It may or may not be entirely correct to claim that more rifles of Sharps' design have been built in the past 32 years than during the entire 32-year run of original Sharps rifle production - but the modern total wouldn't miss it by much!
In the summer of 1974, two entirely different companies, separated by an ocean, independently set out to make a somewhat faithful modern-manufactured copy of the original Civil War era percussion Sharps breechloaders. One was a relatively new U.S. firm known as Shiloh Products, Inc., the other a well established Italian manufacturer of high quality double shotguns known as IAB Arms. And both were successful.
A draftsman and technical illustrator by trade and blackpowder shooter by heart, Len Mule' was the real real mastermind behind what would become known as the Shiloh Sharps. Before making the decision to completely manufacture a "reproduction"of the famous breech-loaded rifles and carbines, he was manufacturing extremely high-quality bullet moulds for blackpowder shooters. The four-cavity design of Mule's moulds earned them a solid reputation for producing a lot of round balls or Minie' bullets quickly - up to 400 per hour. They were sold as the "Shiloh IV" moulds. The company also offered quality lead furnaces as well, along with a few other bullet casting products.
Through 1973 and 1974, Len Mule' devoted much of his life to researching Sharps breech-loading rifles and carbines. Not only did he read everything he could find in print, he also visited major museums, including the West Point Museum and the Smithsonian, consulted with leading Sharps experts and collectors in this country, and spent hundreds of hours looking over hundreds of original rifles. One of those experts was Frank M. Sellers, the author of the acclaimed book, Sharps Firearms.
In late summer 1974, Mule' and his partner, Wolfgang Droege, visited Dixie Gun Works, in Union City, Tennessee. (At that time the author of this piece was working there as an antique firearms buyer and Dixie's catalog editor.) When they left, with them they took a huge selection or original Sharps parts to use for making new tooling. And when these two entrepreneurs showed up at the National Sporting Goods Association show (predecessor to the SHOT Show) in January 1975, they displayed for the very first time a pair of newly assembled percussion ignition Sharps breechloaders - a "New Model 1863 Rifle" and a "New Model 1863 Carbine". In that short period of time, this pair had worked with Pinetree Casting ( a division of Ruger) to develop the tooling needed to turn out completely modern manufactured duplicates of the original Sharps breechloaders.
The availability of original parts from the Dixie Gun Works stockpile of Civil War salvage contributed greatly to the authenticity of the early Shiloh reproductions, allowing Shiloh Products Inc. to actually develop tooling based on the dimensions of original parts. Arms authorities immediately praised the percussion rifles and carbines that, at first, slowly trickled out of the Farmingdale, New York plant in early 1976, for their true to the original detail and quality. The only real variation from the originals they copied was that Shiloh elected to make the Lawrence priming system non-functional.
Len Mule' realized that while the percussion models were being well received by Civil War re-enactors and Sharps buffs in general, it would be the later cartridge models that would be most appealing to a majority of shooters. In mid 1976, he purchased an original Model 1874 Hartford-made Sharps sporting rifle, then began researching and working on the blueprints of the cartridge models Shiloh would put into production. Again, he called upon the expertise of author Frank Sellers, plus turned to well-known gun writer Elmer Keith for input on the Model 1874 metallic cartridge rifle models that went into production in late 1977. The company, then widely known as "The Shiloh Rifle Co.", became fully engaged in making both the most widely-used and the best known of the original Sharps rifles. (Shiloh also began manufacturing the C. Sharps Arms rifles at this time as well.)
Ironically, the start of Sharps reproduction manufacturing in Italy actually began with the destruction of two fine original Model 1874 Sharps rifles. In the spring of 1974, SILE Industries had shipped a variety of original sample rifles to IAB Arms, located in Brescia. These were being sent to the respected manufacturer of high-quality double shotguns for the purpose of making the tooling to build both percussion and cartridge model Sharps breechloaders. Two of the rifles happened to be chambered for the .45-70 Government cartridge, and at that time Italy imposed a ban on the importation of any arms chambered for military cartridges. Before those two rifles could be delivered to IAB Arms, custom officials had cut the barrels - right through the chambers!
(Note: The telescopic rifle sights (a.k.a. riflescopes) and mounts shown on some of the rifles illustrating this article are from the Wm. Malcolm vintage scope line produced by Hi-Lux Optics. For more info on these go to www.hi-luxoptics.com . Also, this article was written for and published in the 2009 edition of GUN DIGEST. Some of the companies mentioned may no longer be in business...or the models they offered may no longer be available.)
IAB's first reproduction Sharps rifles and carbine arrived in the U.S. in late 1975, sold by SILE Distributors. Since then, the company has produced nearly 80,000 Sharps reproductions (2009 production number), which have been sold under a variety of "brand" names, including Dixie Gun Works, Taylor's & Company, Tristar Sporting Arms, Armi Sport, and E.M.F. & Co. Easily the most authentic copy of the "New Model 1863" percussion Sharps carbine I ever shot was imported by a company known as Garrett Arms during the mid 1980's. Built in Italy by IAB Arms, even the Lawrence pellet priming system was functional on this Sharps copy.
