Rare US M1870 Type I Springfield-Sharps Trials Rifle
- Product Code: FLA-3635
- Availability: Out Of Stock
At the end of the American Civil War, the US Ordnance department found itself with stores of hundreds of thousands of obsolete muzzle loading muskets, as well as thousands of obsolete, percussion ignition breechloading rifles and carbines. With a limited budget, the Ordnance Department proceeded to address the problem of having these obsolete muzzleloading percussion arms altered to breechloading, metallic cartridge arms. Initially a .58 rimfire cartridge was adopted for use with the altered muzzle loading muskets, but by 1866 a more satisfactory, centrally primed cartridge, officially designated the .50-70 Government, was adopted. This same cartridge was also usable in altered Sharps rifles and carbines, and over the next few years, the Ordnance Department undertook to have many of these guns converted to accept metallic cartridges.
As the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company had already been working on a system to alter the straight breech M1859 and M1863 pattern arms to accept cartridges, it seemed appropriate that they do the work required to make the obsolete percussion carbines and rifles serviceable. As the alterations began to take place at Sharps, it became obvious that those carbines and rifles with worn bores that measured more than .5225” needed to have their barrels re-lined in order to maintain any level of accuracy. The estimate to perform this work at Sharps was $1.5875 per barrel. The Ordnance Department was not in the position to absorb these additional expenses and did a cost analysis of having the barrels lined at Springfield Armory. The cost was radically lower at Springfield, and by the end of March 1868, it was determined that Springfield would perform barrel re-lining instead of Sharps. This cost analysis caused the Ordnance Department to reevaluate the price that Sharps was charging for alterations, and it was discovered that Springfield could perform the alterations at a lower cost. The comparison of costs between using Sharps to perform the alterations or doing the work at Springfield probably weighed heavily on the decision to produce what would be known at the US Model 1870 Springfield-Sharps Trials Rifles at Springfield.
The majority of the cartridge alterations performed between 1867 and 1869 had been to carbines, with very few rifles altered. However, the Army decided that it wanted to issue the .50-70 Sharps rifled musket for infantry field trials in 1870. A minimum of 1,300 of these rifles were required for the Army field trials. Springfield undertook the alteration process, converting approximately 1,000 older percussion rifles and obtaining 300 new cartridge actions from Sharps for the last 300 guns. These cartridge receivers were the direct predecessor to what would become the Sharps Model 1874 Rifle. Many of the guns to be altered were late war, New Model 1863 Infantry Rifles that had not even been issued until after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Most of the rifles that has seen any amount of service in their original percussion configuration were issued to the various Veteran Volunteer Regiments, whose members had been promised the choice of Sharps, Spencer or Henry Rifle as part of their re-enlistment bonus.
The first 1,000 altered rifles (known to collectors as M1870 Springfield-Sharps Type I Rifles) were issued to 16 different infantry and 2 artillery regiments, in numbers ranging from as few as 20 to as many as 100 rifles per regiment. They were issued on the company level, alongside US M1870 Springfield Allin alteration “Trapdoor” rifles and US M1870 Remington Rolling Block rifles. All of the rifles were chambered for the same .50-70 Government cartridge. As the first 1,000 rifles were delivered, and started to see service in the field, a number of improvements and modifications recommended. The improvements primarily revolved around an improved operating lever for the action. The original percussion levers did not provide enough torque to adequately eject spent cartridges on a consistent basis. As the older levers could not be altered to the new specification, 1,300 of the new levers were ordered from Sharps. The first 1,000 levers were used to modify the original rifles altered by Sharps, and the remaining 300 levers were to be used for the guns that would be assembled at Springfield from the new Sharps receivers. At the same time, the Ordnance Department purchased 300 of what would become known as the M1874 breechblock from Sharps. Springfield utilized these new M1874 pattern blocks, the newly modified levers, and parts of their own manufacture (or modification) to assemble the 300 trial rifles. Like the guns that had been altered by Springfield, these new Type II rifles were chambered for the .50-70 Government cartridge. Like the earlier alteration rifles, the guns had 35” Springfield made barrels that were secured to the forend with two barrel bands. The barrels of both Type I and Type II rifles were serial numbered to the receivers at the left breech, above the stock line. In the case of the alteration rifles, if the receiver serial number included a “C”, indicating 100,000, it was omitted from the barrel number. Springfield modified existing, obsolete musket stocks to obtain the buttstocks and forends. The buttplates were also surplus Civil War era musket buttplates. The cleaning rod and rear sight were of the current production US M1870 pattern. The breechblocks, hammers, locks, levers, trigger plate and lever catch were color case hardened, while the rear sight, screws, lever hinge pin, firing pin, extractor and barrel band springs were heat blued. The balance of the metal parts, including the barrel, barrel bands, butt plate, ramrod and sling swivels, were left in the white; better known as National Armory Bright.
