1883 Burgess Carbine
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- Last updated: 14/12/2016
Today’s reproduction firearms industry relies for its very existence on producing guns which are no longer made by their original companies (such as Colt and Remington) or from companies that have ceased to exist. In essence, they are recreating history. The firearms in the current Uberti catalogue are exclusively reproductions of guns from the American West. For a long time they were the only manufacturers of the early Winchester lever action rifles (Henry, 1866 & 1873 models), and even today the competition comes nowhere close to their quality. Along with copies of the Model 1892, those three early Winchesters have formed the backbone of replica lever guns for several decades. Now Uberti have added a new model to their range to compliment their extensive selection of guns from one of America’s premier manufacturers, Colt. This Colt Burgess lever action, a comparative rarity in its original guise, could prove a little more popular among today’s shooters, re-enactors and fans of the Western genre who are looking for something a little bit different.
Born in New York state in 1837, Andrew Burgess became interested in photography at an early age and began working for celebrated photographer Mathew Brady in his late teens or early twenties. He was a member of Brady’s team during the Civil War helping to catalogue the conflict, and it now appears that he took the famous “Brady’s Lincoln” photograph that is found on the American five dollar bill. When Brady fell on hard times in 1874, Burgess purchased the studio, but seemingly sold it back by 1876.
In September, 1871, Andrew received his first firearms patents for converting the Peabody and Werndl arms to magazine rifles. The following month he married Eudora Tiffany, granddaughter of the founder of the famous jewellery firm. During his lifetime Andrew Burgess was issued with over three hundred patents relating to firearms, used by Whitney, Colt, Marlin and Winchester. He died from heart failure on December 19, 1908 in Florida.
“Colt’s Magazine Rifle”, commonly referred to as the Colt-Burgess by collectors, first hit the market in 1883 and was offered in rifle and carbine configurations. The 25½” octagonal barrelled version was priced at $27.00, slightly more expensive than the 1873 model Winchester. Poor sales prompted Colt to cease production of the Burgess model in 1885, concentrating their efforts on their new slide action rifle which was much more enthusiastically received. There is a well accepted tale of a Colt-Winchester agreement (“You don’t make lever action rifles and we won’t make revolvers”) but that is a story for another day. When production ceased the total output of Colt Burgess rifles and carbines was a mere 6,403 units, all in .44-40 calibre, with some 340 of these being shipped to the London agency.
Tailored For The Times
The advent of Cowboy Action Shooting some twenty five years ago, and the consequent growth of the sport in the United States, has led to a resurgence in the reproduction arms industry, with models of the various guns being tailored specifically to the sport. An example is the Uberti Burgess carbine we have here. While originals were chambered only in .44-40 calibre, this piece is in .45 Colt, a much favoured handgun cartridge in the USA. Thus modern shooters can use their favourite cartridge in both pistol and long gun. Another compromise, probably to satisfy US safety requirements, is the addition of a trigger safety block which only allows the trigger to be pulled when the lever is fully closed. This was not available on the nineteenth century Colts, and was one reason why it was felt inferior to the 1873 Winchester.
The black finish on this Burgess – barrel, magazine, barrel bands, frame, butt plate and all screws – has a nice gloss while the lever, hammer and trigger show some nice muted case colours. The woodwork is the standard Uberti red/brown gloss finished walnut and the wood- to-metal and metal-to-metal fit is excellent with only very minor imperfections. The rear sight is a faithful copy of the original adjustable military style ladder arrangement, and the front sight is integrated in the front barrel band. This latter seems to be the same sight used by Uberti on their Winchester 1873 and is presumably a cost cutting exercise as original front sights were a separate blade mounted in the barrel just behind the band. Another deviation from original specification is the lack of a saddle ring on the left side of the frame.
One of the first things you notice is the seemingly small ejection port on top of the frame which does not have the sliding dust cover featured on the 1873. Throw down the lever and a very substantial bolt, much more so than the Winchester, emerges from the rear of the frame. Rather than a flat spring on the loading port this rifle features a sprung gate that slides forward into the forearm, which functioned without a problem. The lever can be locked in place with a turnscrew that acts on a lip at the rear of the loop. Altogether then a nice looking rifle and well put together, but looks are only half of the story.
Right from the beginning of my shooting days all of my “working” Western guns, single action revolvers and lever action rifles, have been chambered for the .44-40 cartridge so the .45 Colt is something that I have only dabbled with on occasions such as this. Even with black powder loads the .45 has a reputation of being something of a man-stopper with its heavy bullet. For this experiment I chose to use Vihtavuori’s Tin Star powder and settled on a charge of 8.4 grains behind a 250-grain RNFP cast lead bullet and the power of the cartridge was evident from the recoil in this quite light rifle. Bullet impact was a little above point of aim at twenty-five metres and, treating the paper as a Cowboy Action Shooting target, putting eight shots on to a seven-inch paper plate from a standing position was child’s play. Precision target shooters should no doubt be able to get this rifle to perform as well as any of its adversaries in the lever action market. My initial misgivings about the small ejection port proved unfounded as empty cases were thrown clear without a hitch. The Burgess is a very smooth operator right out of the box, causing one experienced shooter to query whether or not it had been “slicked”.
I could not fault the rifle at all and I predict that, for those who are looking for a ‘period’ long gun who are willing to pay the money, this new Uberti will carve itself a niche among Western fans. When the next batch arrives on these shores, if there is a long-barrelled .44-40 among them, I might just be in that group.
PRICE: To be announced, but will probably be around £1000