Frontier Rifles – Live Auction Nov. 30 Dec. 2 – Sharps, Rolling Blocks, Trapdoors etc.

One of the coolest guns in this auction is an early Sharps with an 18 shot cap holder built in. This is lot 1069.

Lot 1070 is a Sharps built for long range competition.

The Sharps was the most famous frontier rifle, but the Remington Rolling Block was a favorite of Buffalo Bill and many other well known shooters of the era. This is a Remington Hepburn, lot 3059.

This is a Civil War Martially Marked Remington Type I Split Breech Carbine, lot 3150.

Very few Trapdoor carbines made it back from the frontier intact, and this lot 3240 would be the pride of any Trapdoor collection.

If you are a fan of American firearms history treat yourself to an afternoon of clicking through the Rock Island catalog for this auction. The photography is stunning and the guns are gorgeous, and genuine pieces of history. This is an engraved 1878 trapdoor go figure.

Rock Island Auction Co.
Live Firearms Auction Nov. 30- Dec. 2. Over 3,000 Lots. Absentee and Live Bidding Online!

This is yet another heads up for all of you history buffs and antique collectors that one of Rock Island Auctions periodic high end auctions is on the immediate horizon. It is this weekend, November 30th, December 1st and 2nd and this time there are a lot of none other than the romanticized single shot breech loading rifle frontier rifle. These guns were carried by settlers out west and have been most famous for decimating the US buffalo population. Some of the guns in the auction were used in the famous international rifle matches at Creedmoor, and some saw significant action throughout the Indian wars. Though thought to be long before single shot breechloader, some frontier single shots were even used in the Civil War. Classed as a general category of “frontier rifles” these guns are truly a remarkable breed and as the old adage goes “if only a gun could talk”.

Sharps rifles are probably the most recognizable and famous of the single shot breech loading frontier rifles and for good reason. Christian Sharps the inventor is one of the most influential designers of 19th century firearms. His first falling block design came along during the percussion era and the Sharps design is still the most recognizable and copied frontier rifle today. Christian got his start on firearms working on Hall Rifles, which were not only the first rifle massed produced with interchangeable parts, they were also the first mass produced breech loading rifle. Sharps experimented on improving the design of early breech loaders and by the late 1840’s had done so successfully with his first production rifle, the Sharps/A.S. Nipps Model 1849 also referred to as the 1st Model Sharps. Rock Island has one of these for sale, lot 1069, and you don’t see these very often at all. Author and Sharps expert Frank Sellers wrote in “Sharps Firearms” that Sharps only manufactured 150 of the Model 1849 Rifles. These rifles can quickly be identified by what is referred to as the “wheel-primer” which is the circular brass patch box located on the right side of the frame capable of holding 18 percussion caps. Christian Sharps continued his improvements and by the mid 1850’s his rifles became hugely popular on the civilian market, including the 1853 and 1855 carbines of which over 16,000 were produced and can be acquired on the collector market for a fairly reasonable price. It is important to note that the initial popularity of Sharps rifles was strictly based on civilian sales and it was these early Sharps rifles accompanying settlers as they expanded west.

Prior to the Sharps rifles and carbines military use their most infamous application took place throughout the mid 1850’s in the hands of John Brown’s “boarder ruffians” throughout what is known today as bleeding Kansas. Rock Island actually had one of these guns for auction at one time, but there are none in this batch. The Sharps used by John Brown are often referred to as rifles but were actually 1853 carbines. 200 of these carbines were present on October 16, 1859 when Brown made his raid on the Harpers Ferry Armory.

