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Sharps M-1851 Sporting Rifle - Very Scarce

Sharps M-1851 Sporting Rifle - Very Scarce

  • Product Code: FLA-3025-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

In November of 1852 the production of the “slant breech” series of Sharps rifles and carbines began. This series of guns would encompass four models, the Models 1851, 1852, 1853 and 1855. These were the first Sharps’ patent guns produced on anything approaching a “large scale”, as the earlier Sharps designs (M-1849 and M-1850) had been manufactured on a very small scale; less than 100 M-1849s and less than 200 M-1850s. It is somewhat disingenuous to say that Christian Sharps, inventor of Sharps breechloading design, holder of the patent rights thereto and namesake of the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company was the “designer” of the M-1851. The Model 1851, the first of the “slant breech” Sharps, was certainly based upon Sharps’ patent and a model he had produced and submitted to his production partners at Robbins & Lawrence. However, it was the modifications to the design added by Richard S. Lawrence and William Jones that resulted in the very unique M-1851 design. The “slant breech” series derive that appellation from a change to Sharps’ initial design affected by Lawrence & Jones. Rather than the sliding breech block engaging the breech face of the barrel at a 90-degree angle, perpendicular to it, they inclined the breech 22 degrees to the rear, resulting in an operating angle of 112-degrees. This inclined plane is clearly evident from the exterior of the gun, as the breechblock is obviously canted to the rear. It would not be until the introduction of Sharps’ New Model 1859 series that the slanting breechblock would be discarded and Sharps would return to his original patent design of a perpendicular breechblock. The M-1851 series of gun utilized the Maynard Automatic Tape Priming mechanism that had been patented by Doctor William Maynard in 1848, and had a unique “box lock” mechanism, with the hammer inside the lock plate, rather than outside the lock. This allowed the bottom portion of the hammer to serve as the tumbler upon which the hammer operated, rather than having a separate tumbler inside the lock that connected to the hammer outside the lock. This unique arrangement would be abandoned with the M-1852 Sharps designs and the box lock system would not be revisited by Sharps. The M-1851s were produced in both carbine and sporting rifle variations, with a total of about 2,050 produced based upon factory serial number records. Of these less than 200 were rifles (Seller’s cites 193, but notes that the lack of records for 38 serial numbers could cause his number to be incorrect) and the balance were carbines. Of the carbines 150 were delivered on a US Army contract and another 60 were delivered on a Navy contract. The guns were serial numbered sequentially from 1 to 2,050 and were produced from November 1 of 1852 through April 1 of 1855. The M-1851s were produced in three calibers, or rather bore sizes. Sharps rated the guns by bore size, or the number of lead balls that could be cast from a pound of lead for that size of bore. Under that system the larger the “bore” number, the smaller the caliber, and vice versa. The guns cataloged in in 32 bore (nominally about .52 caliber), 60 bore (about .43 caliber) and 90 bore (about .38 caliber). The sporting rifles were offered with either round or octagon barrels in lengths ranging from 18” to 34”, with 27” being the “standard” and most commonly encountered length. The carbines were produced with 21” round barrels. Most carbines were mounted with some variant of a sling bar for mounted carry. All M-1851s were brass mounted with brass patchboxes and buttplates standard and brass barrel bands on most carbines. Some M-1851s were produced without patchboxes, but not many. The rifles typically had pewter forend caps, but some were made without them as well. The standard sights were a fixed front and folding “squirrel tail” shaped rear mounted on the barrels of both rifles and carbines. On the carbine a fixed brass blade was the standard front sight and a fixed globe front sight was standard on the rifles. An additional folding long-range sigh was typically mounted on the receiver tang of the rifles as well. Of course special order sights were available for the sporting arms, and both sporting rifles and carbines were available with factory embellishments like high grade wood, standard engraving, “extra” engraving, etc. Factory records only reveal 193 M-1851 Sporting Rifles being produced, and of these the large majority were plain (not engraved) octagon barrel guns. Only 66 Sporting Rifles were listed as being produced with round barrels, of these 10 were 32 bore plain, 30 were 60 bore plain, 24 were 90 bore plain, and 2 were 60 bore engraved. One lone oddity is listed in the factory records as a half-octagon half-round 60 bore Sporting Rifle. Even though the M-1852 and M-1853 series of arms had been introduced during the latter part of M-1851s production life, the M-1855 was manufactured in limited quantities through the first quarter of 1855, at which time the production of the “box lock slant breech” came to an end.

