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Antique Military Firearms
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This is a very rare and very fine condition Sharps Model 1868 Cavalry Carbine that was originally a Civil War Sharps New Model 1863 Cavalry Carbine.  This carbine was altered after the Civil War to fire the new .50-70 Government cartridge.  This carbine is rare not only because of its fine condition, but because it retains its original 6-groove rifled barrel and it also retains its original butt stock with patchbox.


The story of all Sharps Carbines begins with Christian Sharps who lived from 1811-1874.  Christian Sharps learned the principals of firearms manufacturing from famed weapons designer John Hall while working at the Harpers Ferry Arsenal.  Christian Sharps patented his first breechloader weapon on 1848.  In 1850, Sharps entered into a contract with arms manufacturer A. S. Nippes of Mill Creek Pennsylvania.  Sharps’ first two sporting rifle models were manufactured at the Nippes’ Plant.  A short time later on January 9, 1852, Sharps began its significant relationship with the Robbins and Lawrence Co.  In May 1853, Robbins and Lawrence completed the building and installation of machinery at the new Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Co. plant in Hartford Connecticut. 


In 1851, Christian Sharps moved to New England and entered into a contract with the firearms and machinery manufacturer Robbins and Lawrence.  Sharps’ first contract with Robbins and Lawrence was for the Model 1851 “Box Lock” Carbine, which was manufactured at the Robbins and Lawrence Plant in Windsor Vermont.  The Model 1851 Carbine proved successful as a military weapon for both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy.  With this successful design in production, the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Co. was formed in1851.   Sharps weapons continued to be produced for a short time in Vermont until around 1854 when Sharps began manufacturing its own weapons at its new plant in Hartford Connecticut.  Several successful Sharps Carbines were manufactured during this period to include the Slant Breech Model 1853 and Model 1855 Carbines.  It was during this time when the Sharps Model 1855 Carbine was in production that the Robbins and Lawrence Company suffered significant losses and ceased operations.  The Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company then took over all Robbins and Lawrence operations. 


The Slant Breech Models experienced gas leakage at the breech.  Richard Lawrence began to experiment with a new gas seal and he determined that a breech block that operated at right angles to the bore sealed gas better than one that operated at an angle to the bore.  This led to the first Straight Breech production Carbine - the New Model 1859 Carbine, the first of the Civil War straight breech Sharps Carbines, which also included the New Model 1863 and New Model 1865 Carbines. 


These three “models” are actually all one new Sharps model with a straight breech block, but are differentiated by markings and other slight variations.  A total of about 27,000 New Model 1859 Carbines were manufactured from 1858 to 1863, in serial number range 30,000 to 80,000.  The major variations of this model include the addition of friction ridges on the breechblock at about serial number 30,786, and the change from brass furniture to iron around serial number 36,000.  These Model 1859 carbines all had patchboxes on the right side.


The New Model 1863 Carbine was manufactured from 1863 to 1865, and about 60,000 were manufactured in the serial number range 71,235 to 99,999 and from C,1 to C49,528.  Early models had the patchbox but this was phased out in late 1863.  The final variant, the New Model 1865, was a limited production of 5,000 carbines manufactured from 1865 to 1866 and in serial number range c,40,000 to C,50,000.  As noted, this particular carbine was originally manufactured as a New Model 1863 and is serial number C 7187 which, given Model 1863 production numbers, means this carbine was likely manufactured in late 1863 and it still has its original patchbox.


The principal source on Sharps Carbines and Rifles, and later conversions, is the definitive Sharps book, “Sharps Firearms,” by Frank Sellers (Beinfeld Publishing, 15th Ed., 2011).  Sellers points out in his chapter on conversions that the War Department had on hand over 50,000 Sharps percussion carbines and rifles at the end of the Civil War.  The advent of self-contained cartridges rendered these percussion models obsolete but with a sharp drawdown in forces, and a corresponding cut in funds for firearms after the war, the War Department decided to convert those serviceable Sharps carbines and rifles to fire metallic cartridges.  The War Department first had to determine which of the 50,000 Sharps firearms on hand were suitable for conversion.  5,000 of these were Models 1851, 1852, 1853, and 1855, which were all slanting breach types and were not suitable to conversion.  The balance of on-hand Sharps firearms were, at least theoretically, suitable for conversion.