During the Civil War, Sharp’s rifles, carbines, and muskets continued to make a name for themselves, particularly with the most famous sharp shooters of the Civil War under Col. Hiram Berdan. Manufactured as part of a 2000 rifle contract executed by the Ordnance Department in 1862 to arm the 1st and 2nd United States Sharpshooter (USS) Regiments composed of expert marksmen selected by Colonel Berdan, the two USS regiments (Berdan’s Sharpshooters) fought with the Army of the Potomac for most of the Civil War. The two USS regiments claimed to have inflicted more Confederate casualties than any other regiments in the Army of the Potomac. The Berdan Sharpshooter’s Model 1859 Sharps rifles were specially fitted with double set-triggers and had angular socket bayonets. Most of the Berdan Sharps Rifles fall in the 54,374-57,574 serial number range and remain amongst the most coveted of all Civil War arms by collectors today. Similar in appearance to the 1859 is the Model 1863 Rifle. Lot 3106 in this weekend’s auction is among the finest that has ever before been offered by Rock Island Auction and with a pre-auction estimate of $20,000-40,000 you should expect it to be the best of the best. Though the most popular of Sharps throughout the Civil War were unquestionably the military carbines. By 1863 these were being replaced by the Spencer carbines and rifles which were of course no longer single shot arms.

While we are skipping over some time and events we now arrive at a curious point in firearms development. By 1863 the Spencer carbine has become the most popular firearm of the Union Army. Also remember the Henry lever action rifle was being manufactured as early as 1861. Two cross roads have emerged. First is with the ammunition itself, both the Henry and Spencer fire a new self-contained metallic cartridge and are not percussion arms. Second is the question of repeating arms themselves as the shooter can now fire more rapidly and reload less, albeit less reliably in theory. Three short years later Winchester would develop the 1866 rifle, an improved version of the Henry, yet single shot rifles would continue to dominate the hunting landscape, particularly with the professional buffalo hunters, as well as receive the bulk of U.S. Military contract for the next two decades. Repeaters offered more shots, but they broke down frequently and the cartridges didn’t have as much long distance punch of the good old reliable single shot.

Continuing on with Sharps rifles we can examine several highly desirable and extremely rare variations of Sharps rifles featured in the auction that saw two entirely different uses on the “range”. Lot 1064 is an excellent example of a Sharps Model 1874 heavy barrel Buffalo hunter’s rifle. True “Buffalo guns” are usually configured with a few special features and this rifle has them all. First is the weight of the barrel which true buffalo Sharps were typically heavy (between 12-18lbs). Second is the double set trigger and the graduated tang mounted sporting rear sight. Other important features include the iconic “Old Reliable” barrel stamp and appropriate 40-90 caliber. In pop culture the 1874 Sharps is the most widely recognized and popular of all Sharps rifles as it was made famous in Quigley Down Under staring fellow firearms enthusiast Tom Selleck. Combining both rarity and the mystique of a true hunters rifle is Lot 1065, a Sharps Borchardt Model 1878 “Hunter Rifle”. This rifle is one of only 65 Hunters Rifles manufactured by Sharps and was the smallest of the 1878 rifles manufactured. Also for auction is a factory special order heavy barrel scoped Sharps Model 1874 Sporting rifle. While buffalo hunters did adopt telescopic scopes, this particular rifle was made for different kind of “range”, and was special ordered as a bench rest rifle. Its accompanying factory letter states “(this) is one of the best known of all Sharps rifles” and was the heaviest Sharps Model 1874 octagon barrel ever made weighing in at 22lbs. This exact rifle is pictured and described in “Sharps Firearms” pg. 224. Its companion piece also made as a bench rest rifle is the heaviest known of all Model 1874 rifles. The 34 inch round barrel weighs in at 20lbs and the total weight of the rifle is over 25lbs!

Sharps were not the only single shot breech loaders known to be accurate and reliable on both the plains and a as match target rifles. Similar to Sharps firearms the E. Remington and Sons (later the Remington Arms Company) prospered during the Civil War and emerged as one of the most well know arms manufacturers of the time. More specifically a design called the “rolling block” became extremely well known for its reliability and durability. The rolling block design was the evolution of a Civil War design( see lot 3150) called a “split breech”. Patented in 1864 these were the predecessor to the Remington Rolling block. This rare and excellent example happens to part of the military contract. Remington was also competing with Sharps in the Target rifle market and such is the case with lot 3059 which is serial number 41 Remington Number Three Hepburn long Range Creedmoor Target rifle. These rare rifles can be easily identified by the extra long barrel, 34 inch, that allowed for a long sight radius, a single trigger, (versus a double set trigger which was not allowed, for those matches) a long range tang rear sight that allowed the sight to be adjusted out to 1,000 meters. Creedmoor match required rifles to weigh ten pounds or less and have a single trigger and metallic sights. It is widely accepted that General Custer had with a Remington No. 1 Sporting rifle in 50-70 when he and 7th Calvary were massacred at the battle of the little Big Horn

