Roper Repeating Rifle – An Early Type of Cartridge

While the design for the Roper rifle and shotgun originally came form Sylvester Roper, Christopher Spencer played a very significant role in its production. When sales of the Spencer lever action rifle dissolved at the end of the Civil War, Spencer needed something new to work on, and Roper recruited him into his company. Roper’s design was for a shotgun that used a 4-shot rotary magazine and reusable steel cartridge cases.

By late 1868, however, sales of the Roper shotguns had not reached a profitable level (most likely because the price of the guns began at $60, making them very expensive for the time) and the company was put up for sale. Spencer was able to put together enough money to purchase it himself, and he moved the machinery to Hartford CT and set up a new production line. In addition to shotguns, Spencer also made a .40 caliber rifle version of the gun. The prices remained too high, though, and could not sustain the company’s operations. In response, Spencer began taking on contact forging work, and that proved to be a much more profitable and sustainable business model. The company was reformed in 1872 as Spencer & Billings, and would leave the gun business behind.

Spencer would go on to invent the automatic screw machine, and make a not insignificant fortune on that idea – which is still widely used in the manufacturing industry today.


  1. “reusable steel cartridge cases”
    I presume steel was used (not brass) for greater life. How many times that cases can be used? How does price of brass compared to steel, back then?

    BTW: Considering steel cases, in 1970s in Soviet Union decision was made to abandon brass cases due to economic reasons. After gathering data about usage of 6 barrel machine guns from helicopters of U.S. forces during Second Indochina War, it was decided to develop own equivalent weapons (that would become GShG-7,62 and YakB-12,7), for further increase of Rate-Of-Fire multi-bullet cartridges, so development of two-bullet 7,62×54 R and 12,7×108 started, first was closed quite early, as it was impossible to achieve required ballistic, development of 12,7×108 continued, brass cases were used, cartridge was perfected, but due to above-mentioned decision, works with steel cases started, when it was tested in actual machine guns – some cracks appeared, soon reason was found: Soviet weapon for 12,7×108 have certain difference in chamber dimensions in neck area (chamber was most tight for DShKM, medium for A-12,7 and NSV and most loose in YakB-12,7) – not problem for more elastic brass, but problem for steel. Also normal (1-bullet) cartridge 12,7×108 with steel case was developed at that time and after that was tested, which showed that it also suffered same problem, so 12,7×108 remained brass cased. Two-bullet cartridge entered VVS (Air Force) service in 1982, until it was removed from service and production in 2010. It was used in helicopter-mounted YakB-12,7 machine guns, but at some point it was concluded that there is not place for 12,7 in helicopter armament (autocannon will be used).

    Photo of 2-bullet 12,7-мм 1СЛ cartridge:
    notice that second bullet nose is in 1st bullet cavity, also notice dents in case used for holding bullet

    • Addendum: second part of above post is based on
      technical data for 1СЛ cartridge:
      length: 147 mm
      cartridge mass: 145 g
      bullet mass: 31 g each
      Muzzle velocity (1st/2nd bullet): 730/670 m/s
      Armor penetration: 5 mm @ 1000 m
      There exist also 1СЛТ cartridge, with normal first bullet and second tracer bullet

  2. Would the momentum of the bolt going forward right before firing, have help cancel out the recoil in a similar way to the Ljutic Space gun? I understand this could be a problem for accuracy in a rifle, but the design was originally for a shotgun were it might not gave been as much of an issue.

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