These altered trials rifles used their original Sharps serial numbers, while the newly made Type II Rifles were serial numbered in their own unique sequence from 1 to 300, with the number appearing on the left side of the barrel breech and on the receiver tang. The receivers bore either the original Sharps percussion era patent markings, or the earliest of the cartridge era markings, but no others. The repurposed musket buttplates bore their original U.S.marks, and the left side of the buttstock bore the script inspection cartouche of Erskine S. Allin, the master armorer at the Springfield Armory. These incredibly rare experimental Sharps rifles were issued during 1871 and 1872 and most of them saw service with the army on the frontier. Many of the Type II rifles were issued to the 13thUS Infantry, which was deployed to deal with Indian issues in Wyoming, Utah and the Dakota Territories during the early 1870s. The regiment was eventually recalled to the East and was stationed in New Orleans in very late 1874. The overall field performance of the M1870 Sharps rifles (as well as the Remington rifles) was not as good as the M1870 Springfield Trapdoor. As a result of the field trials, a new pattern of Trapdoor, chambered for the newly developed .45-70 Government cartridge was adopted in 1873, and the brief experiment with the .50-70 cartridge and altered Sharps firearms came to an end. By 1875, the guns were considered obsolete and were already being sold as surplus by the US government.
This particular US Model 1870 Type I Springfield-Sharps Trials Rifle remains in FINE condition. The gun is one of the late Civil War delivery NM1863 Percussion rifles that was altered to cartridge at Springfield. The receiver tang is serial numbered C,34168 and the left side of the Springfield made barrel is numbered 34168 as well. The gun was originally issued in its percussion configuration to the 4thVeteran Volunteer Infantry immediately after the American Civil War. The rifle is listed by serial number as having been issued to Company E of the 4thVVI on June 12, 1865. The gun was eventually returned to Springfield for storage and was one of the rifles chosen for the M1870 Trials Rifles alterations.
The gun is 100% complete and correct in every way. The gun retains its original percussion era Sharps markings and is clearly stamped on the lock plate, behind the hammer in two lines:
C. SHARPS’ PAT
OCT. 5TH 1852.
It is additionally stamped in two lines above and behind the hammer near the breech:
R.S. LAWRENCE’ PAT
C SHARPS’ PAT.
The buttplate bears the usual U.S. mark on the tang. The rifle is marked with a crisp script ESA in an oval cartouche on the left wrist of the buttstock; the mark of Springfield’s Master Armorer Erskine A. Allin. A small script L in a box inspection mark is stamped along the toe line of the, behind the triggerguard tang.
The gun shows use but remains quite crisp throughout, with fine lines and edges. The breechblock retains about 80%+ of its original case coloring, much of which is faded and dulled with about 30% of the vivid coloring remaining; mostly in the protected areas. The balance of the block has a mottled brownish color with some scattered flecks of surface oxidation. The hammer retains a lesser amount of its case coloring as does the lock, both of which match the receiver well, showing the moderately oxidized mottled brown color. The action works flawlessly and is very crisp and sharp. The hammer functions perfectly on all positions and responds to the trigger, as it should. The breechblock moves smoothly, and the lever operates the block and ejector, as it should. The fire-blued screws all retain some pale traces of their original finish. The blue loss is mostly due to simple age fading. The screw heads remain fairly crisp throughout, with a couple showing some minor slot wear. The rear sight retains some thinning blue on the ladder, which retains strong markings. The balance of the gun remains “in the white” as it should, with a dull pewter patina, which is simply the result of the original National Armory Bright finish fading with age and exposure to moisture in the air. The barrel is free of any pitting and shows evenly scattered flecks of lightly oxidized age discoloration and some minute light pinpricking. The bore of the rifle VERY FINE. It is quite bright with excellent rifling. The bore shows only some minor frosting in the grooves as well as some small patches of minor pinpricking. The bore condition suggests the rifle would be a real tack driver at the rifle range. The gun retains its original, full-length, jag-head cleaning rod, both original sling swivels and the original front sight/bayonet lug to accept an angular socket bayonet. As these were Trials Rifles, some were modified to test various ideas regarding their form and function. This rifle has had the sling swivel from the toe relocated to the rear of the forend. The toe swivel recess has been filled perfectly in an arsenal fashion and the swivel inlet and installed just forward of the forend retention screw, a couple of inches forward of the breech. The number 3 is stamped in the toe of the stock, to the rear of the filled swivel hole, possibly a numbering system for the handful of rifles that received this alteration. The original, and fully functional M1870 long-range rear sight is present as well. The stock of the rifle rates about FINE overall. The stock is solid and is free of any breaks, cracks or repairs. It retains strong edges throughout and shows no signs of having been sanded. As noted, all of the markings in the stock remain crisp and clear. The stock shows numerous scattered bumps, dings and bruises from actual handling and use during both the Reconstruction Era and Indian War period field trials.
Overall, this is a really nice example of a very scarce US M1870 Type I Springfield-Sharps Trials Rifle. With only 1,000 of these rifles produced, these guns are very rarely found for sale. This one is 100% complete, correct and original and is a very important historic weapon. The actions for these guns represented the first use of what would become the famous falling block design of the Sharps M1874 rifle; the most famous of the “buffalo rifles” to be produced. For any serious Sharps collector, this gun is a very important historic bridge between the percussion era and cartridge era. The condition of the bore would allow this to be great candidate for long-range black powder shooting as well. I am positive that you will be very pleased when you add this very rare and high quality Sharps military rifle to your collection.