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WINCHESTER “BEAR HEAD” PLATE ON A MILLS .45 CALIBER LOOPED PISTOL CARTRIDGE BELT – EXCELLENT SPECIMEN OF A RARE BELT SET:  Certainly the most popular of the Mills Woven Cartridge Belts made for the civilian market; these “Bear Head” Winchester Looped Cartridge Belts are well known and highly valued by collectors today.  Patented in 1881, and assigned to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company by the designer, the Bear Head plate was one of the first designs of the unique series of plates for the famous Mills cartridge belts.  Although not selected for use by the US Army, this plate with its distinctive design was apparently quite popular.  These plate and belt combinations saw wide use on the American Frontier, and as a result are most often encountered today in heavily used and worn condition.  The condition of both the Bear Head plate and the belt, and that the belt was made for the .45 caliber pistol cartridge, makes this set a particularly rare offering.   

The Mills Woven Belt Company must have made these .45 caliber Looped Pistol Cartridge Belts in some quantity, both for sale to the military and to civilian customers, however today they are one of the rarest of the Mills Woven Looped Cartridge Belts.  Certainly far less common than the Mills .38 caliber pistol cartridge belts, these .45 caliber belts come to light at an estimated  rate of one .45 caliber belt for probably every 100 .38 caliber belts, perhaps less frequently than that.   

While the cartridge loops on this belt were originally woven to accept the .45 caliber cartridge, and the .45 Colt cartridge case fits these cartridge loops, other cartridges present on the frontier were similar in diameter and the loops in this belt will accommodate them very well.  I have tried a number of different cartridges, such as the .44-40 & .38-40 cartridges, as well as the variety of .44 caliber pistol cartridges such as .44 Colt, .44 S&W American and Russian, .44 Merwin & Hulbert, and the .45 S&W, and all of these will fit in the cartridge loops.  Of special note, these loops will also accept the .44 Henry cartridges used in the Henry and Winchester Model 1866 rifles and carbines, so this belt would have been appropriate for those men in the West who continued to hang on to those early lever guns.   

This pistol cartridge belt is in as close to “like new” condition as you are likely to find.  The belt plate and catch – made of brass and plated in nickel – retain all of the original nickel plating with none of the wear or loss of plating normally seen on these sets.  The Bear Head stamping and the surrounding border are both very legible and distinct.  The matching catch retains the Winchester manufacturing and patent data, all of which is legible and complete.   

The Mills Woven Looped Cartridge Belt is likewise in excellent, clean condition, being full length with all 45 of the .45 caliber cartridge loops present and intact, and the light colored canvas binding is present and intact on both ends of the belt.  The belt itself is woven in what Mills identified as "stone" color – a shade of tan.  None of the cartridge loops are frayed or worn and the belt is overall very clean and free of any soiling.

Both ends of the body of the belt bear the remnants of the ink stamped Mills maker stamp.  These stamps originally were relatively light and more often than not, have not survived the passage of time at all.  In the case of these stamps, they are very faint but knowing where they should be and what they are supposed to look like makes it a little easier to discern.

The .45 caliber woven pistol belts made for use by the military featured sets of grommets for attaching the wire holster and sabre hangers.  This belt has none of those grommets, indicating it was intended for sale on the commercial civilian market and is appropriate for this Winchester belt plate.   

In addition to being a rare pairing, the condition of this specimen is notable, as so many of these Winchester belts are found with frayed, torn or missing cartridge loops and the plate with most of its nickel plating worn away.  The quality of this Winchester Bear Head Plate and Mills Cartridge Belt set would nicely compliment a fine Frontier related revolver or rifle.  (0201)  $1550  

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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