feature By: Marc Davison and Tom Quigley | May, 20
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.
In the Beginning
(1891 - 1893, Ideal Hand Books #1-4)
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.
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.
The Next Four Years
(1894 - 1897, Ideal Hand Books #5-9)
Ideal Hand Book #5 of 1894, marks the first real step in the Ideal shotshell tool evolution with the introduction of the Ideal Loading Machine for shotshells.
An original mailer with Ideal Hand Book #5 shows the price at $7.00 (equivalent to about $195 in 2019 dollars). The 18-pound loading machine was foot-activated by a pedal chain and functioned only to charge shells with powder and shot, and to seat the wads. De/recapping and crimping operations all had to be done independently with other hand tools. The powder scale graduations were based on Hazard’s Kentucky FFg black powder and all other black and nitro powders were indexed to these. The main selling points of the machine were the accuracy and uniformity of the powder dispensing, consistency of wad pressure and the versatility of being able to use it for powder charging rifle and pistol cartridges as well as shotshells. This Loading Machine would remain in the Ideal tool lineup, essentially unchanged, until being discontinued by Lyman in 1948. It last appeared in the Lyman Ideal Hand Book #35. The first bench-mounted powder measure was also introduced in 1894, as the Universal Powder Measure - aka UPM. It had the same measuring scale and design as that found on the Shotshell Loading Machine. This gave the shotshell handloader a better alternative for powder handling than the hand dipper. Roundball mould availability was expanded to include 14, 16 and 20 gauges.
Ideal Hand Book #6 of 1895, took further steps forward in the evolution of the tool line with the introduction of the High Grade Closer and the slightly more economically priced Spangler Ideal Closer – the first tools to increase the speed and uniformity of shell crimping for paper shells. The High Grade Closer was made individually for 10, 12, 16 and 20 gauges and the Spangler for only 10, 12 and 16 gauges. The Spangler would only be made for one year and is one of the more uncommon crimpers encountered. Lathe Crimping Tools are mentioned as a footnote but are not formally introduced and described until the following year.
In 1896, Ideal Hand Book #7 shows the Spangler Closer, which produced a square crimp, only to have been replaced by the more versatile Ideal Diamond Crimper, which made either a round or square crimp. This crimper would persist through Barlow’s tenure at Ideal. Also, introduced in this Ideal Hand Book was the Ideal Star Crimper, which was a modified High Grade Closer with a flywheel instead of a simple hand crank, and was designed to be attached to a treadle sewing machine and powered by foot. The crimping heads were interchangeable so one tool could be purchased along with the separate heads as required for 10, 12, 16 and 20 gauges. The lathe crimper was formally introduced as the Star Lathe Crimper, which was a lathe shank that used the same crimp heads as the Star Crimper. These are quite rare, as the authors and others have never encountered one. All three of these crimping tools would continue through the Barlow tenure. The other interesting item from 1896, was the Paragon slug mould. This mould was made in 12 gauge only and cast a 690-grain slug for shotgun shells – a rare item.
Its popularity must have been limited since it was produced for only one year. The hand powder/shot dipper was now available with graduations for both black and smokeless powder. This was also the year when the smokeless powder ads first dominated the rear advertising section of the Ideal Hand Book.
Ideal Hand Book #8 also printed in 1896, showed only a few minor advancements. The hand crank Ideal Star Crimper was introduced and called the #1 Star Crimper. The only difference between it and its predecessor, the High Grade Closer, was that it had interchangeable crimp heads, which was the direction things were moving. The former Star Crimper with the large balance wheel was renamed as the #2 Star Crimper, and the Lathe Star Crimper was renamed to the #3 Star Crimper. The “Star” designation was to signify adjustable crimp heads. Also noteworthy is the greatly expanded table of smokeless powder data for shotshells. Prior to this Ideal Hand Book, there was only a passing mention of smokeless powder for use in shotguns and the data was sparse. Clearly smokeless powder for shotguns was now on the scene and Ideal wanted to be on the leading edge. Ideal Hand Book #9 of 1897, had no material changes to the shotshell tool lineup.
