What was the Sharps "Big Fifty"?

Pistolero
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What was the Sharps "Big Fifty"?

Post by Pistolero » Sat Mar 06, 2010 7:48 pm

Hello all,
I have always heard and read about the famous Sharps "Big Fifty" Rifle. But exactly what was the whole caliber? Does anyone know the exact nomemclature of it? I have heard that it was a .50-100 calibre. Others say it was a 50-90 and you could work 100 grains of powder into the casing and it was just called a 50-100. Does anyone know?

I know three or four companies make repro Sharps in several calibres. Does anyone know if anyone makes a repro Sharps in a .50-100?
Thanks,
Pistolero
What do I know of cultured ways, the gilt, the craft and the lie?
The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing!

Yellowhouse
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Re: What was the Sharps "Big Fifty"?

Post by Yellowhouse » Sat Mar 13, 2010 10:17 pm

50-90 is a modern label. Conventional thought is that the Big Fifty is the 2.5 in 50 cal round that was never loaded in factory specs with less than 100 grs of powder. Similarly, the .45 2 7/8 round we now call the 45/110 was commonly available loaded with 120 gr back in its day.

Shiloh, C. Sharps, and Pedersoli for starters offer rifles in this thumper.

Pistolero
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Re: What was the Sharps "Big Fifty"?

Post by Pistolero » Sat Mar 13, 2010 11:09 pm

Hello Yellowhouse,
I have the book "Sharps" by Frank Sellers, which I finally found and dug out and read up on this subject. In the Shaprs Cartridge section it says (Page 340):

".50 2 1/2 Inch Straight Case:
The Sharps "Big 50" cartridge was introduced late in July 1872 and immediately became popular with the professional hunters on the Western Plains. The standard loads were .50/100/425 and .50/100/473 paper patch."


It says that in time the "Big 50" gave way to the .45 calibres. The 45 shells becoming more popular. Also, there are some pics of Sharps cartridge packages from the Civil War years marked .52-100. Gosh, I bet that was a powerhouse!
Just thought you'd find the above interesting.
Later,
Pistolero
What do I know of cultured ways, the gilt, the craft and the lie?
The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing!

Pat in Virginia
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Re: What was the Sharps "Big Fifty"?

Post by Pat in Virginia » Mon Jun 14, 2010 2:10 pm

It is my understanding that the older cartridge cases held a greater volume of powder than the modern ones because they were made with less metal, i.e., they were thinner and maybe a little deeper. You can't get as much powder into modern cases as you could the old - so they say.

That being said, here is a quote from "Cartridges of the World," 9th edition with regard to the [50-90, 50-100, 50-110] Sharps:
"Soon after its introduction, it was the 'Big Fifty' or 'Poison Slinger.' The 50-90 is also called the 50-100 or 50-110 depending on what bullet weight and powder charge was used."

I'll give you a quote from another source in a little while.

Pat in Virginia

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Re: What was the Sharps "Big Fifty"? Continued

Post by Pat in Virginia » Mon Jun 14, 2010 4:42 pm

Here’s the second quote I promised. It’s from Mike Venturino’s book on “Shooting Buffalo Rifles of the Old West,” MLV Enterprises, 2002:

“With a case length of 2 ½ inches this was the biggest of the 50 caliber rifles of the Old West. The unknowing might consider that the Big Fifty of yore was the 50-140 with 3 ¼ inch case. That was not true and the Sharps Rifle Company never chambered for such a round.

… Also there is some doubt that the term ‘Big Fifty’ refers solely to the 50-90 with 2 ½ case. Many modern collectors of buffalo rifles feel that the professional hide hunters called any .50 rifle a ‘Big Fifty.’

…The 50-90 was first offered by Sharps in 1872, and… standard loads for it were 100 grs and 425 gr GG bullet, or 100 grains under a 473 gr PP bullet.

…where did the 50-90 name come from if the powder charge was 100 gr? Winchester’s 1899 catalog still lists this cartridge and they loaded it with 90 gr of powder under a 473 PP bullet.”

I heartily recommend Mike’s book to you if you are interested in the origin or only the shooting of “Old West” cartridges. It’s a great reference to have for old cartridges along with the other book mentioned in my last post.


Pat in Virginia

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Re: What was the Sharps "Big Fifty"?

Post by Ranch 13 » Mon Jun 14, 2010 9:56 pm

The big 50 is the 50-90. While Sharps most likely never called it 50-90, Winchester as early as 1875 listed it in their catalog as the 50-90 Sharps.
Some folks shooting the "big 50" today load as much as 126 grs of blackpowder in that hunk of 1/2inch tubing....

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Re: What was the Sharps "Big Fifty"?

Post by Pistolero » Tue Jun 15, 2010 7:05 am

Thanks y'all for the advice and info. It is much appreciated and answers my questions.
Pistolero
What do I know of cultured ways, the gilt, the craft and the lie?
The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing!

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