Christian Sharps is probably best remembered for his famous Sharps falling-block, breechloading, single-shot rifle, which he patented on Sept. 12, 1848. But a little more than a year later, on Dec. 18, 1849, he also patented an equally innovative four-barreled derringer.
Although that patent, No. 6960, describes the palm-size gun as a “revolver,” nothing revolved except a single firing pin affixed to a circular ratchet on the hammer, at first, and on the frame later. Each time the hammer was cocked, the firing pin rotated one quarter of a turn, enabling it to fire one of the four barrels in rotating succession. The side-by-side, double-stacked barrels were stationary, even though the gun is sometimes referred to as a pepperbox, suggesting that the barrels rotated, which they did not. In his patent description, Sharps simply referred to his derringer as a “four barreled repeating pistol.”
For loading, an under-frame button unlocked the barrels, which slid forward on the silver-plated brass frame, exposing the breech. There was no extractor, except on some later guns, but these proved to be too fragile. Altogether, there were four models of the Sharps derringer, but in spite of its 1849 patent date, the first guns—the Model 1 and more plentiful Model 1A—weren’t produced until 1859, commensurate with the .22 Short cartridge for which it was chambered. Next came the Model 2 in .30 rimfire, then the Model 3 in .32 Short (manufactured by Sharps & Hankins, reflecting a brief 1862-1867 partnership between Sharps and investor William Hankins) and, finally, the Model 4 with a bird’s head grip. In all, a total of 100,000 pistols were made until 1874, when the inventor’s death ended production.
Around 1963, with the popularity of television westerns, Uberti came out with an admirable replica of the 1A in .22 Short. Brass-framed, with 2½" blued barrels and period-correct gutta-percha stocks, it was authentically chambered in .22 Short and priced at $34.95—or $39.95 with a French-fitted walnut case—and engraving was $10 to $30 extra. The guns were imported by Navy Arms and Allen Firearms of Santa Fe, N.M. Unfortunately, the Gun Control Act of 1968 ended U.S. sales, but these replicas still show up online, in gun shows and at cowboy-shooting events. Contrary to the claims of some, the original Sharps Model 1A was not chambered for .22 Long Rifle, as that cartridge did not come out until 1887—long after the gun was out of production. At one time, however, both Uberti and Miroku made excellent replicas of the 1A in .22 LR.
This unfired, 99-percent-condition, (NRA Modern Gun Standards) Allen Firearms-imported replica is worth $950 to $1,250; an Uberti-marked Model 1A in 85 percent condition recently fetched $806 in an online auction. With original Model 1As in NRA Antique Very Good to Fine condition averaging $600 to $950, these replicas are definitely holding their own.
Gun: Uberti Sharps 1A derringer replica (imported by Allen Firearms)
Chambering: .22 Short
Serial No.: 186XX
Condition: NRA Perfect (Modern Gun Standards)
Manufactured: c. 1960
Value: $950 to $1,250 (with original cardboard box)