Working in collaboration with Navy Arms, in 1970 the firm of Davide Pedersoli & Co., also of Brescia, Italy, began producing most of a modern Remington Rolling Block copy. Actually, at that time the Italian manufacturer reproduced everything but the barrel, and the parts were all shipped to Navy Arms' facility in New Jersey, where the actions were fitted with a .45/70 barrel. Then, in 1983, Pedersoli began to build complete modern copies of the widely used single-shot rolling block action blackpowder cartridge rifles dating from the late 1800's. Today, Pedersoli is also recognized as one of the more prolific manufacturers of Sharps rifles and carbines. The company produced its first Sharps, a "Sporting Rifle" model in .45-70 Government, back in January, 1993. Today, the company catalogs the most complete selection of Sharps rifles and carbines available from a single manufacturer. Many of the rifles offered as other "brands" in this country are actually produced in Italy by Davide Pedersoli & Co. Armi Chiappa, better known in the U.S. as Armi Sport, is another Italian manufacturer of Sharps rifles and carbines. Altogether, the company offers more than a dozen different models or variations, ranging from a percussion "New Model 1859" rifle and carbine to an elaborately engraved deluxe copy of a Model 1874 Hartford-built Sporting Rifle. Again, like IAB Arms and the Pedersoli company, Armi Sport's Sharps reproductions are offered by a number of importers in the U.S., primarily Cimarron F.A. Co. and Taylor's & Co. In the U.S., the heart of Sharps rifle manufacturing today is located in Big Timber, MT. Shiloh Rifle Company, now known as Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Company, moved from their original manufacturing facility located on Long Island, New York to the C. Sharps Arms facility in the small south-central Montana town in 1983. C. Sharps Arms was already operating its custom shop and distribution center there, and the move brought these two companies together under the same roof, which was a primary reason for Shiloh's relocation. That relationship ended in 1986, when both companies set out to establish their own Sharps lines. The manufacturing facilities of the two companies are still within a block of each other. (Photo Above Left - After nearly two decades of hard hunting use, the modern copy of a Sharps Model 1874 shown here is starting to take on the aged look of an original - and just could become a handed down family heirloom ... just like many original Sharps rifles. The vintage scope design on this rifle is one of the 1800's styled Wm. Malcolm models offered by Hi-Lux Optics.) When it comes to production Sharps copies, many blackpowder cartridge rifle shooters today continue to consider the rifles produced by Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Company to be the cream of the crop. The fit and finish of the Model 1863 percussion rifle and carbine, along with the many versions of the Model 1874 metallic cartridge rifles produced by this maker, is superb and in no way second to the quality of any other maker. Shiloh manufactured the Sharps rifle that Americans are now most familiar with, thanks to the movie featuring actor Tom Selleck -Quigley Down Under. And much like the rifles produced at the original Sharps plants in Hartford and Bridgeport, Connecticut, its often hard to recognize one of the Shiloh rifles as one particular version or another due to all of the optional custom features available. C. Sharps Arms was founded in 1975 by John Schoffstall, and brought its first Sharps New Model 1863 rifle and carbine reproductions to market in 1976. At that time, the company relied heavily on the early Shiloh operation in Farmingdale, New York to do their manufacturing. John played an instrumental role in getting Shiloh to make the move to Montana in 1983, where the company continued to produce both Shiloh and C. Sharps Arms rifles. Today, C. Sharps Arms has full manufacturing capability and is noted for the extremely high quality versions of the Model 1874 Hartford- and Bridgeport-produced Sharps originals. The company also offers a beautiful rendition of the Model 1877 Sharps, also known as "The English Model", but if this slim and trim back-action lock Sharps reproduction catches your eye, be ready to hang on to your pocket book. With a few optional upgrades, this great-handling-beauty could set you back more than $10,000! The Sharps manufacturers just covered are the primary makers of today's modern Sharps breech-loading rifles and carbines. Prior to the early reproductions that were successfully brought to market in 1975 by Shiloh Products Inc., there were several other attempts during the late 1960's and early 1970's, but they simply failed to get off the ground. Those makers featured here are the companies that have worked hard to build and market quality copies of the big and famous drop-block single shots that are so often simply referred to as "Old Reliable". (Note: The following was also a part of the lengthy article which appeared in the 2009 Edition of GUN DIGEST...) "Additionally, there are a few others now building some really fine custom Sharps-style guns. Axtell Rifle Company*, of Sheridan, Mont. currently custom-crafts a copy of the Model 1877 Creedmoor match rifle, of which the Sharps plant in Bridgeport, Conn. produced only about 100 units. And as you might guess, since these are hand-machined and hand-built, prices are pretty much out of the average shooter's price range. But then, these aren't average rifles. Perhaps the most unique Sharps copy presently manufactured is the "Lil Reliable" currently available from the Little Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company**, of Big Sandy, Mont. As the name suggests, this is a scaled-down version of the Sharps Model 1874. In fact, these slim, trim and lightweight drop-block breechloaders are built with dimensions that are nearly 25 percents smaller than the full-size originals. The scaled-down 7-pound rifle comes in a wide range of chamberings, appropriately smaller than the standard calibers of a standard-scale Model 1874. The Little Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company chambers the rifle in calibers such as 22 Long Rifle, 22 Hornet, 30-30 Winchester and 38-55 Winchester. One of the light rifles in a low recoiling caliber would be ideal for younger shooters or for the ladies also wanting to get in on some "Sharpshooting"." UPDATE... *Axtell Rifle Company was purchased by Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Company in 2010. **Little Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company continues to produce their 3/4-scale Model 1874 "Lil Reliable" in Big Sandy, MT. Chiappa Arms of Italy is also now making a copy of this rifle, which is offered by Lyman Products Corp. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ To Read Part 1 Of This Article - Click Here Part 3 Of This Article..."Whose Sharps Rifle Is That Anyway?" ... Will Be Published In Mid April!