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British Contract Model 1855 Sharps Carbine Marked to the King's Dragoon Guards

British Contract Model 1855 Sharps Carbine Marked to the King's Dragoon Guards

  • Product Code: FLA-3823-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

The Sharps Model 1855 Carbine is one of the real rarities of Sharps long arms collecting. Only 6,796 of the 1855 pattern carbines were produced between May of 1856 and July of 1857. Of those guns, 6,000 were sold to the British on a military contract, 600 were sold to the US Army, 101 were sold to the US Navy and 95 were sold commercially. While 6,000 British contract carbines may seem like a fairly substantial number, these guns are extremely scarce on the American collector market today. The reasons are multi-fold, but essentially revolve around the fact that the arms were part of a foreign contract and were sold to Great Britain, and the British issued the Sharps carbines to five troops of Cavalry stationed in India. 


The order for the 6,000 carbines came about due to a combination of indecision, a lack of options, and the poor performance of the Victoria carbine. As the British went to war in the Crimea, they found their infantry well-armed with the Pattern 1851 Minié Rifle and the newly adopted and very modern Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle Musket. However, the cavalry went into battle with the 2nd Pattern Victoria Carbine of 1843. This was a percussion, smoothbore, muzzle loading carbine with a 26” barrel, in .73 caliber. The appearance of the carbine was reminiscent of earlier English flintlock carbines, as the barrel was pinned to the stock, instead of being secured by barrel bands. The carbine had a captive swivel ramrod, and when this feature was combined with the rather long barrel length for a carbine, the end result was an arm that difficult to handle and reload while on horseback. Due to the woeful inadequacies of this carbine on the battlefields of the Crimea, the Board of Ordnance began to seriously look at options for adopting a breechloading rifled carbine that would be easier to handle while mounted and that would be more effective on the battlefield. 


The first serious contender for selection was a patent capping breechloader designed by James Leetch. Leetch’s design had been submitted to the Ordnance Department for review in November of 1853, one month after the beginning of the war in the Crimea. However, Leetch’s design did not undergo serious trials until June of the following year and was not endorsed for adoption by the Board of Ordnance until July of 1855. Initially some 15,000 of Leetch’s carbine were ordered, but the order was quickly reduced to 2,000 as it was considered prudent to try a number of designs in the field prior to making a final selection regarding a breechloading carbine. 


In April of 1854, the Sharps carbine design was first examined by the British Board of Ordnance for consideration as a potential breechloading carbine. Testing was conducted in February of the following year, and the results were mostly positive. The Sharps carbine variant tested was equipped with the Maynard patent automated tape priming system, rather than the Sharps pellet priming system. The initial testing went well enough that a month later, in March of 1855, the Board of Ordnance requested that the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock produce twelve of the Sharps pattern arms in .577 caliber for additional testing. This testing took place in July of 1855 and resulted in the ordering of 6,000 Sharps Model 1855 carbines in .577 caliber. The order was placed on 26 March 1856 and the British deliveries commenced on May 31 of 1856, continuing through March 31, 1858. The guns were produced in two variations, with the only difference being the barrel length. According to most references, the first 3,000 carbines were delivered with a 21” barrel, while the next 3,000 were delivered with 19” barrels. This may not be completely true, and the guns may have been delivered with the currently available barrel length installed. The guns were blued with color casehardened receivers and were mounted with brass furniture, including a brass patchbox in the obverse butt. As previously noted, they incorporated the Maynard automatic tape priming system. The carbines had a fixed block sight graduated for 100 yards, with four additional folding leaves for other distances. The pair of rear-most leaves were graduated to 200 and 300 yards, and the two forward of the fixed sight were graduated to 400 and 500 yards. This system was found to be less than effective, and during the service of the arms a newer version of the sight was adopted with the forward leaves graduated to 400 and 600 yards, respectively. As originally ordered, the carbines had .577 caliber bores, rifled with three grooves and a 1:78” rate of twist. This was found to be inadequate, and sometime in 1857 new specifications were issued, changing the rate of twist to 1:48” and between 1857 and 1859 a number of carbines were re-barreled with 18” barrels with the faster rate of twist and .551 caliber bores. It appears that this was the same time frame that the rear sights were improved as well. 


