One of the rarest (if not THE rarest) pinfire cartridges I know of is the American Civil War procured cartridge made by Christian Sharps and his company.
The following is the background story of the images to follow. It is an excerpt from my longer article on my website which goes into more detail on the other American pinfire manufactures as well.
Toward the beginning of the American Civil War, Colonel Schuyler (the same Schuyler who would later co-found UMC,) the Army’s purchasing agent, bought 10,000 Lefaucheux model 1854 revolvers from Europe. These with almost another 3000 pinfire revolvers purchased by the Army through other channels created a need to produce pinfire cartridges domestically rather than only import them. So in January of 1862 Lieutenant Treadwell of the Frankford Arsenal met with Christian Sharps to talk about manufacturing pinfire cartridges to a more powerful specification that would also overcome some of the issues they had with the base of the cartridge bulging out when shot as they experienced when testing the revolvers. He then gave Sharps an order for cartridges on January 6.
On January 7th, C. Sharps & Company accepted the order and its terms. They were supposed to have delivered 50,000 cartridges by first of February, 200,000 by end of February, and 400,000 per month after until they reached 1,000,000 cartridges delivered.
By February 20th Treadwell had still not received anything from Christian Sharps so the arsenal then procured cartridges from other source: C. D. Leet & Co. March 20 then brings the first correspondence from Christian Sharps since the initial order for pinfire cartridges. In his letter to Major Laidley, the new commander of the Frankford Arsenal, he said that they were still working on the process of making the cartridges, and were having a hard time with it, and that they also needed to move to a new location because of Philadelphia laws not allowing them to have more than 25lbs of powder on their premises. This news causes Major Laidley to seek out yet another vendor to provide pinfire cartridges: Allen & Wheelock.
On April 4th Christian Sharps finally delivers some test samples, of which Laidley was disgusted with and denied in a pretty strong letter back to Sharps, calling them a “failure” and of “no value to the United States.” On May 10th Sharps tries again, but Laidley again rejects the second group of test samples from (the newly formed) Sharps & Hankins because their cartridges were unsatisfactory; they use poor quality powder; and had way too many failures.
Finally on June 7th Christian Sharps delivers 46,000 cartridges that were accepted. This is all that ended up being accepted by them; not even 5% of the original requested amount. In comparison, C. D. Leet delivered 526,000 and Allen & Wheelock delivered 1,000,000 pinfire cartridges.
There are only less than a small handful of these cartridges that I know of that exist; including 1 sectioned one. One is pictured on page 161 of Dean Thomas’ Round Ball to Rimfire Part Three. If one ever came up for sale I would imagine it would easily bring $500 - $1000 or more with the recent surge of interest on pinfire guns and cartridges both domestically and especially in Europe.
On my search to find excavated pinfire cartridges to get a better understanding of how widespread their use was geographically in the American Civil War as well as unraveling the mystery of which foreign cartridge manufacturers had their cartridges imported to either side of the war I came across 3 of Christian Sharps’ pinfire cartridges. They were dropped by Union soldiers in June of 1863, almost exactly 1 year after they were manufactured, at the Battle of Liberty Gap in Bell Buckle, TN during the Tullahoma Campaign.
Some of the differences between the Sharps cartridge compared to the Allen or Leet ones is that Sharps used a much thinner pin diameter measuring .0673 inches as compared to around .088 inches for the Leet or Allen. They also have a noticeable raised bump on the base. Then the most identifiable difference is that Sharps used a copper head to hold the cap and strengthen the base, as mentioned in his patent, rather than the lead head Allen and Leet used. A non-destructive testing of this would be having the bottom of the cartridge undergo an x-ray fluorescence test. X-ray fluorescence uses electromagnetic to gamma rays to ionization the atoms of the components, which releases specific photons that emit radiation that have energy characteristic of the atoms present which can then be measured and analyzed to a list of the elements contained in the sample. This sounds rather complicated and obviously could not be tested at home, but many NDT (non-destructive testing) facilities can easily do this for a couple hundred dollars.