Rifles > Single-Shot

Old School Cool: Uberti’s Model 1885 High Wall

Uberti’s Model 1885 High Wall retains all the classic lines and solid performance that made this design great.

8/17/10

The legendary partnership between John Moses Browning and Winchester Repeating Arms Co. didn’t spring from the genius of America’s greatest gun designer or from the foresight of Winchester’s Vice President and General Manager Thomas G. Bennett. Rather it was patent infringement that put John Moses on the firm’s radar screen. The Browning Bros. store in Morgan, Utah, sold guns (including a “Breech-Loading Fire-Arm” patented on Oct. 7, 1879, by one J.M. Browning), ammunition, and amongst other sundry sporting goods, a line of loading tools. Winchester sales representative Charles Benton purchased one of the Browning Bros. reloading tools and sent it back east. Indeed, it did infringe on patents owned by Winchester, but Benton also had a look at an extremely strong falling-block single-shot design dubbed, simply enough, the Browning Single-Shot. Knowing Winchester was looking for a single-shot that could accept the .45-70 Gov’t cartridge, Benton purchased one (at most 600 were made) in .38 cal. and immediately sent it back to New Haven, Conn., in June 1883. Bennett knew a good thing when he saw it and, according to Herb Houze in “Winchester Repeating Arms Co.: Its History and Development From 1865 To 1981,” put William Mason on the job of defeating Browning’s patent. It couldn’t be done, so Bennett hopped a train to Utah and negotiated the rights to the patent for $8,000, as well as the rights for future Browning designs, including a lever-action that became the Model 1886. Thus started the long and profitable collaboration between Winchester and Browning.

The Winchester Single Shot, after being modified and adapted for factory production, was first offered in late 1885, and eventually in more than 80 chamberings ranging from .22 CB Cap to .577 Eley. It was made in both the original High Wall and Low Wall configurations, and both of those had “thick” and “thin” side versions. The “thick” side followed the lines of the original 1879 Browning design, but in its 1886 catalog Winchester introduced the “thin” side, in which the sides of the receiver were milled flat but the receiver was left raised where the fore-end and buttstock met. This allowed stock interchangeability between thick- and thin-side High Walls. The Low Walls were similar, but had a portion of the receiver sides removed, exposing part of the breechblock, and were generally reserved for lower-powered pistol and carbine cartridges.

The rifles, later known as Model 1885s, were cataloged from 1885 until 1920, and 139,725 were manufactured. Made in numerous variations, the High Wall was used in early NRA long-range matches at Creedmoor and popular pre-World War I Schuetzen matches as well. After a 35-year run, Winchester concluded the single-shot was neither desirable nor profitable. But more than 75 years after it was discontinued, an Italian gunmaker saw potential in the “obsolete” design, as he had time and time again with classic American firearms. That man was Aldo Uberti.

The A. Uberti Story
After attending the Zanardelli gunsmithing school for three years, Aldo Uberti, known as “Renato” to his family, started as a full-time employee with Beretta at the age of 14. Uberti learned drafting and worked in the venerable maker’s tool room designing and fabricating production equipment. After the Nazis took control of northern Italy in 1943, Uberti was arrested and sent to a German concentration camp. Rumor has it he refused to give up others at Beretta—including family members—who supported the partisans rather than the Nazis. After being freed, he returned to work at Beretta and married into the Beretta family.

Uberti left his comfortable job to go into business with Vittorio Gregorelli in the late 1950s. The reasons were twofold: an 1851 Colt Navy revolver and Val Forgett. Forgett, who owned Service Armament Corp. and dealt principally in surplus arms, was trying to make a quick buck or two on the upcoming American Civil War centennial, and he had tried working with firms in France and Belgium to build 2,000 “Yank” and “Reb” Colt 1851 Navy replicas. But it was with Gregorelli and his young partner Uberti that, almost by accident, the three men created the replica gun market. The utilitarian design and frontier aura of the 1851 fascinated the young and talented Italian machinist.