The search for the most perfect carbine for cavalry use did not end with the order for Sharps' carbines, and in 1858 another competing American design, the Greene carbine was ordered from the Massachusetts Arms Company for field trials. In addition, British designs by Burton, Restell, Terry, and Westley Richards were all considered. In the end, the Westley Richards design was the winner, but it was not universally adopted until 1866. By February of 1864 only 2,877 of the Sharps carbines were still in British service, with the other 3,123 having been removed from service in one form or another. It appears that all of the carbines still in inventory at that time had been modified with the new, shorter, smaller caliber barrels with the faster rate of twist.


Offered here is a VERY GOOD+ condition example of a rare British Contract Sharps Model 1855 Military Carbine. The gun is one of the 1857 period re-barreled and apparently refurbished guns, as it has one of the 18” long, nominally .55 caliber barrels and the upgraded rear sight. The gun bears the matching serial number 24784 on both the receiver tang and on the bottom of the barrel, underneath the forend. The bottom of the barrel also has the British style assembly mark \ \ | | on it and the same mating mark is found inside the forend. The forend was apparently salvaged from another Sharps during the arsenal refurbishment of the carbines, as it has the partial serial number 443 on its interior. However, the presence of the matching mating marks clearly indicates that this forend has been with this carbine since it was re-barreled by the British. The serial number of the carbine places it in about the middle of the serial number production range that these carbines are found in, which is between 19,000 and 29,000. The receiver tang is marked in three lines: 






A small {CROWN} / 3 inspection mark is present on the tang as well. The exterior of the door of the Maynard tape priming mechanism is marked in two lines: 





and the inside of the door is marked with the sub-assembly number 143. As is typical of the early Sharps carbines, the breechblock is unmarked and unnumbered, however it is also marked with mating hash marks \ \ | | found under the barrel and in the forend. The interior right side of the breech block also has British inspection marks, consisting of a {CROWN} / A / 3, indicating inspector 3 in America viewed the breech block and approved it for use.  The left side of the barrel, ahead of the receiver is marked with a series of inspection marks. These include a raised {BROAD ARROW} in a depressed oval,  a {CROWN} / A / 2 British military inspection mark, with the “A” indicating inspection in America. This is the same inspection mark found on many of the “Windsor” Pattern 1853 American contract Enfield rifle muskets produced at the Robbins & Lawrence Factory. The barrel also bears a set of London commercial proofs including a {CROWN} / V and a {CROWN} / GP which are separated by the gauge mark 28, indicating “28-Bore” or nominally .55 caliber. The interior of the patchbox door is stamped with the sub-assembly number 64. However, the most interesting mark is found on the buttplate tang, which is stamped in two lines:





This indicates that the gun was issued to the King’s Dragoon Guards and was gun number 249


The King’s Dragoon Guards were one of the most storied British cavalry units and were the senior line regiment of British cavalry, having been formed initially in 1685 as the 2nd Queen’s Regiment of Horse to fight in support of the Queen against the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion. From that point the regiment remained in active service until it was amalgamated in 1959 with a unit history that spanned nearly 300 years. In 1714 the regiment was renamed the King’s Own Regiment of Horse in honor of the new king, George I. During the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) the regiment was again redesignated, this time as the King’s Dragoon Guards in 1746 and later given the additional designation of the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards. The regiments served primarily in the German states during the Seven Years War (1756-1763) and saw service in Flanders during the French Revolutionary Wars (1793-1802), they fought with distinction throughout the Napoleonic Wars and played a pivotal role at the Battle of Waterloos. The regiment traveled to North America in 1838 to suppress the French Canadian Rebellion in Lower Canada and fought in the Crimean War (1854-1856) with particularly heroic service at Sevastopol. The regiment was deployed to India in 1857 during the Indian Mutiny and it is likely there that they received their Sharps M1855 Carbines. From India the regiment proceeded to China where they fought during the Second China War (1857-1860) and likely kept their carbines with them for that service. Like many British cavalry regiments during the mid-19th century, the Kings Dragoon Guards saw service around the world to support the British Empire and to suppress insurgents. They fought in the Zulu War of 1879 and the Transvaal War in 1881. The turn of the century saw the regiment back in South Africa, fighting in the 1st Boer War (1899-1902). The regiment served gallantly in World War I, in particular at Ypres (1915) and the Somme (1916). After the Great War they saw service in Afghanistan in the Third Afghan War (1919). Here at the Battle of Dhakka they made one of the last cavalry charges by a British regiment. After additional garrison service around the Empire, they returned to England to become part of the Royal Armored Corps in 1939. During World War II, the regiment served in the North African and the Italian theaters for the entire war. Their post-World War II service saw them enforcing the Palestine Mandate in 1948, as well as 5 years of occupation duty in West Germany from 1951-1956. In 1959 the regiment was merged with the Queen’s Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards) to create the 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards.


