WTW: Stevens Tip-up Rifle in .22 LR
Mike the Mook
This week we take a look at the Stevens Tip-Up rifle from 1894. this particular rifle has a number of interesting features and was probably considered their fully loaded model at the time.
It lacks a forend, but has a nickel plated action. Target sights are present with a flip-up front and a Sharps tang mounted sight. The buttstock was probably their highest grade walnut at the time and the barrel transitions from round to octagonal in a classic Old West design.
Most important is the caliber: 22 long rifle.
As you sit there and scoff (because it’s a Stevens), bear in mind that Stevens was the inventor of that pipsqueak round. It may have been another .22 caliber rimfire cartridge at the time but after its inception it became the king of all rimfire rounds, and as we saw in the past few years, the backbone of the US Shooting community.
A little history on Stevens
Back in 1864 Joshua Stevens founded J. Stevens & Co. in Chicopee Falls, MA.
Stevens had previously been a founder of the Massachusetts Arms Company with Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson in 1850. The company’s first effort was producing the Sharps Rifle design of Christian Sharps, but they rolled out a revolver known as the Wesson & Leavitt that resembled a flintlock or percussion cap pistol with a revolving cylinder. Samuel Colt filed suit and the company went with another design by Maynard that differed from the Colt hammer and trigger mechanism in a number of ways. See Forgotten Weapons for the scoop on this gem.
J. Stevens & Co.’s first of many contributions to the firearms industry was a tip-up single shot pistol chambered in .22 Short. This was followed by a rifle designed on the same principle (and the one we look at today). They turned out rifles, shotguns and single shot pistols until 1883 when Stevens purchased Massachusetts Arms Company and reorganized and incorporated it as J. Stevens Arms & Tool Co in 1886.
The following year they developed what may have been the single most important round in the history of marksmanship development: the .22 long rifle.
In 1901 they partnered with J. Frank Duryea to produce the Stevens-Duryea automobile and billed themselves as “the largest producers of sporting arms in the world”. In 1915 they were acquired by New England Westinghouse after its parent company, Westinghouse Electric, was contracted to build 1.8 million Mosin Nagant rifles for Czarist Russia to use in WW1. The Russian Revolution of 1917 meant they were never paid for the Mosins. In turn the rifles were sold off to various branches of the US Government in small batches and the company went on the auction block.
Eventually they were purchased by Savage Arms on 1 April 1920. For four more decades Stevens produced firearms under their own name or that of “Savage-Stevens” until the Chicopee Falls plant was torn down and Stevens production was moved to other Savage facilities. Savage dropped the Stevens name in 1991 but revived it in 1999 and still uses it today for a number of its low cost rifles and shotguns.
When we first picked up the Stevens, we thought some kid in the late 19th century was styling the rifle after his father’s Buffalo Rifle with the folding tang sight. Close inspection revealed that the sight was not a knock-off, but a genuine Sharps sight. This made sense, considering Stevens’ connection to Christian Sharps’ rifle.
We doubt that it was used at extended ranges like the fictional Matthew Quigley and real-life Billy Dixon made famous, but this type of sight used in this capacity makes us think of someone today mounting a $600 scope on a Ruger 10/22. Okay, so we’re guilty of that, too!
The fact that this rifle still produces one-ragged hole groups with GemTech Subsonics 130 years later is a testament to the fact that Stevens was no off-brand back in the day.
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!
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About the Author: Mike “the Mook” Searson is a veteran writer who began his career in firearms at the Camp Pendleton School for Destructive Boys at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire life, writing about guns and knives for numerous publications and consulting with the film industry on weapons while at the same time working as gunsmith and ballistician. Though seemingly a surly curmudgeon shy a few chromosomes at first meeting, Searson is actually far less of a dick and at least a little smarter than most of the Mad Duo’s minions. He is rightfully considered to be not just good company, but actually fit for polite company as well (though he has never forgotten his roots as a rifleman trained to kill people and break things, and if you look closely you’ll see his knuckles are still quite scabbed over from dragging the ground). You can learn more about him on his website or follow him on Twitter, @MikeSearson.
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