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Sharps rifles were those of a series that began with a design by Christian Sharps. Sharps rifles were renowned for long range and high accuracy in their day.
Sharps's initial rifle was patented September 17, 1848 and manufactured by Butterfield & Nippes in Philadelphia.
The second model used the Maynard tape primer, and surviving examples are marked Maynard Gun Co., Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. In 1850 the second model was brought to the Robbins & Lawrence Company of Windsor, Vermont where the Model 1851 was developed for mass production. Rollin White of the R&L Co. invented the knife-edge breech block and self-cocking device for the "box-lock" Model 1851. This is referred to as the "First Contract", which was for 5,000 Model 1851 carbines - of which approximately 1,650 were produced by R&L in Windsor.
In 1851 the "Second Contract" was made for 15,000 rifles and the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company was organized as a holding company with $1,000 in capital and with John C. Palmer as president, Christian Sharps as engineer, and Richard S. Lawrence as master armorer and superintendent of manufacturing. Sharps was to be paid a royalty of $1 per gun and the factory was built on R&L's property in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Model 1851 was replaced in production by the Model 1853. All Sharps rifles were manufactured in Windsor until October 1856. Christian Sharps left the company in 1853; Richard S. Lawrence continued as the chief armorer until 1872 and developed the various Sharp models and their improvements that made the rifle famous.
The 1874-pattern Sharps was a particularly popular rifle that led to the introduction of several derivatives in quick succession. It handled a large number of .40- to .50-caliber cartridges in a variety of loadings and barrel lengths.
Hugo Borchardt designed the Sharps-Borchardt Model 1878, the last rifle made by the Sharps Rifle Co. before its closing in 1881.
Reproductions of the paper cartridge Sharps M1859 and M1863 Rifle and Carbine, the metallic cartridge 1874 Sharps Rifle, and Sharps-Borchardt Model 1878 are being manufactured today. They are used in Civil War re-enacting, hunting and target shooting.
Sharps military rifles and carbines
The military Sharps rifle (also known as the Berdan Sharps rifle) was a falling block rifle used during and after the American Civil War. Along with being able to use a standard percussion cap, the Sharps had a fairly unusual pellet primer feed. This was a device which held a stack of pelleted primers and flipped one over the nipple each time the trigger was pulled and the hammer fell - making it much easier to fire a Sharps from horseback than a gun employing individually loaded percussion caps.
The Sharps Rifle was produced by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut. It was used in the Civil War by the U.S. Army sharpshooters, known popularly as "Berdan's Sharpshooters" in honor of their leader Hiram Berdan. The Sharps made a superior sniper weapon of greater accuracy than the more commonly issued muzzle-loading rifled muskets. This was due mainly to the higher rate of fire of the breech loading mechanism and the superior quality of manufacture of the guns.
Sharps military carbine
The Carbine version was very popular with the cavalry of both the Union and Confederate armies and was issued in much larger numbers than the full length rifle. The falling block action lent itself to conversion to the new metallic cartridges developed in the late 1860s, and many of these converted carbines in .50-70 Government were used during the Indian Wars in the decades immediately following the Civil War.
Sharps sporting rifles
Sharps made rifles in sporting versions from the late 1840s until the late 1880s. After the American Civil War, converted Army surplus guns were made into custom rifles, and the Sharps factory produced Models 1869 and 1874 rifles in large numbers for the commercial buffalo hunters and frontiersmen. These large-bore rifles were manufactured with some of the most powerful black powder cartridges ever made. Sharps also fabricated special long range target versions for the then-popular Creedmore style of target shooting. Many modern black powder cartridge silhouette shooters use original and replica Sharps rifles to target metallic silhouettes cut in the shapes of animals at ranges up to 500 meters. Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Company, and C Sharps Arms of Big Timber, Montana, have been manufacturing reproductions of the Sharps Rifle since 1983 and 1979, respectively. A replica Sharps Rifle features prominently in the 1975 film Rancho Deluxe; in the 1990 western Quigley Down Under, Tom Selleck's Sharps replica has a 34" barrel (standard length is stated as being only 30"); Glen Campbell's character La Boeuf carries one in the movie True Grit; and one is used to good effect by Burt Lancaster's character Bob Valdez in the movie Valdez Is Coming (1971).
- .50-90 Sharps
- Beecher's Bibles
- Berdan rifle
- List of individual weapons of the U.S. armed forces
- Spencer rifle
- Coates, Earl J., and Thomas S. Dean. An Introduction to Civil War Small Arms. Gettysburg, Penn.: Thomas Publications, 1990. ISBN 0939631253.
- Sellers, Frank M. Sharps Firearms. North Hollywood, Calif: Beinfeld Pub, 1978. ISBN 0917714121.
- Smith, Winston O. The Sharps Rifle, Its History, Development and Operation. New York: W. Morrow & Company, 1943.