Moving from the civilian market we arrive at the U.S. military’s application of the single shot breech loading rifle most famously used during the Indian war campaigns. The Springfield trapdoor was the first breech-loading rifle of the United States Army and for 20 years was the army’s primary long arm. After the Civil War the U.S. government experimented with metallic cartridge rifles and developed a cost effective method of converting left over muzzle loaders into single shot 50-70 metallic breech loaders. The Allin conversion was the primarily conversion method. Lot 3243 is a Springfield 1866 Second Model Allin Conversion Rifle in excellent plus condition as issued and is likely the finest example Rock Island has offered for auction. Buffalo Bill Cody called hi s modified 1866 Springfield “Lucretia Borgia” which was his favorite rifle during his time as a professional hunter. Several 50-70 trapdoor variations were developed before the final variation, the Model 1870, was manufactured. One of the rarest variations of the 50-70 trapdoor is the Model 1870 carbine. Only 341 Model 1870 carbines were manufactured and given the fact that the U.S. was entering into a period of wars with the Native Americans out West it is amazing that any survived at all. Lots 3240 and 3248 are rare examples of a Model 1870 carbine that will be sold by RIAC in the upcoming Premiere Firearms Auction. Pay special attention to Lot 3240 as this carbine is in extremely fine condition, making this highly desirable carbine a must have for the advanced trapdoor collector.

The 50-70 caliber trapdoor eventually evolved into a successful series of 45-70 caliber trapdoors. In today’s collector market pre-Custer battle Springfield Model 1873 Trapdoor Carbines are highly desirable (see Lot 3261). These early pre-battle of The Little Big Horn 1873 carbines are scarce and represent the first 45-70 caliber U.S. trapdoor. For a Custer-era Model 1873 check out Lot 3263, a carbine showing true period field use. The Model 1888 was the last of the U.S. trapdoor single shot, black powder long arms. Lot 3260 is an outstanding example of an experimental Model 1888 “Positive Cam” Trapdoor Rifle. The “Positive Cam” is part of the breech locking device and was a Springfield Armory modification to eliminate the occasional failure of the locking cam mechanism. Only 100 were manufactured and issued to the San Antonio Arsenal for testing with most of these rifles subsequently issued to U.S. units in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona where they saw active service. Be sure to check out the bluing and case colors on Lot 3260! Retaining over 98% of the blue finish and vivid case colors and with sharp stock cartouches, Lot 3260 would make for a premier piece in the most advanced early U.S. martial arms collection!

Another rare variation of the 45-70 trapdoor is the Model 1875 Officer’s Rifle. Only 477 of these rifles were manufactured from 1875 to 1885 by Springfield. The Officer’s Rifle was not an issued long arm. Rather, the Model 1875 was a quality sporting rifle sold to U.S. Army officers. Serving out in the American West provided U.S. troops with excellent hunting opportunities and the Model 1875 offered officers a high quality rifle chambered in the standard military cartridge. Lots 3239 and 3259 are fine examples of Model 1875 Trapdoor Officer’s Rifles that would make great additions to a martial arms collection. Both rifles represent different variations of the Model 1875.

This November 30th, December 1st & 2nd collectors and firearms enthusiast will have the unique please to preview and bid on this historic grouping of the fabled “frontier” Single shot rifles. All variation outlined here will cross the auction block and in many instances will not be offered for sale in our lifetime. There are a lot more guns than these, and if you have never browsed a Rock Island catalog, it is a treat and you will find something you have to have. The question is, what will it go for when the gavel drops.

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