The Ordnance Department worked with Sharps to develop a cartridge conversion for existing and serviceable Sharps carbines and rifles and the first sample conversion was sent to the Chief of Ordnance on May 7, 1867.  The conversion was deemed acceptable and a contract dated October 27, 1867 was signed by the president of Sharps on November 2, 1867.  Within a week after the contract was signed, work was started at the Sharps factory on the conversions and, on November 7, 1867, D. F. Clark was appointed sub-inspector at the Sharps factory for the purpose of inspecting the converted firearms. 


The contract procedure for alteration was slightly changed in early 1868 when authority over the conversion contract was turned over to the commandant of Springfield Armory, Colonel J. G. Benton.  On January 1, 1868, Colonel Benton wrote to the Chief of Ordnance recommending that all barrels of existing Sharps rifles and carbines with a bore diameter of more than .5225” be “reinforced,” or re-lined because of accuracy issues.  The cost of re-lining was $1.50 per barrel so, to estimate costs, Sharps was tasked with inspecting all of the carbines on hand to determine how many had bores greater than .5225” in diameter.  On February 5, 1868, Richard Lawrence of Sharps reported that of the 9,000 carbines at the Sharps factory, only one third had bore diameters of .5225” or less.  An additional change occurred on March 5, 1868, when the first firing pin design, which used a spring behind the firing pin, was changed to a cam-operated firing pin.  Shortly afterwards, on March 24, 1868, all carbine barrels at the Sharps factory with bores larger than .5225” were sent to Springfield Armory for re-lining.  That leaves about only 3,000 carbines that kept their original barrels. 


Deliveries of the converted carbines began on February 25, 1868, and proceeded at a rate of 1,000 per month.  The first 1,900 carbines delivered were Model 1867 conversions with the spring retracted firing pins.  After these initial 1,900 carbines, the cam retracted firing pin was used and was designated the Model 1868.  This particular carbine is the Model 1868.  The Model 1868 carbines used eight conversion parts:  slide, firing pin, firing pin screw, lever key, lever spring, lever spring block, extractor and barrel or chamber liner.  This particular carbine, because it kept its original barrel, only receiver a chamber liner to accommodate the new metallic cartridge.  Additionally, of all 32,184 rifles and carbines converted, only about 3,000 kept their original patchboxes, which this carbine still retains. 


At the end of the conversion, only 31,098 Sharps carbines and 1,086 rifles of all configurations were converted after the Civil War.  Of these, only 1,900 retained their original 6-groove barrels.  Of this number, and with only 3,000 total keeping their original stocks with the patchbox, the number of Model 1868 Carbines produced with original 6-groove barrels and patchbox stocks is probably only in the low hundreds.


As noted, this New Model 1868 Carbine, which was altered from its original Model 1863 configuration, is chambered in .50-70 Government, and is in very fine condition.  The barrel, which is the original barrel, is 22 inches in length, and it retains 95% plus of its blued finish with small areas of old and minor pinprick pitting that was finished over when the carbine was converted.  The barrel retains its original six grooves and the bore still has a very shiny appearance with strong rifling.  The barrel measures .5190” at the muzzle, so this was one of the 3,000 carbines with a bore diameter of less than .5225” that was not re-lined.  The bore has a very bright finish along its length with strong rifling.  There is some frosting in the grooves.  This would still be a very accurate shooting carbine. 


The chamber is lined to accept the .50-70 Government cartridge.  The interior breech is marked with a serif “C” stamp.  The original steel front site base is brazed to the barrel and retains its original brass front site post, which is still secured tightly in the base.  The top of the barrel just under the barrel band has a serif “H” inspection stamp.  The top of the barrel to the rear of the rear site is stamped “NEW MODEL 1863.”  The breech end of the barrel has a witness mark on top that lines up perfectly with the corresponding witness mark on the front of the receiver.  The left rear of the barrel, just forward of the receiver, is marked with a serif “S” stamp. 


The Rear Sight is in fine condition.  The rear site base retains approximately 70% of its original finish and is secured with the original single slot screws.  The top of the rear site base is stamped, “R. S. LAWRENCE/PATENTED/FEB 15TH 1859.”  The rear site leaf remains correctly in the white and is graduated to 800 yards.  The elevation slide retains the majority of its original blued finish and still operates smoothly. 


