Sharps Percussion Cap Breech Loading Rifle:
Written by: Kim Lockhart, Copyright.
Sharps Black Powder Rifle:1848 - 1881
Christian Sharps in September 1848, patented a single-shot, lever-activated, breech-loading black powder rifle with a vertically sliding breechblock. It was quick to reload and did not require the shooter to ram a charge down the bore as it had its beginnings in the era of the black powder muzzleloader. In the era of black powder rifles, the sharps rifle made the transition from muzzle-loading black powder rifle to breech-loading black powder rifle, therefore, substantially, increasing the firing rate of black powder rifles and effectiveness.
The Sharps single shot rifle design was very unique, instead of having a fixed breech plug it featured a breech block that rose and fell vertically in mortises that were milled into the receiver walls and this was done so precisely that the gases could not escape from the barrel.
The first design change came with the introduction of the Sharps, Percussion Cap, breech loading rifle around 1851. Sharps had his Improved Model of 1851 manufactured by the firm of Robbins & Lawrence as the newly formed Sharps Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Sharps rifle fired a paper black powder cartridge, once the cartridge was loaded into the breech the lever attached to the breech block was drawn up, this allowed the breech block to rise and shear off the end of the paper cartridge exposing the powder charge, the rifle was then capped with a percussion cap and fired. Shortly afterward, Sharps disassociated himself with the company. Company armorer Richard Lawrence continued improving the rifle.
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.
Ironically, both Lawrence and Sharps died in 1874. That year, investors launched the reorganized Sharps Rifle Company, and with it the Model 1874, a metallic cartridge-firing improvement over the original design.
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.
This became the ultimate big game rifle for hunters and frontiersmen in the West, where hard-to-kill game required hard hitting big bore cartridges. The 1874 Sharps was one of the few rifles that could handle large charges, and consequently it became the gun of choice for Bison hunters.
Often weighing 12 pounds or more, it was chambered for cartridges that included the .45-105 and the .50-140, which gave the rifle its nickname, “The Big Fifty,” along with another moniker, “Old Reliable,” which was stamped on its barrel. The 1874’s accuracy proved itself on target ranges as well. Unfortunately, financial problems caused the company’s failure in 1881.
Sharps rifles were well known for their long distance accuracy. Enough so that military versions of Sharps rifles issued to their users, those issued the Sharps rifle were known as Sharps shooters, later condensed to "sharpshooters".
Sharps 50-90 black powder cartridge, elevated to 35 degrees firing a 675 grain bullet powered by 90 grains of FFg black powder, muzzle velocity 1,216 feet per second, has a impact distance of 3,600 yards.
Bullet weight 650 grains, muzzle velocity 1,301 feet per second, 3,245 yards.
Sharps 45-105 black powder cartridge using a 550 grain bullet with 100 grains of FFg black powder, muzzle velocity 1,322 feet per second, elevated to 35 degrees, has a impact distance of 3,575 yards.
Sharps Straight Walled Cartridges:
.50-140 Sharps, Bullet Weight 700 Grains, Loaded With 140 Grains Fg Black Powder, Velocity 1,350 Feet Per Second.
.50-90 Sharps, Bullet Weight 473 Grains, Loaded With 90 Grains Fg Black Powder, Velocity 1,350 Feet Per Second.
.45-105 Sharps, Bullet Weight 550 Grains, Loaded With 105 Grains Fg Black Powder, Velocity 1,360 Feet Per Second.
.45-70 Government, Bullet Weight 400 Grains, Loaded With 70 Grains Fg Black Powder, Velocity 1,280 Feet Per Second.
.45-70 Government, Bullet Weight 500 Grains, Loaded With 70 Grains Fg Black Powder, Velocity 1,130 Feet Per Second.
.44-60 Sharps, Bullet Weight 396 Grains, Loaded With 60 Grains Fg Black Powder, Velocity 1,250 Feet Per Second.
.40-90 Sharps, Bullet Weight 370 Grains, Loaded With 90 Grains Fg Black Powder, Velocity 1,380 Feet Per Second.
.40-50 Sharps, Bullet Weight 265 Grains, Loaded With 50 Grains Fg Black Powder, Velocity 1,410 Feet Per Second.
Sharps Necked Cartridges:
.44-90 Sharps, Bullet Weight 520 Grains, Loaded With 90 Grains Fg Black Powder, Velocity 1,270 Feet Per Second.
.44-77 Sharps, Bullet Weight 365 Grains, Loaded With 77 Grains Fg Black Powder, Velocity 1,460 Feet Per Second.
.40-90 Sharps, Bullet Weight 370 Grains, Loaded With 90 Grains Fg Black Powder, Velocity 1,475 Feet Per Second.
.40-70 Sharps, Bullet Weight 330 Grains, Loaded With 70 Grains Fg Black Powder, Velocity 1,420 Feet Per Second.
.40-50 Sharps, Bullet Weight 265 Grains, Loaded With 50 Grains Fg Black Powder, Velocity 1,460 Feet Per Second.