The Next Three Years
(1898 - 1900, Ideal Hand Books #10-12)
Over the next three years, Barlow would introduce a major advancement to powder handling with the duplex measures for both cartridge and shotshell reloading. The most significant changes to the existing shotshell tools were improvements to the crimp head design, and several items were rebranded with the dawn of the new century.
Ideal Hand Book #10 of 1898, contained several significant upgrades and updates to the powder measures, including the introduction of the first Ideal duplex measures. The UPM was renamed as the Ideal Universal Powder Measure #1, and a duplex powder measure was added and called the Ideal UPM #2. It was marketed primarily as a measure for cartridge reloading. A bench-mounted head section of the Shotshell Loading Machine was introduced as the Ideal Universal Powder and Shot Measure #3, and was for powder and shot charging only. A new shot/powder duplex measure was also introduced as the Ideal Universal Powder and Shot Measure #4. This was essentially the same general tool as the #3 but with a third funnel-shaped reservoir in the rear to handle the duplex powder.
The only material changes in Ideal Hand Book #11 of 1899, was a rebranding of the Shotshell Loading Machine to the Improved Loading Machine with the primary change being more refined graduations of the powder scale. In addition, all crimpers were rebranded to highlight the Improved Crimp Heads, which now had interchangeable pins for optimizing the crimp type for single/double barrel shotguns (square tip pins) or repeaters (rounded tip pins).
With Ideal Hand Book #12 of 1900, no changes to the shotshell tool line occurred; however, several items were rebranded with the turn of the new century. The Shotshell Loading Machine is now called the 1899 Ideal Loading Machine and the #1 through #4 powder measures also carried the 1899 label. The Ideal Loading Flask has now been discontinued with the push toward the new UPM line. The table of smokeless powder data has been expanded considerably to reflect its growing popularity.
The Next Five Years
(1901 - 1905, Ideal Hand Books #13-16)
While Ideal Hand Book #13 of 1901, saw no material changes to the shotshell tool lineup, Ideal Hand Book #14 the following year offered the first major improvements to decapping and recapping with the Straightline Re & Decapper. It was advertised as a tool capable of handling all shell types and any primer type and was available in gauges 10 through 28. Also introduced was the Ideal Shot Shell Sizing Die for reforming the base of paper shotshells, as well as a new #2 Shell Receiver for the Loading Machine which contained brass spring fingers to better guide the wad as it was inserted – the same principle is used today in many shotshell loaders.
With Ideal Hand Book #15, another improvement was offered for paper shell reloading with the Shot Shell Trimmer. It was a bench-mounted, hand-operated tool to trim the frayed/worn ends of paper hulls, with a separate attachment to “iron” the shell mouth. Both of these operations would better facilitate the loading process, especially the insertion of the wads and crimping, and also helped to extend shell life. These were available for 10 through 28 gauges.
Several other major improvements and additions were introduced the following year in Ideal Hand Book #16. The powder measure line was consolidated with the discontinuation of the #3 and #4 Universal Powder and Shot Measure, and the #1 and #2 UPMs were redesigned as the (infamous) Ideal #5 and #6 Universal Powder Measures. The other significant addition was the Straightline Hand Loader available in gauges 10, 12 and 16, and was the first major improvement to the hand operation of shotshell loading for those who did not need the high volume of the Shotshell Loading Machine. The main chamber was the same as the #2 Shell Receiver on the Shotshell Loading Machine and could be used interchangeably should the owner want to take this section from his Shotshell Loading Machine and use it as part of his traveling handloading kit.
The Final Years
(1906 - 1910, Ideal Hand Books #17-19)
John Barlow was truly committed to advancing the state of the art in shotshell reloading through constant innovations and improvements. However, he never lost sight of the need for the simple hand tools. Many of Barlow’s shotshell tool designs continue to be the foundation for the tools we use today.
• Ideal Manufacturing Company, 1891 - 1908, Ideal Hand Books #1 - #19
• Amber, John 1952, Ten Rare Gun Catalogs
• Chamberlain R.H. and T. Quigley 1998, Cartridge Reloading Tools of the Past
• Floral, Jim 2001, Gun Digest 55th edition, John Barlow - The Ideal Man