, and genuine excavated relic lead tends to be much harder. If you can make a bright-shiny scrape mark by merely scraping on the lead with your fingernail, it probably is not a genuine excavated lead relic.
    ticm likes this.

  3. #3

    Feb 2008
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    Thanks, CBG. I did measure and most (I have 20 all together) were .70+, even up to .715+. I measured each ball several directions, so everything was a "mental average". I am on my way to go and try to scrape one with my fingerrnail. The truth shall come forth. I did notice that somone had some 1830s musket balls from the beach that were about the same colors, but the sand could have been the factor in keeping them grey. I also remembered the "Ft. Fisher Slug" that I have, and it is quite grey.

  4. #4
    us
    Jul 2008
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    [QUOTE=TheCannonballGuy;2844137]You asked "if they were found in water, or marsh", so you seem to already know that lead which is found in an underwater environment or in wet marsh mud will not have the usual white-ish "dry-ground dug" patina. (The constant presence of water prevents the lead from oxidizing.)

    I personally well-understand your ethical dilemma. I myself do not want to sell (or even give away) any "relic" that I'm not 100%-certain is the real thing.

    So, in the case of those lead balls, I'd suggest you measure them super-precisely with Digital Calipers. Genuine 200-year-old Brown Bess (.75-caliber) musketballs measure between .71 and .72-inch in diameter. (Early-1800s era .69-caliber musketballs measure .66 to .67-inch in diameter.)

    One other tip for you:
    "Modern-era" cast lead is quite soft, and genuine excavated relic lead tends to be much harder. If you can make a bright-shiny scrape mark by merely scraping on the lead with your fingernail, it probably is not a genuine excavated lead relic.

    Hey CBG... Are you saying that the lead hardens with age or that the ACW lead had additives to harden it? My whole "just try to bite the bullet and see what happens to your teeth" argument may be riding on this....

  5. #5
    us
    May 2008
    Wisconsin
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    Lead takes a long time to get a patina, which varies of course with its environment.

    Old lead molds will vary in diameter, while modern ones won't. The molds will vary in diameter as well from each other.
    "A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything." Friedrich Nietzsche

    "You ask where I live. I cannot tell you. I am a Voyageur, a Chicot, sir. I live everywhere. My grandfather was a voyageur; he died while on a voyage. My father was a voyageur; he died while on a voyage. I will also die while en route, and another Chicot will take my place. Such is our course of life."

  6. #6
    Educator

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    Aquachigger wrote:
    > Hey CBG... Are you saying that the lead hardens with age or that the ACW lead had additives to harden it?

    Well... before answering your question, I should mention that although the great majority of civil war bullets were made of 100%-pure lead, some were made of a lead-&-antimony (or lead-&-tin) alloy called "hardened lead." (By the way, your "Ft. Fisher slug" is made of hardened-lead, and that's why it is grey... the various lead-alloys do not oxidize white like pure-lead does.)

    But the hardness I was speaking to HighPlainsDigger about is due to 100+ years of in-the-ground Oxidation of pure-lead, not hardness due to the presence of other metals in a lead-alloy bullet. When pure-lead oxidizes in the ground for a century, its surface gets harder. I encountered proof of that fact nearly 40 years ago, when I tried to carve on a civil war Minie-ball (made of pure-lead) that I'd dug. I discovered that its lead was as hard as a brick. I had to use extreme force to get my knife's blade to carv into that dug Minie-ball.

    So, I wondered, how the heck did the civil war soldiers manage to carve Minie-balls into such intricate shapes, if those pure-lead bullets were originally as hard as our dug-up minies. To do a Comparison-test, I then switched to one of my modern-made Repro Minieballs. My knife carved the Repro minie's lead easily.

    I do not know the Scientific explanation for why dry-ground dug civil war lead (not underwater/wet-ground dug) is so much harder than modernday cast lead... but I'm sure it's a fact. I've used my "dry-ground dug lead Hardness Test" to distinguish Original civil war lead-filled US buckles (and boxplates and breastplates) from Repro ones filled with modernday lead.
    aquachigger and Gunrunner61 like this.