As noted, the gun remains in about VERY GOOD+ condition. The carbine has a lovely moderately oxidized and mottled gray and brown patina on the barrel that is untouched. The gun retains no finish to speak of, with the barrel mottled and the receiver and frame having a thicker chocolate brown patina. The exposed portion of the barrel shows light to moderate pinpricking over its entire surface, with some light pitting in the breech area. The bore of the carbine is in about FINE condition. It is mostly bright and retains crisp three-groove rifling. The bore shows light to moderate oxidation and some roughness and frosting in the chamber area and the first few inches of the barrel nearest the receiver. The balance of the bore shows only scattered pinpricking and light pitting along its length along with frosting in the grooves. As noted, the frame and breech have an attractive dark plum and chocolate patina, however there are some traces of case coloring inside the Maynard tape primer recess. The action of the carbine is very crisp and remains mechanically excellent. The breechblock opens smoothly and locks tightly into place. The Maynard tape priming system is complete and fully functional. The hammer operates crisply on all positions and responds to the trigger, as it should. The tape primer door opens smoothly and remains closed as it should and even the breech lever locking latch functions as well as the day the carbine was manufactured. The carbine retains its original sling bar and ring on the left side of the receiver. The correct, post-1857 British modified block & 4 leaf sight is in place on the barrel, forward of the receiver, with the original 1857 upgraded 200300400 and 600 yard leaves all in place. The original front sight is in place near the muzzle as well. The original cone (nipple) is in place in the breech block, and it remains very crisp. All of the screws remain in good condition as well, with only some minor slot wear noted. The wood to metal fit is very good and all of the brass hardware has an attractive, lightly cleaned, golden color. The stock and the forend of the carbine are in about VERY GOOD condition as well. The stock is solid and complete and free of any breaks or repairs. However, there is a grain crack near the toe line of the stock, running from the buttplate towards the wrist that is about 3” long. The crack is visible on both sides of the butt, so it goes all the way through, but it remains tight and secure and does not seem to be a structural issue at this time. The stock retains good edges and lines and shows no indication of having been sanded. The stock does show a moderate amount of wear and numerous bumps, dings, mars and impact marks from handling, service, use and storage. The forend shows similarly scattered bumps, dings and mars, with a small chip missing just forward of the lever hinge and a short, tight grain crack running towards the forend mounting screw. However, despite the fact that this carbine not only served in the harsh environment of the subcontinent during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 but was carried by one of the most famous of British cavalry regiments, it shows no indication of abuse, just real world use. 


Overall, this is a very nice example of a very scarce Sharps military carbine. British Model 1855 Sharps Carbines are rarely found for sale in the United States and are missing from many of even the most advanced collections of Sharps carbines and rifles. When the guns are found, they typically show serious wear from their hard use by the British cavalry in India, and they are rarely as such solid, complete and relatively crisp condition as this one. They are also rarely marked to such a famous British cavalry regiment. This example is 100% compete and correct in every way. This carbine is a must have for any serious and advanced Sharps collector or any advanced British military carbine collector. The gun is simply a great example, has tons of eye appeal, and is very difficult to find for sale. You will probably have to wait a long time  and pay a lot more money to find a better example of this rare and desirable Sharps carbine.


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Tags: British, Contract, Model, 1855, Sharps, Carbine, Marked, to, the, King's, Dragoon, Guards