Whose Sharps Is That Anyway?
Sharps rifles earned their reputation for long range accuracy during the Civil War when they were put into the hands of a volunteer group known as "Berdan's Sharpshooters". Those making up this elite unit were some of the finest marksmen in the country, and most were outfitted with the Sharps New Model 1859 Rifle, some of which had been fitted with early telescopic rifle sights. These shooters' ability to hit an enemy soldier at great distances became legendary among Union troops - and feared by Confederate troops. Then, during the heyday of the buffalo hide hunting years, 1870 to 1880, the rifle of choice among professional buffalo hunters was the "Big Fifty" (.50-90) Sharps. Not only did the accuracy and knockdown power of the large-bore single-shot ensure clean one-shot kills of an animal that often topped 1,500 pounds, the rifles also delivered the big, heavy and slow-moving lead bullets with amazing accuracy.
With such a reputation, it is no wonder that the Sharps rifle is very likely the most identifiable firearm ever made in the U.S. It is also no wonder that so many historical-minded shooters are now wanting to experience shooting and hunting with the hefty drop-block single-shot breechloaders. One thing is for certain, there is now one heck of a selection of new-made Sharps guns to choose from. In fact, there are easily more models in production right now than ever at one time at any of the original Sharps manufacturing plants. Here in "Part 3" of "The Rebirth Of 'OLD RELIABLE' - The Sharps Rifle", we'll also include a few models or versions that were never originally offered.
The number of each variation from each of the different manufacturers or importers is such that it would take more room than we have here to take a detailed look at each model of each brand. So, here we'll look at the standard models currently being produced or imported, and who offers that variation. Then we'll look at a few modernized versions of models based on the Sharps design.
New Model 1859 Rifle and Carbine
Like the originals they copy, the reproductions of the New Model 1859 Rifle come with a 30-inch barrel, and the carbine copies come with a true-to-the-original 22-inch barrel, In reality, the original New Model 1859 and New Model 1863 are the same guns, just with different barrel markings. All 1859 carbines were built with an iron patchbox, while nearly half of the 1863 carbines were made without one. Original guns were produced in 52-caliber, today's reproductions are 54-caliber. Taylor's & Co. retails the New Model 1859 Rifle for $1,342, the carbine for $1,250.
(These models are offered by Davide Pedersoli & Co., Dixie Gun Works, Taylor's & Co., and a few others. Variations include a New Model 1859 "Berdan Sharps" rifle, with double-set triggers.)
New Model 1863 Rifle and Carbine
These are the models that Shiloh Products Inc. first reproduced in 1975. During the late 1970's, Shiloh retailed the rifle model for $375, while the carbine sold for $345. Today, the company no longer lists these two models. Again, the New Model 1863 and New Model 1859 are the same guns. The rifle features a 30-inch barrel, the carbine a 22-inch barrel. Taylor's & Co. offers the New Model 1863 Carbine for $1,209.
Model 1874 Hartford Sharps
Today's Sharps rifle manufacturers have taken a lot of liberties with the features of this model, but so did the original Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company. One of the typical distinguishing features of an original produced at the Hartford plant from 1871 to early 1874 was the round collar at the base of the barrel. Later Bridgeport models (1874 to 1881) typically did not have this feature. Like the originals, various copies of this metallic cartridge Sharps rifle are available in a wide variety of calibers, including quite a few "obsolete" chamberings.
(Companies offering copies of the Hartford cartridge model Sharps include Armi Sport, C. Sharps Arms, Cimarron Firearms Co., Dixie Gun Works, E.M.F. Firearms, Flintlocks Etc., IAB Arms, IAR Arms, Davide Pedersoli & Co., Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Co., Taylor's & Co., Tristar Sporting Arms, and A. Uberti. There are many variations of these rifles, from the standard "Sporting Rifle" models, to copies of the 1874 military rifle and carbine, to "Long Range" and Creedmoor target models, along with some very elaborate "Deluxe" editions. Consequently, prices vary greatly, from around $1,100 for some standard models to as much as $6,000 or $7,000 for engraved and gold inlayed guns.)