  7. #7

    Feb 2008
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    Good news and bad news. No amount of effort could scratch the balls (no comments, please). The bad news: I broke a nail and my manicurist will throw a hissie fit. This hardness thing is good info to have, and I know I will use it in the future. Now, a curiosity question: I have a couple of (whole casing) bullets that have never been buried, and I have seen in museums the same thing, where the lead looks worse than the buried lead we find. It is white and breaking apart. Literally crumbling. Why does that happen??

  8. #8

    Feb 2008
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    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	100_0164.jpg 
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ID:	651015In the spirit of scientific verification, I went and found the US buckle I purchased at the Ft. Union NM gift shop in the 1980s. It took almost no effort to put the scratch in it. And my manacurist will have no new complaints. So, in summary, it was easy to scratch the lead of a "modern" US buckle, but I couldn't........never mind. Now, If I can figure out how to put the photo up for that, I will mark it solved, with an invitation for anyone with bits of cool information to be sure to add it on. Thanks.

  9. #9
    Educator

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    High Plains Digger wrote:
    > Now, a curiosity question: I have a couple of (whole casing) bullets that have never been buried,
    > and I have seen in museums the same thing, where the lead looks worse than the buried lead we find.
    > It is white and breaking apart. Literally crumbling. Why does that happen??

    The answer is that when lead bullets are sitting on (or near) wood in a glass-enclosed display case for a period of several years, the wood gives off a caustic chemical vapor which (being trapped inside the glass enclosure) makes the lead oxidize much faster than normal. Some bullet-collector friends of mine alerted me to that problem long ago, so now I'm passing the info on to you.

  10. #10
    us
    Dec 2004
    South Florida
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    Not meaning to change the subject but old lead is worth much more than new lead as scrap for some reason to make computer solder. . I will look for the old threads.

    Its called lo alpha lead.. $50-$100 pound?old lead in shipwrecks
    Last edited by Bigcypresshunter; Jul 04, 2012 at 10:07 PM.

  11. #11
    Educator

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    Important note for Aquachigger and High Plains Digger, and anybody else who read this discussion:

    Please keep in mind that I called the scraping test "the DRY-GROUND-DUG lead Hardness Test."
    I specified "dry-ground-dug" because:
    As I said at the beginning of this discussion-thread, old lead found underwater OR in constantly-wet dirt (such as low creekbank or a marsh) doesn't oxidize enough to harden. (The water blocks oxygen from reaching the lead.) Therefore, lead found underwater or a low creekbank or marsh stays soft. I myself, when digging underwater and alongside swampy creeks, have found no-doubt-about-it genuine civil war bullets which had almost no patina (oxidation) on them, and their lead bodies were still "soft-lead." So, the "old lead Hardness Test" is only useful for dry-ground-dug lead.

  12. #12
    us
    Jul 2008
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheCannonballGuy View Post
    Important note for Aquachigger and High Plains Digger, and anybody else who read this discussion:

    Please keep in mind that I called the scraping test "the DRY-GROUND-DUG lead Hardness Test."
    I specified "dry-ground-dug" because:
    As I said at the beginning of this discussion-thread, old lead found underwater OR in constantly-wet dirt (such as low creekbank or a marsh) doesn't oxidize enough to harden. (The water blocks oxygen from reaching the lead.) Therefore, lead found underwater or a low creekbank or marsh stays soft. I myself, when digging underwater and alongside swampy creeks, have found no-doubt-about-it genuine civil war bullets which had almost no patina (oxidation) on them, and their lead bodies were still "soft-lead." So, the "old lead Hardness Test" is only useful for dry-ground-dug lead.
    Hey CBG... You are absolutely right about the patina issue. I would like to further the discussion of the hardening issue of the lead if you don't mind. I have gotten into debates with folks about the "biting the bullet" issue during surgery. My retort has always been, "If you don't believe me that soldiers could not have made those teeth marks on a bullet, try biting one and making those kind of tooth imprints. You cannot and will hopefully give up before your teeth shatter." Now this whole "lead hardening with age" issue kinda muddies the waters. I just now finished an experiment where I carved on a land found bullet, a water found bullet and a freshly melted and re-hardened bullet and found them to be equally hard, except for the very thin crusty "patina" on the land bullet which appeared to be more brittle, but was only paper thin. I have also read on muzzle loader sites of laboratory analysis done on this subject and seem to remember that the hardening of the lead was present in freshly melted lead, but was on a nearly if not atomic level. If lead did indeed continue to harden with age, would not ancient lead be nearly brittle through and through?