The three first met in 1957, the year Forgett formed Navy Arms, and it took a little while to get the guns rolling off the line. Forgett sweated selling the first 100, but they were gone in a week, followed by more and more orders. In 1959 Uberti bought out his partner, founding A. Uberti S.r.l.

Forgett and Uberti soon found there was an almost insatiable appetite for replica guns. “We found out that people wanted to shoot the guns,” Uberti recalled years later. The next gun was a replica of the solid-frame 1858 Remington, followed by more black-powder Colts. Eventually Patersons, Dragoons, Wells Fargos and virtually every other variation from the Hartford plant were made—along with quite a few it didn’t. Next came the lever-actions, starting with the Model 1866 Winchester in 1966, the 1873 and then the Model 1860 Henry. At the urging of one of the Single Action Shooting Society’s founders, Boyd Davis, Uberti expanded into cartridge revolvers, in particular replicas of the Colt Single Action Army, again in dozens of variations—from Bisleys to Buntlines—as well as 1875 and 1890 Remingtons. In 1995, Uberti made its first replica of the Smith & Wesson Schofield (in .45 Colt or .44-40 Win. no less), and currently there is an extensive line of cartridge conversion guns built on the 1851 Navy, the 1860 Army and the 1858 Remington. Other new models include Model 1871-1872 Open Tops and even replicas of engraved Smith & Wesson No. 3s and Russian revolvers. In addition to the lever guns and revolvers, Uberti recreated big single-shots from the frontier West, including Remington Rolling Blocks and, in 1998, the Model 1885 High Wall, which we’ll get to shortly.

By 1982, Uberti had produced more 1851 Navy and 1860 Army revolvers than Colt, and more 1858 Remingtons than Remington. You can likely add the Paterson, Walker, Henry and Model 1866 to the list. Odds are I missed some, but you get the point. Uberti guns have been imported by many companies through the years, and its parts have been used by others. Aldo Uberti died in 1998, and A. Uberti S.r.l was sold to Beretta Holdings in 1999. From 1999 to 2002, Uberti USA in Lakeville, Conn., run by Aldo’s daughter, Maria, imported Uberti guns into the United States under its own name. Val Forgett died in 2002, and in 2003 importation passed to Stoeger (which was itself acquired by Beretta in 2000) in Accokeek, Md.

The same team that imports Benelli and Stoeger guns, which is separate from Beretta USA, handles importation of Benelli, Stoeger and Uberti. Under Stoeger, the Uberti line has continued to grow, and it now includes replicas of Lightning rifles, the Model 1876 Centennial and the 1883 Burgess. A. Uberti guns imported by Stoeger have a five-year warranty, and repair work is performed by factory-trained gunsmiths using factory parts. The company’s slogan, “Uberti History Repeats Itself” was, back in 1957, a radical concept. Who knew that more than a half-century later, entire disciplines of the shooting sports, including Cowboy Action Shooting and North-South Skirmish Ass’n competition, may not have been as popular—or even possible—if it weren’t for a humble Italian machinist with a passion for making guns of a bygone era.

The Uberti 1885 High Wall
Browning has offered replicas of the Model 1885 High and Low Walls off and on through the years (starting with the B-78 in 1973), and some smaller makers in the United States have and still offer 1885s, but there was room for a more affordable, old-school replica. Aldo Uberti worked on the design, and the first Uberti-made 1885 was imported in 1998. This High Wall is a “thin” side, and its receiver, hammer, lever and block are case-colored with rich grays and browns, with hints of blue.

1   2    3    NEXT >>

Share |

Comments

ADD YOUR COMMENT

Enter your comments below, they will appear within 24 hours


Your Name


Your Email


Your Comment

2 Responses to Old School Cool: Uberti’s Model 1885 High Wall

JOHNNY W. JONES wrote:
August 22, 2011

GREAT STORY. WANT TO SEE MORE OF ITALIAN FACTORIES. FASINATING STUFF!

Manny wrote:
August 26, 2010

Mark, was your rifle "out-of-the-box"?