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NEW MODEL 1859 SHARPS NAVY RIFLE – IDENTIFIED BY SERIAL NUMBER AS HAVING BEEN SHIPPED TO THE WASHINGTON NAVY YARD IN 1860 – AN EARLY IDENTIFIED SHARPS RIFLE IN VERY NICE CONDITION:  This New Model 1859 Sharps Navy Rifle, Serial Number 33951, is recorded in US Military documents held in the National Archives as having been delivered to the Washington Navy Yard, Washington D. C., on November 15, 1860.  This particular Sharps Navy Rifle is listed by its unique serial number in the Springfield Research Service publication, Serial Numbers, Volume 4, on page 259.  A letter of confirmation has been obtained from the Springfield Research Service to document this historical record and the letter will be included in the sale of this rifle.     

As John McAulay writes on page 48 of his Civil War Small Arms of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, the United States Navy placed the first order for the New Model 1859 Sharps Rifle.  In September of 1859 the Navy ordered 900 Sharps NM 1859 Rifles, stipulating 30” barrels fitted to be mounted with a saber bayonet – the bayonets to be provided by the Ames Manufacturing Co.   Falling within the serial number range of 33000 to 34000, the first 630 of these rifles were delivered in November of 1860 – 510 to the Washington Navy Yard and 120 to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, with the balance of this first order arriving by the outbreak of the Civil War.  These rifles were quickly placed into service aboard the Navy’s vessels being deployed from the New York, Philadelphia and Washington Navy Yards and by the summer of 1861, the Navy had ordered and received an additional 1500 Sharps Navy Rifles.  One of the first engagements in which these Sharps Navy Rifles were used was at Mathias Point, Virginia on June 27, 1861.   

Showing evidence of having been issued and subjected to use without any signs of abuse or neglect, the metal and wood surfaces show aging commensurate with Navy small arms which were subjected to the harsh environment of a ship at sea during the Civil War, and within the context of the history of this rifle, it has survived in remarkably very good condition.  The metal surfaces bear an overall naturally aged brown patina.  The metal was subjected to cleaning as would be expected on arms carried aboard ship, but the cleaning appears to have occurred during the period of the rifle’s use.  There are scratches in the metal that have the characteristics of the scouring wire or sand that would have been used aboard ship to maintain their arms.  The lock mechanism and breech block function properly with a crisp action.  The percussion cone is full form and has not been peened by careless dry firing.  The Lawrence Primer System is intact and is still functional.  The bore features distinct lands and grooves, and strong rifling for its full length, and while the bore is somewhat darkened, it appears that it would brighten with some effort.     

All of the Sharps manufacturing and patent information stamps are present and legible on the lock plate, receiver, and barrel, as is the Lawrence patent information present on the rear sight base.  The serial number on the upper receiver tang is present and fully legible.  Although Frank Seller’s states on page 81 in his SHARPS FIREARMS that the New Model 1859 Rifles fall within the serial number range of 36000 to 60000, the serial numbers of the New Model 1859 Navy Rifles received by the US Navy which appear in the records held by the National Archives bear out the additional serial number range of 33000 to 34000 as reported by McAulay.   

The condition of the butt stock and forearm is quite nice.  The forearm is overall smooth with crisp edges to the barrel channel and only a few minor handling dings.  The butt stock is full form, even to the point that the toe of the stock is fully intact without the characteristic chip missing as is so often found.  The butt stock shows more wear than does the forearm – not abuse, but perhaps a function of how the rifles were stored or racked aboard ship.  There is an age check in line with the lower butt plate screw, quite small and stable.  There is a gouge running from the rear tang screw back towards the left side of the butt – not deep and definitely not a crack.  Otherwise, the butt stock is solid and is tight to the receiver with no movement.  There is no distinct cartouche, but there is a regular outline of what may be a cartouche or a ship’s inventory stamp immediately adjacent to the forward upper left corner of the stock where it abuts the receiver (see photograph below).    

In spite of incredible odds against it, this New Model 1859 Navy Sharps Rifle has managed a remarkable trifecta by surviving the passing years in any condition – a relatively scarce model – one of only 2400 from the first contract; remaining in its original configuration without being subjected to any of the common post-war modifications; and having an absolute identification to a specific Civil War Navy Yard documented through records held by the National Archives.  

The collecting fraternity continually searches for those very special pieces which by the virtue of their firm historical association can transport us back to a specific place and time by simply cradling them in our hands, and stimulate our imaginations to reach out to the soldier, sailor, cowhand or warrior who carried them.  This New Model 1859 Sharps Navy Rifle is such a piece, seldom encountered, and sure to be a key addition to any collection.  (0911) $6750 



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