    Perhaps I have misunderstood your premise, perhaps I am wrong in total, but if I am confused I would have to believe many others are as well. I know you are one of the most knowledgeable guys out there, and would hate to see this thread and your name used as proof by the "bite the bullet believers". Now you know one of my pet peeves ...and I hope you are not one of them...

  13. #13
    Educator

    Feb 2006
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    Aquachigger wrote:
    > I have gotten into debates with folks about the "biting the bullet" issue during surgery.
    > My retort has always been, "If you don't believe me that soldiers could not have made those teeth marks
    > on a bullet, try biting one and making those kind of tooth imprints. You cannot and will hopefully give up
    > before your teeth shatter."

    You can relax your concern. For at least 25 years, I've been telling people the same thing you are saying about the MYTH of "pain bullets." It's an old wives' tale. Historical medical texts call for giving the surgery-patient a piece of thick leather or a folded cloth to bite on -- because biting really hard on a lead bullet would crack a human tooth. (You have no control over how hard you bite down when you are in agony.) The "chewed" bullets we relic-hunters find were chewed by large animals such as wild hogs and deer, who think the bullet is an acorn.

    I've confronted people who doubt the truth of those statements, by challenging them to save their teeth from damage by simply putting a Minie-ball in a pair of pliars, and use all their strength to make it look like a "soldier-chewed bullet." (Nobody has ever come back and showed me they succeeded at that ...so their argument seems to be finished.)

    As mentioned previously, lead can be hardened during manufacture by adding various metals (such as antimony, arsenic, or tin) to it while it is molten. But that isn't the lead-hardening we are talking about, which occurs after the lead bullet is molded.

    There are two types of post-manufacture lead hardening. The first is "preliminary" hardening, which cocurs in the weeks after the lead bullet is cast. That is discussed here: Effects of age hardening on our cast bullets - Cast Boolits

    The second type occurs far more slowly -- over a period of many decades -- as the surface of the pure-lead bullet oxidizes from being left out in the weather (and eventually, buried in the topsoil). That is the kind of lead-hardening we've been talking about in this discussion.
    aquachigger likes this.

  14. #14

    Feb 2008
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    I had to be out of town for a while and couldn't add on to this great discussion. A couple of other questions: CBG says that the "land bullet" is hardened but the "water" bullet is not, by your scientific tests. But have you tested the water bullet in the same manner? Is it possible that an 1812 bullet could harden somehow and still remain grey? I have thought in the back of my mind that someone in the line of ownership may have polished these, but I don't see any real sign of that. And on the CW bullets, I would suspect that they would want the bullets with cavities to be as soft as possible to be expanded into the rifileing of the barrel. I would think that not unitl the breech loaders and more accurately sized bullets would they need to be hardened, as may be evidenced by the solid bottoms, also. Just a thought.

    I sure wish that some of the guys up the direction of New York or Toronto that digs these regularly would give us their insite. Experience is a lot better than conjecture.

    I did find a lead water pipe a few years ago at a demolished Denver mansion. It was very pliable and folded over like a piece of that red or black bad tasting candy that I can't spell right now. Anise should only be used in italian sausage.

 

 

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