Model 1874 Bridgeport Sharps
With the move in 1874 from Hartford to Bridgeport, CT, the company shortened its name to just Sharps Rifle Company. Again, a typical feature of the rifles built at this plant was the omission of the relief collar associated with Hartford-built Sharps rifle barrels. In 1876, the company began to mark their barrels with the well-known "Old Reliable" marking. Today, "Old Reliable" is a registered trademark of C. Sharps Arms.
(Companies now offering Model 1874 Sharps rifles with typical Bridgeport features include C. Sharps Arms, Cimarron Firearms Co., Dixie Gun Works, Flintlocks Etc., IAB Arms, Davide Pedersoli & Co., Shiloh rifle Manufacturing Co., and Tristar Sporting Arms. Typical retail prices range about the same as for the Hartford models.)
Sharps Model 1877 Rifle
This is one of the rarest of original Sharps rifles, built to meet the single trigger and under 10-pound weight restrictions for competing in the revered "Creedmoor" matches. Today, the model is offered by C. Sharps Arms and Davide Pedersoli Co. Note: The C. Sharps Arms Model 1877 rifle is built with the "Creedmoor" single trigger, with a base price of $7,500. The Pedersoli copy is built with double-set triggers, and has a retail price of around $1,600.
More than half of all original Sharps rifles and carbines ever produced were built between 1859 and 1866 - and of the 100,000-plus percussion ignition guns built during that period, only about 100 were sporting rifles. These also rank among the rarest of rare Sharps rifles. Typically, the guns were built with better than average quality wood, and most often are found with double-set triggers. Some feature a tapered round barrel, others were built with a full octagon barrel. Several companies have offered modern copies of these rare original percussion Sharps. Dixie Gun Works currently offers a great example of a percussion Sharps sporting rifle, built by Davide Pedersoli & Co., which retails for $1,400.
Other Sharps-Style Rifles
The 3/4-scale Model 1874 offered by Little Sharps Rifle Manufacturing would be ideal for the hunter looking for a light (7 to 8 pounds) rifle to pack in the field, but no original Sharps of this configuration was ever manufactured. A set back for most anyone desiring one of these little beauties is the price. The "Standard" model, in a caliber like .38-55 Winchester, .30-30 Winchester or .32-40 Winchester, starts at $3,250. Lyman offers a very similar scaled down rifle, built by Chiappa Firearms of Italy, in .38-55 Winchester or .22 Hornet which sells for a much more reasonable $1,799.
C. Sharps Arms also offers a model you won't find anywhere else - the Model 1875. The original Sharps Rifle Company produced only about 10 of these rifles, mostly for display at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The design, by Nelson King, won several medals. However, King departed Sharps soon after and the Model 1875 was never put into full production. Since some of the parts are identical to those of the Model 1878 Borchardt, Sharps experts feel the tooling was converted to produce the newer hammerless design. Some also believe that the Model 1875 influenced the design found in Browning's 1878 patent, to later become the 1885 Winchester High Wall. The C. Sharps Arms modern copy of the Model 1875 would make an excellent, high quality hunting and target rifle - with retail prices starting at $1,475.
Original Sharps cartridge rifles were produced in an amazing range of calibers. Most popular then and now tend to be the big .45's and .50's (i.e. .45-90, .50-70, .50-90, etc.). The old .45-70 Government cartridge, introduced in 1873, was by 1875 offered as a standard chambering for the Sharps Model 1874. More original Sharps metallic cartridge rifles were built in .45-70 than in any other caliber. And the same holds true today, thanks to the availability of commercially-loaded ammo and the ease of finding loading components for those who like to roll their own.
It's now been 135 years since the original Sharps Rifle Company closed its doors and ceased production of the most famous of all the big single-shot black powder cartridge rifles. Even so, the Sharps lives on with more followers and more rifle choices than at any other time in history. It must be shooting's version of deja vu.
Note: The Hi-Lux Optics Wm. Malcolm line of early style "telescopic rifle sights" were originally introduced to offer Sharps and other early style rifle shooters an affordable period correct rifle scope for tapping the long range accuracy of today's new made black powder cartridge rifles. Learn more about the W. Malcolm Vintage Reproduction scopes here!