Turn-in Treasure

Mixed Nuts, Moon Clips and Tales

Being blessed (cursed, my wife says) with an eye for the old, unique and strange, allows me to expand my knowledge. We’re mostly talking gun- or hunting-related items lurking in basements, attics, or sheds until they’re mindlessly tossed away by a family member, usually after the owner dies.

Old stuff and history go hand in hand, taking on a whole new meaning as time ticks by. It triggers memories of the good old days, reminding us of special people we knew, or simply, an era we wish we lived in. You can call it nostalgia, but I know it’s real!

Stirring examples of long-gone ammo ended up with Tank when he was “working the desk.”

Sentenced To the Chair

One night, when I was a rookie cop, our desk clerk called-in sick. Amid catcalls and good-natured kidding from the old salts during roll call, I made my way upstairs to work the desk. Seniority meant something in those days, as did being new — I was “volunteered” for any detail, any time.

Working the desk required answering phones, taking care of walk-in reports, fingerprinting people for various things, calling for wreckers, and a couple dozen other duties. Pandemonium sprinkled with chaos would be an accurate description.

Desk duty’s saving grace were the “turn-ins” of guns, old ammo, knives or other interesting items, usually by some little old lady who’d recently lost her husband.

This Planters Mixed Nuts tin held tinned WWI-vintage .45 ACP rounds.

Mixed Nuts?

One cold, dreary February evening, this very thing happens. She walks in, lugging an old shoebox. My antenna tingles and a big smile spreads across my face as I greet her. She informs me her husband recently died and she wants to turn in some old ammunition. “Sure, ma’am! No problem …”

In the box are various 12-gauge shotgun shells, the kind displaying beautiful pictures of pheasants, hunting dogs and hunters on the front. They were from the 1940s — easy. Lastly she hands over an old metal Planters “Mixed Nuts” can. Inside were a couple dozen .45 ACP cartridges.

Chatting with her for several minutes, I learn her husband was a WWII veteran who liked shooting and hunting. I tell her I’ll take care of it, and do. I still have the shotshell boxes displayed in a shadow box in my basement where they’re admired on a daily basis.

The Planters can has graced my loading bench for 35-plus years. It got buried under piles of reloading gear, getting excavated every so often during a cleanup. Not knowing why, I’ve always kept the can, knowing it’s somehow special.

Getting interested in 1917 revolvers recently, I remember the can. Looking at the cartridges, I know they were GI issue by their crimped primers and case-head stampings. A closer look shows most of them are from 1917 and 1918. Wow! They’re over 100 years old now. The bullets have a dull nickel jacket, or at least look like they do.

Tank’s prized box of .32 Winchester Specials marked “September 1949”; the bear adds a touch of drama!

A Christmas Story

Examining the can, I see “45s” written in grease pen for the first time. Solder marks remain on the can for the key used to open it (remember those?). By turning the key, the metal seal peeled away around the key so you could open the lid.

I imagine the husband opening the can for a Christmas gathering long ago. He’s smoking his pipe while nursing a scotch and soda. He places the empty can on top of his refrigerator for later use … as the aroma of Captain Black tobacco wafts through the air.

Later during the party he invites his buddies down to the basement to look at his guns — as men did back in the day.

Here’s Tank’s vintage S&W 1917 with the period-correct half-moon clip and a full-moon clip for comparison.

Back to the Bullets …

The grayish-silver projectiles pique my curiosity. After much digging, I learn the copper jacketed bullets had been tinned, a practice accepted by the military in 1912. Doing so prevents verdigris — the nasty green oxidation copper takes on when exposed to the sea air.

I notice some of the brass has three holes around the top, clear down to the tinned bullet. Further investigation reveals this extra crimp was for .45 ACP rounds made specifically for S&W and Colt 1917 revolvers, so bullets won’t jump the crimp used for autoloaders. I also learn full moon-clips didn’t surface until 1982 (for competition shooters).

It’s amazing what you can unravel by giving deceptively mundane items a closer look. Unlocking long forgotten secrets from the past is pretty interesting to me.

We often wonder “If only this thing could talk.” Well, this one did. I heard it with my own two ears. Or perhaps I’m nuttier than the contents of a very special can turned in to my desk one dreary February night.

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