The left side of the receiver is stamped, “SHARPS’ PAT./SEPT. 12TH 1848.”  The lock plate on the right side is stamped on the lower part, “C.SHARPS’ PAT./OCT 5TH 1852,” along with a serif “T” inspection stamp, and at the top of the lock plate, “R.S. LAWRENCE PAT/APRIL 12TH 1859.”  The receiver throughout retains almost all of its original and beautiful color case-hardened finish.  The receiver tang has the serial No. “C, 7187.”  The original tape primer components remain installed and the cover still retains the majority of its original blued finish.


The Hammer is the correct design as modified for the Model 1868 Sharps Carbine with the beveled nose that was re-designed to only strike the firing pin and not the receiver.  The cross hatching on the thumb extension remains crisp.  The Hammer and its original rounded head, single slot screw, which is unmarred, retains the vast majority of its slightly faded case-hardened finish.  The original lever pin is present along with its original detent button. 


The breech block is in mint condition and still retains 98% of its color case-hardened finish throughout.  The right side has a “15” and an “S” stamp.  The top, left portion of the block has a serif “F” stamp.  The original Extractor retains 95% of its original blued finish.  The lower left side of the extractor has a “45” stamp.  The original Lever Pin retains the majority of its slightly faded color case-hardened finish.  The outer surface has a serif “F” stamp and the inner surface has a serif “S” stamp.  The Lever Pin detent and spring still functions perfectly. 


The original lever is present and retains the majority of a plum finish with generous traces of the color case-hardened finish on the sides.  The lever pin still retains all of its vivid blued finish as does the lever link.  The underside of the lever has a serif “V” inspection stamp.  The cam-operated firing pin is in very fine condition and it retains 95% plus of its original blued finish.  The upper right side of the firing pin has a serif “C” stamp.  The lever and breech mechanism work smoothly. 


The original trigger is present and retains the majority of its original case-hardened finish, which is now generally a plum color on the front face.  The original lever lock is also present and the detent button correctly secures the lock to the rear.  The Lever Lock exhibits some old pinprick pitting on the point.  The trigger plate retains the majority of its original case-hardened finish and is stamped with a serif “S” at the rear.  The rear plate screw is engraved, which is probably a civilian model replacement installed at the Sharps factory during conversion.  The left side of the Carbine retains its original Calvary sling bar and ring. 


The stock forend is black walnut is in very fine condition and retains its original oil finish.  The forend screw is the correct slightly rounded single slot type that is set into an iron collar in the wood.  The original steel barrel band is present and it exhibits a dark plum patina.  The band is secured by the original band spring, which retains the majority of its original dark finish. 


The black walnut stock is in very fine condition and is very rarely seen on Model 1868 Sharps Carbines because it retains its original patchbox.  The patchbox base exhibits beautiful case color-hardening and has a serif M” stamp on the face.  The base is secured by three original single slot screws that are also in fine condition.  The patchbox door retains and equally beautiful color case-hardened finish and still operates smoothly. The milled out patchbox interior is in mint condition and remains as crisp as the day it was first milled.  The inside of the patchbox door also retains considerable original color case-hardened finish and there is a serif “C” stamp on the reinforced portion of the door.  The original patchbox door spring is present and it still functions perfectly.   The bottom of the stock has the rear sling swivel assembly, which is correct on the Model 1863 Carbine Stocks from the Civil War. 


The original iron butt plate is also present and is secured by two blued convex single slot screws.  The butt plate is in mint condition, retaining 98% plus of its color case-hardened finish.  The tang has a serif “M” inspection stamp.    Just forward of the tang, on the top of the stock, is a serif “A.W.M.” stamp, which is the inspection stamp of Allen W. Mather, who was a civilian sub-inspector of contract arms during the Civil War.  On the left side of the stock are the two original Civil War-era final inspection cartouches.  The top cartouche, which is stamped horizontally, is a boxed and script, “AWM,” which is the final inspection stamp of Allen W. Mather.  Adjacent to it, and stamped vertically, is a rounded edge cartouche with script initials “TWR,” which is the final inspection stamp of Thomas W. Russell, who was a civilian inspector in the Ordnance Department during the Civil War.   About midway centered on the left side of the butt stock is the banner with script initials “DFC,” which is the cartouche of David F. Clark, who was the assigned Ordnance Department inspector responsible for final inspection of Sharps Carbines after their conversion. 

This is a mint condition and very scarce Model 1868 Sharps Cavalry Carbine as altered from an original Civil War Sharps New Model 1863 Calvary Carbine.  This carbine obviously did not see much if any use during its service and it remains in firing condition.  This is a museum quality Model 1868 Carbine.  The Carbine functions perfectly.