Old Guns Never Die

The old rifle sat in the corner of my dad’s shop for as long as I can remember. The barrel reads: “Old Reliable,” Sharps Rifle Co., Bridgeport Conn.

The round barrel had been cut down to a fraction of its once 30-inch length, but it remained on the original Model 1878 hammerless .45-70 Govt. sporter action that rested on a beat-up replacement of the original stock. We’d never fired the rifle because it was extremely old and appeared fragile.

The gun was something that my father and I had taken little interest in—until this year when I made the decision to invest in “Old Reliable” and have the once state-of-the-art sporting rifle restored to her original glory by Doug Turnbull of Turnbull Restoration and Manufacturing Co.

This Model 1878 of the Sharps Borchardt Sporting Rifle with the 30-inch round barrel is one of less than 750 ever manufactured, and literally one of the final guns ever manufactured by the Sharps Company. The vast majority of the Sharps rifles were Military Muskets, making the gem in my family even more extraordinary.

The rifle has been resting idol in my family since the late 1800s, and the story told is that my great-great grandfather, Augustus Henry Titus, was blind in one eye and sawed off the barrel to shoot shotgun shells out of the rifle for squirrel hunting. We don’t know exactly how Augustus acquired the rifle—it might have been purchased factory new—but one can only speculate at this point. Unfortunately, the origin of the rifle in the Titus family has been lost with the passing of the generation previous.

Augustus passed down the rifle to my great grandfather, Roland Titus, who passed the rifle down to my grandfather, Hank Titus, who passed down the rifle to my father, Lewis Titus—who has passed it down to me.

In 1879, when the Sharps rifle was retailing in stores, the Sporter Model with the 30-inch full-round barrel sold for $28, and one could invest in an extra gold peep that sold for $5.

The Sharps sleek hammerless design was considered very modernistic at the time. Sharps boasted of the first successful breech loader ever made. The fast lock time was popular with precision rifle shooters of the era for record-setting performance in matches. Durability was something that Sharps took a tremendous amount of pride in and the name was noted for longevity—I can personally attest to that because my rifle is still 100 percent functional.

Upon joining the Sharps Collector Association, I received a copy of the latest edition of the Sharps Collector Report, wherein Jim Zupan authored a story, “And Now One Of The Last,” featuring the detailed historic tracking and the record keeping for a similar Model 1878 Sporting Rifle with the serial number of 17686. Zupan’s rifle preceded mine in production by a mere nine rifles!

In fact, gun No. 17686 was one of the last manufactured rifles by the Sharps Co. of which factory records were kept during production. Unfortunately for me, a mere nine rifles later, there are no factory records intact that include my family heirloom.

But this story certainly doesn’t end here. Stay tuned for more about my restoration of “Old Reliable,” No. 17695.

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