The 50-70-1 ¾ Sharps
The 50-70-1 ¾ Sharps, more commonly known as the 50-70 Gov't, was one of the earliest Sharps cartridge rifle chamberings. Because of the standardization by the government as the first military cartridge in 1866, its popularity, widespread use, and availability were assured. Straight breech 54 caliber Model 1859 and Model 1863 percussion military rifles and carbines were converted to this caliber and sold as surplus to the public. The New Model 1869 (the first true cartridge Sharps) was chambered for this round.
Rifles chambered for this caliber were used extensively during the early years of buffalo hunting. From 1870 to 1875, sales records indicate it was one of the two most popular cartridges on the ranges (the other was the 44-75-2 ¼). Despite the fact that the "Big 50 Sharps" (the 50-100-2 ½) also came into prominence and was used during this same period, the practicality of using a rifle chambered for the readily available military cartridge could not be denied. Also, the added expense of the 2-1/2 inch case (as much as 50 percent for commercial cases) over the 1-3/4 inch 50-70 case provided an additional incentive. In a business where outfitting expenses at the beginning of the winter season very nearly matched the income received when all the winter's robes were sold, costs were important.
The 50-70 maintained its popularity until 1876. It was discontinued as a standard chambering in that year, although it was still available on a special order basis. This move was in large part tue to the standardization by the government of the 45-70 in 1873, and the subsequent growth in commercial popularity of rifles chambered in 45 caliber.
The Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Co. Catalog of 1869 lists two available loading for the 50-70. One with a 457 grain grooved bullet, the other with a 500 grain patched bullet. These loadings were subsequently standardized to 425 grain grooved and 473 paper patched bullets. Both were loaded with over 70 grains of powder. After 1876, Sharps discontinued manufacture of 50-70 ammunition, except on special order.
The 50-70 Gov't case is 1.750 inches long. Brass is available from C. Sharps Arms Co. or Dixie Gun Works. It may also be formed from 50 basic brass with the use of a file trim die.
The variety of bullets available for the 40 and 45 caliber Sharps rifles was not available for the 50 caliber rifles. Although today there is a wide selection, ranging in weight from 330 express grooved bullet to a monster 700 grain paper patched slug, testing was limited to bullets of approximate traditional weights. Grooved bullets were cast from Lymon No. 2 alloy. A softer alloy works better for paper patched bullets, so an alloy of one part tin to 25 parts lead was used.
All powder charges were of Fg grade black powder and measured volumetrically. One hard card wad and one lubricated felt wad were used between the powder and the bullet. All powder chagers were firmly compressed.
The 50-70-1 ¾ had as much or more to do with the buffalo hunting era as any of the other more widely known Sharps cartridges. For the New Sharps shooter wanting a "50 caliber buffalo Sharps" no choice of caliber could be better than the 50-70.