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Can anyone tell me why a cartridge with a bullet diameter of .357 is called a .38 Special and a cartridge with a .401 bullet diameter is called a .38-40??

Doug
The .38 special is derived from the .38 Long Colt which used a heeled bullet. The .38 special uses the same diameter case but with an inside lubed bullet. Why the 38-40 is called that is anybody's guess.
 
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Actually take it back to the 1851 Colt where a .36 caliber ball was pressed into a smaller chamber. With the Colt .38 was a "social" promotion. The .38 S&W was originally a .361 externally lubricated bullet..38-40 I have no clue. .303 (.312) was a land-to-land measurement. The .44-40 is .425, later .44's are .429. My .401 Powermag oddly is .401.
 

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Actually take it back to the 1851 Colt where a .36 caliber ball was pressed into a smaller chamber. With the Colt .38 was a "social" promotion. The .38 S&W was originally a .361 externally lubricated bullet..38-40 I have no clue. .303 (.312) was a land-to-land measurement. The .44-40 is .425, later .44's are .429. My .401 Powermag oddly is .401.

Much like a 22 rimfire. The bullet shank is reduced in diameter to fit into the case! memtb
 

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And then there is the 32-20 Winchester which is .312*. But the 32-40 Winchester is .321", same as the 32 Winchester Special. Let's face it, American cartridge nomenclature is as diverse as our ethnic makeup.

John
 
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Except for the Europeans who tend to prefer using metric nomenclature - which makes more sense.
 

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I read that in the 1800's as they were moving from cap & ball guns to metallic cartridges, there became the question of caliber designation. A common ball diameter was 38 caliber. When the metallic cartridge was released with a 38 caliber case, but only a .357 bullet, they didnt want it to seem smaller, so they went with the case size of 38, instead of calling it a 35
 
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