Offered here is a very rare Sharps M-1851 Sporting Rifle. The is a plain (not engraved) rifle with a 27” round barrel and is 90 bore. That makes it one of only twenty-four such rifles produced by Sharps between late 1852 and early 1855. The gun is serial number 2031, placing it almost at the end of the M-1851 production and only 10 numbers from the earliest of the M-1852 carbines recorded (#2041). It is reasonable to assume that this was one of the last 10-20 M-1851s produced. The gun is brass mounted with a patchbox, has a pewter forend cap and an early production Sharps long-range tang sight, mated with a globe front sight. An M-1851 Sporting Rifle in the exact same configuration is pictured on page 42 of Frank Sellers’ Sharps Firearms. In the photo of 5 1851 pattern Sharps, it is the 2nd gun from the bottom, and may even be this exact rifle. The gun is in about VERY GOOD overall condition, with the metal being in somewhat better shape than the wood. As noted the rifle is serial number 2031 and this number is found on the tang of the receiver, as well as the bottom of the barrel, inside the patchbox, on the “inside” of the buttplate, inside the Maynard Tape Primer door, on the inside of the trigger plate and on the inside face of the lock itself. The receiver tang of the rifle is marked in three lines: C. SHARPS / PATENT / 1848, but the date is a little tough to read due to wear and some minor erosion to the metal in this area. The barrel has no markings on the surface and does not appear to ever have had such markings. The tape primer door is marked in three lines: EDWARD MAYNARD / PATENTEE / 1845. The markings are mostly legible, but are slightly worn due to erosion from the caustic, mercuric primer residue. The barrel has a smooth plum brown patina that is very attractive, and has traces of the original lacquer browned finish underneath where the forend has protected it. The barrel is mostly smooth with only some scattered pinpricking here and there, primarily around the muzzle and the breech, where some light pitting is present as well. The bore of the rifle remains in VERY GOOD+ condition. The bore measures .375” from land to land and a near perfect .400” groove to groove. The 6-groove rifling is deep and remains very crisp and sharp the entire length of the bore. The bore is somewhat dark and dirty with light pitting along its entire length with some scattered patches of more moderate pitting present as well. The receiver of the rifle has a dusky gray base color with a plum brown patina over most of the surfaces. There is some light pitting on the receiver and some more moderate pitting around the loading area of the breech. The breech block shows moderate pitting externally and even more extreme erosion internally. The platinum breech block ring has been replaced with a small steel plate, set into the face of the breech block, likely because the block face was so badly eroded. No serial number is visible on the block, likely due to the heavy pitting and wear from the caustic gasses. The operating lever retains some traces of its original blued finish with a deep, darky smoky blue-gray patina. The lever operates smoothly and the block opens and closes as it should. The lever catch at the rear of the triggerguard plate operates smoothly and correctly as well. The lock mechanism also functions well, although the feed hand for the Maynard Tape Priming system is missing, a part commonly broken or removed intentionally. The hammer cocks crisply into all three notches, safety, half-cock and full-cock. The hammer responds to the trigger at both full and half cock as it should, as the half-cock notch was for capping the cone if the priming mechanism was not in use, and the hammer was then to be lowered to the safety notch. The original globe front sight is in place on the end of the barrel near the muzzle, along with the small squirrel tail shaped rear sight on the barrel, forward of the breech. The original Sharps factory long-range tang sight is in place on the receiver tang and is complete and functional. The receiver sight retains some strong traces of its original brilliant blued finish. The brass buttplate and patchbox cover both have a very nice, uncleaned, deep mustard patina. Both parts show an accumulation of dark green verdigris where they have contacted the wood for such a long period of time. The wood of the rifle is in decent and attractive, but shows lots of old repairs and only rates about GOOD+ as repaired and refinished. The butt stock was broken completely through the wrist and an old glued repair was performed to stabilize this area. Some small pieces of wood were also replaced at that time to complete the repair. At some point it looks like some additional reinforcement was done inside the break with more modern adhesives. There is also a repaired chip at the toe of the stock, which is very finely done and is barely noticeable. A 6” surface crack extends along the reverse of the stock comb, but does not go through and is probably just a grain separation. There is also a small area of wood filler along the toe line. The butt stock has been lightly sanded and refinished with an application of old varnish that is slightly tacky due to age. The forend is in similar condition with several repaired cracks and a piece of wood that has been set into the forend to replace missing wood. The forend was also lightly sanded refinished and coated with the same varnish found on the butt. Both the butt and forend also show some lightly scattered bumps and dings, but these are minor and hardly worthy of mention. It is unfortunate the wood shows so much damage and repair, otherwise this gun would rate much closer to fine.

Overall this is a nice example of a very scarce Sharps M-1851 Sporting Rifle, of which only 24 were produced in 90 bore with round barrels. The metal has a lovely patina and coloration to it and the rifle displays very well. The description makes the wood repairs sound worse than they look, and you can see from the photos that the wood still displays well. For any serious Sharps collector a M-1851 is a must have, as it is the first really attainable of the Sharps firearms (the M-1849s and M-1850s simply don’t come up for sale very often at all). These are rare guns and historically important as well. When researching comparable sales, I found that the last couple of recorded M-1851 Sporting Rifle sales in comparable condition sold in the $8,500+ range. This gun is a little more reasonably priced and will certainly be a great addition to your advanced collection of Sharps long arms.


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Tags: Sharps, M, 1851, Sporting, Rifle, Very, Scarce