By Dan Shea
Alphonse William Vallerand was an American veteran of the Korean War, and a quiet giant in the Class III collector community. He mentored many of us about military weapons. You can read about him in his interview at www.smallarmsoftheworld.com. Bill was one of the founders of Small Arms Review magazine and one of his passions was the study of magazines, belts, links, and other feeding devices. He began studying them in the 1950s and started developing identification systems with Dan Shea in the 1980s. During the 1990s on trips to Europe, Bill and Dan designed an identification system and started photographing and measuring hundreds of rare magazines. With the input of Dr. Philip Dater, the late Herbie Woodend and the late Bob Faris, the ID guide system eventually became what is described here. Recently Master Gunsmith and Armorer Matt Babb has devoted himself into the project.
The ID system they developed included five photographs of the subject magazine; right side, backstrap, left side, floorplate, and oblique from the top front left or right to see the feed lips, follower, and attachments. Markings would also be photographed, and a series of measurements taken.
Bill and Dan photographed and measured thousands of magazines in preparation for an ID book for designers, collectors, dealers, customs, and forensic scientists to use.
Information that needed to be gathered on each magazine is: weapon, caliber, capacity if known, length, backstrap length, width - maximum, width - body, Depth - Maximum, Depth - body, material, any measurement notes, markings, manufacturer if known, variations if known, and general notes. The inch measurement system is used. General measurements such as overall length and backstrap length are taken with a tape measure, and are to the 1/8th of an inch. Other measurements are with vernier calibers, to the thousandth of an inch.
This identification guide divides itself into three basic categories; pistol caliber, rifle caliber, and large caliber. In the interest of keeping our sanity, we have made judgment calls that may not seem entirely appropriate. For example, the 7.92 Kurz round from the MP44 series is in the pistol caliber section. This was done so that we wouldn’t have endless main categories.
Each of these three main categories is further divided into sub categories; first of whether the magazine is straight or curved, then further divided as to whether it is single stack or double stack, then finally, whether the round is presented from a single location, or a double location.
Should you pick up a magazine and desire to identify it, simply determine approximate caliber as pistol, rifle, or large, then whether it is single or double column, then whether it is curved or straight, then in the case of double column magazines, whether it presents the cartridge from a central point, or from either column, and lastly, if the shape is box or wedge. Drums and odd shapes are noted as such. You may then go to the appropriate section, and scan the photos for a close match- then read further into the text for a positive identification.
Some simple examples that will help with understanding this procedure: An MP5 magazine would be a “Pistol caliber, dual column, curved, dual presentation, box shaped,” or “PDC2B.”
P= Pistol caliber
R= Rifle caliber
L= Large caliber
S= Single column
D= double column
4= 4 column
0= Other- Drums, etc
1= single presentation of cartridge
2= dual presentation of cartridges
B= Box shaped
W= Wedge shaped
Each entry being entered into this ID Guide is sortable by the above method. Take the magazine, categorize it, enter the category set into the search field, and then enter any one of the measurements or caliber if known, then hit search. You can then scroll through the pictures to further narrow down the possible magazines.
We’ll be starting with the rarer magazines, since there are many thousands to put in here, and the most common are usually readily identified. This database will build as we go and it will take a long time to get the photos and data we already have into the on-line database. While that is being done, we’re gathering more information daily. The plan is to have one right side view of the magazine available to anyone searching for the model on the Internet, but for more serious forensics, customs, and advanced dealers and collectors, there will be an in-depth reservoir of the database that will of necessity be a paid professional service.
Example magazine: Rexer-Madsen LMG
Capacity: 20 rounds
Length: 12 5/8 inches
Backstrap: 13 5/8 inches
Width- Max: 3.450 inches
Width- Body: 3.180 inches
Depth- Max: 0.720 inches
Depth- Body: 0.700 inches
Measurement notes: n/a
Manufacturer: British. Rexer Arms Company, made from 1906-1911
Variations: Some are painted, some bare steel.
Notes: For the British trials for Light Machine Gun, 1905. Used in some battles by non-British troops in South Africa, among others.
Example magazine: Owen submachine gun
Capacity: 33 rounds
Length: 8 3/8 inches
Width- Max: 1.410 inches
Width- Body: 1.320 inches
Depth- Max: 1.220 inches
Depth- Body: 0.850 inches
Measurement notes: n/a
Manufacturer: Lysaght, Henry Lane Ltd. Newcastle
Variations: Different paint colors from the factory on the standard magazines are green as shown and green camo. There were experimentals used in the trials in calibers .22LR, .32 ACP, .45 ACP, and .380 Revolver. .380 Revolver was curved; the rest ordinary stick except the .22LR was a drum type. Shorter 9x19mm magazines may be encountered; mag well area will be the same.
Notes: One common model magazine was made for all Owen variations; MKI, MKI*, MKII, and MKIII, as shown here. There was a very early and rare magazine that has its own entry in this database. The ejector is incorporated into the magazine at the rear of the follower on the backstrap. Those painted “Sand” were painted by armies or individuals later.
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