In The Eye Of This Beholder

Mike "Duke" Venturino Photos: Yvonne Venturino

A word bandied about and indeed overused in reference to firearms is "classic." There are classic-style rifle stocks, retro-classic revolvers, classic cartridges and on and on. Occasionally a gun'riter will call some firearm or the other "a true classic." My tattered, old Webster's desk dictionary has several definitions for the word classic. Some of them pertain to ancient Greek and Roman authors. I don't think that concerns us here. The definition closest for us is this: "of model excellence in literature or art."

In regards to firearms, very many gone before might be considered classic by that definition if we consider quality of manufacture as art. And believe me brothers and sisters, the quality of workmanship in something like a pre-WWI Smith & Wesson "Triplelock" or pre-WWII Winchester Model 70 is art compared to the plastic and synthetic stuff floating around today.

Here's my own definition of a true classic firearm. It is one made previously and so darn good for whatever reason somebody, somewhere, saw fit to make it again because they knew it would make money for them. And that means it sold well in the first go around and still sells well nowadays. Here is an obvious example of a true classic by my definition. The Colt Single Action Army revolver is indisputably one.

It has been copied, replicated, duplicated, and cloned perhaps by more manufacturers than any other handgun. Now, on the other end of the spectrum, consider another of Colt's fine pre WWII revolvers: the large frame New Service double action. It was made in roughly the same numbers as the SAA and chambered for many of the same cartridges. But, except for collectors, it's largely forgotten by the shooting public. No firearms manufacturing company has made new New Service sixguns and I doubt they ever will. So from that perspective I don't see it as a true classic.

The following is my take on truest of true classic firearms. I'm not going to pick one from all popular genres of firearms, but will follow my own individual preferences. For instance, I know and care little about .22 rimfires or muzzleloaders

Although not many full-auto Thompson submachine guns are in circulation, nearly everybody Duke talks to says they would like to shoot one. This shooter is Patrick Ryan, Operations Manager of Redding Reloading Equipment.

Although not many full-auto Thompson submachine guns are in circulation, nearly everybody Duke talks to says they would like to shoot one. This shooter is Patrick Ryan, Operations Manager of Redding Reloading Equipment.

4s for military weapons Duke considers the truest true classics to be the M1 Carbine and the Thompson submachine gun (here, the M1 Thompson).

(except for cap & ball revolvers). Therefore, I'll skip them. Conversely I know plenty about Winchesters, BPCRs, Colt SAAs, and some vintage military firearms so they won't be skipped.

By my definition of true classics, nearly all 19th century Winchester lever guns are such. Read that sentence carefully. It says "nearly all." The Models 1866, 1873, 1876, 1886, 1892, and 1895 lever guns collectively have been reproduced in factories as geographically distant from each other as Italy, Brazil, and Japan. That leaves out the Model 1894. In truth, the '94 was made in more numbers than all those others combined. So is it fair to not consider it a true classic? This is my article and I say yes. Just because something was made in huge numbers doesn't make it the truest true classic. Have you seen any shooters running around wringing their hands saying, "please, please, somebody make a new Model 94." No, but they did to one degree or the other with all the other 19th century Winchester lever guns.

To pick only one of all those Winchester lever guns as the truest true classic is tough. An amazing number of American shooters have said something like this to me, "I've never owned a lever gun, but someday I'd like to have a Model 1886." I don't know why. They really don't have much history connected to them, having come along too late for the really wild times of the "Wild West." Personally, my favorite of all Winchester lever guns is the Model 1873 in both original and replica versions as produced by Uberti in Italy. Historically, it was in use during those wild times. Modern archaeology has proven a few '73 .44-40s were at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876, most likely in the hands of Indian warriors.

My rationale for picking the '73 Winchester over the earlier Model 1866 or even the Henry is shootability. Those

The cartridges for which Duke's truest of true classic firearms are chambered include (from left) .38-40 and .44-40 (single actions & Winchesters), .45-70 (single shots), .30-06 (Model 70) .45ACP (semiauto pistols and submachine guns) and. 30 Carbine (M1, M1A1, and M2 Carbines.)

early lever guns were chambered for the .44 Henry rimfire. Even though historical records show they were used much more commonly in the Old West, they can't be shot today in their original caliber. The 1873 Winchester can, hence it is my pick of the truest true classic lever gun. (My Model 1873 Winchesters are all .38-40s and .44-40s.)

A Winchester rifle also has to be voted the truest true classic bolt action. Naturally it is the Winchester Model 70. It hasn't been duplicated often, yet a few small shops have

"There can be no doubt the truest true classic single shot rifle from the Old West is the Sharps Model 1874."

made some. I even test fired one made here in Montana and it was a nice rifle, but unfortunately the company has gone under. Still, firearms firms from all over the globe haven't seen fit to tool up for Model 70s.

What all those firearms manufacturers have tried to do is make their rifles look a little bit like a Winchester Model 70, mostly the lines of the stock. When Ruger introduced their Model 77 back in the late 1960s its "classic" stock was touted as one of its selling points. And with all those special runs of Remington Model 700 Classics, it was no accident their stocks looked like Model 70 stocks. Heck, it's not even an accident their names are similar. Ever wonder why Remington added a zero to 70 or Ruger added a 7 to 70? (My pre-64 Winchester

Model 70 Featherweight is a .30-06.)

There can be no doubt the truest true classic single shot rifle from the Old West is the Sharps Model 1874. In fact, it has to be the most famous, most reproduced rifle ever considering how few were made originally. Only about 12,000 to 13,000 Sharps Model 1874s of all configurations from carbines to target rifles were produced between 1871 and 1880. Many times that number are being made today. Two plants here in Montana making them are Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing and C. Sharps Arms. Also I know of at least three factories in Italy making Model 1874 Sharps reproductions. There may be more, but I don't keep track of them.

The Sharps Model 1874's main contemporary in the 1870s was

Remington's Rolling Block. I was a little torn by whether it should get the truest true classic title or not. Here's why. Well over 1 million of them were made. An original Remington catalog from 1877 said 900,000 had already been manufactured. Less prolific production continued until well into the 1900s. But, here's the kicker: Most were military rifles and haven't been reproduced in modern times. Remington's sporting rifle has been replicated in Italy for decades. In the US, Lone Star Rifle Co. makes custom rolling blocks. Remington even made some new ones, but they weren't close to the originals. All have been way behind the Sharps recreations in popularity.

Another 19th century single shot certainly qualifies as a true classic. It's

Of all the black powder cartridge single shot rifles of the late 1800s Duke considers the Sharps Model 1874 as the truest true classic. This one is a .45-70.

STAG/

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