Sheridan Supergrade: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Sheridan Supergrade

A history of airguns

Sheridan model A, also called the Supergrade.

This report covers:

  • What is a Supergrade?
  • First sight
  • Only .22 caliber airgun Sheridan made
  • My impressions before owning one
  • Materials
  • Must be cocked to accept a charge
  • Power and accuracy
  • I no longer own a Supergrade

For many years I lusted after the iconic Sheridan model A, which is known among airgunners as the Supergrade. It was the first Sheridan air rifle to be produced and production commenced in 1947 — the year of my birth.

What is a Supergrade?

I was unaware of the existence this fine multi-pump pneumatic at the time when it was being sold, which ran from 1948 until sometime in the middle 1950s. Production ended in 1953, but stores continued to sell guns until their stock ran out. Supergrades sold for $56.50 in 1948, when Winchester model 61 slide-action rifle were selling for $44.50. Today a 61 that’s excellent in the box will bring $1,800-2,500, and a Supergrade in the same shape brings even more. This is one air rifle that has appreciated in value. According to the book, <i>Know Your SHERIDAN Rifles & Pistols</i> by Ronald E. Elbe, 2130 model As were produced.

A Supergrade in working condition with some finish, and one that has not been hacked up in any way, will fetch $1,200-1,500 all day long. Unfortunately there are a lot of Supergrades that have been “customized” by former owners, and have been reduced to parts guns. Nobody wants a scope on a Supergrade!

I only became aware of the rifle in 1976, while serving with the Army in Germany. I bought volume 1 of Airgun Digest, by Robert Beeman, and my journey with the Supergrade began.

First sight

It wasn’t until my first airgun show in Winston-Salem in 1993 that I actually saw one up close for the first time. When I did, two different thoughts surfaced. First, the rifle is surprisingly small in person. It’s no larger than a Blue Streak. It’s bulkier, and the wood is shaped better, but the overall size of the rifle is about the same as a Blue Streak. However, the Supergrade is way beyond the Blue Streak in appearance. It has a real raised cheekpiece and all the wood is shaped better than the wood on the Blue and Silver Streaks. The rear sight was always a peep sight that sort of defines the airgun. And the large cast aluminum receiver really stands out from the gun, when contrasted with the Streak receiver that’s just s the pump tube.

Sheridan Supergrade cheekpiece
Supergrade cheekpieces were raised.

The bolt handle is another place where the Supergrade stands apart from the Streaks. It is comparatively long and curved down, where the first Streak bolt were short and straight. Both of them operate the same though, cocking the rifle when lifted and pulled all the way back..

Sheridan Supergrade receiver
The receiver is a large part made from cast aluminum. Note the long bolt handle.

Only .22 caliber airgun Sheridan made

During the prototype period, the men who developed the Sheridan, E.H. Wackerhager and Rorert Kraus, used at least one .22 caliber barrel before standardizing on .20 caliber for the gun. There is at least one Supergrade in .22 caliber, if not more. There is no advantage to .22 caliber, but to a collector such a rifle would be quite valuable.

My impressions before owning one

You guys know how you build expectations of what an airgun will be like before you actually try one. That’s what I did with my Supergrade. As far as I was concerned, the Supergrade was the most fabulous airgun ever produced and nothing else could compare.

Sheridan used to show ads of their rifles penetrating up to one inch of wood with variable numbers of pump strokes, and at the time read those ads I was still shooting BB guns that bounced off any wooden surface. I was as yet unaware of the Supergrade model that was out of production by that time, so I assumed the ads referred to the Blue and Silver Streaks that were selling. No matter, though, because the Supergrade and Blue Streak are almost equal in power. If there is a slight edge it goes to the Supergrade, but the difference isn’t that great.

Materials

The Supergrade barrels and pump tubes were made from phosphor bronze, where the same parts in the Streaks were made from red brass. Knowing nothing about metallurgy, just the names of those two different metals make the Supergrade sound better. All Sheridan rifles had walnut stocks up to the end of production and sometimes the Streaks can have highly figured stock wood. I never saw a Supergrade whose stock had anything but plain grain, so this was the one area where the Streaks were actually better.

Must be cocked to accept a charge

One thing really surprised me when I finally got my Supergrade and that was the fact that it has to be cocked or the gun won’t accept a charge. This is not that unusual and simply relates to how the firing valve it set up to operate. It’s neither good nor bad — just different.

Power and accuracy

I know you want to know everything right now, and I’m going to give it all to you. Just not today. When I got my Supergrade all I had to go on was the writeup in Smith’s Gas, Air, and Spring guns of the World. Smith was able to get the Sheridan pellet up to 712 f.p.s. on 10 pump strokes. Well, the Sheridan pellet was all they had in .20 caliber in 1956 when Smith wrote his book and the “chronograph” he used for his test was a room full of electronic equipment that was run by a technician in the H.P. White Laboratories. A hundred-dollar chronograph today has much more computational power and precision than was in that entire room!

That peep sight gives the impression of extreme accuracy, and I will reveal in a future report what my tests showed. I envisioned that phosphor-bronze rifle barrel capable of infinite accuracy before testing one the first time. This should be a real eye-opener for you readers!

I no longer own a Supergrade

Alas, Edith and I fell on hard times when The Airgun Letter ended and we had to refund all those unfulfilled subscriptions. I had to generate some cash fast so I sold my Whiscombe, my R1 and my Supergrade. I have since bought back both the Whiscombe and the R1, but the Supergrade is still missing. So this repoort is based on the testing I did years ago.

However, there possibly might be a good substitute. A friend who is local just acquired a Supergrade and has asked me if I would like to test it. I jumped at the chance! He will evaluate his new rifle when it arrives and, if it is in good condition, I might actually be able to do an updated test for you. We shall see!

38 thoughts on “Sheridan Supergrade: Part 1

  1. B.B.

    Sorry to hear that your quest still continues. I had initially thought you had finally acquired one from the last airgun show and was keeping it a secret. I was sort of wondering at the lower than usual quality of pictures that was showing the butt and the receiver until I came to the last section which explained it all.

    All good things come to those who wait. The Supergrade that is for you is still somewhere out there and one of these days it will be back.

    Siraniko




  2. B.B.,

    Phosphor bronze is an interesting choice for the barrel and tube. Guitarists are familiar with phosphor bronze as the common material used for the outer wrap on acoustic guitar strings. (Electric guitar strings usually are wrapped with nickel.) And of course bronze is often used for bells, so if there is such as thing as a “tone metal” (as there are tone woods), bronze would maybe be it.

    Do Supergrades oxidize green with age?

    Michael


  3. Phosphor bronze is used in electrical contacts (plated with nickel and gold) as it is harder with higher ultimate stress. Makes it “springy” so that the contacts don’t lose the normal force needed to assure good contact. The alloy contains tin and a small amount of phosphorus. It’s also used in cymbals. Check the Wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phosphor_bronze

    The upgrade in connectors is beryllium copper, even stronger.


    • JerryC,

      I received your .25 Pelletgage the other day. Very nice and high quality. Very easy to use. The paper work mentions that it can used to check for out of round pellets, but I am not sure how it can do that.

      The other thing the paperwork mentions is that the pellets should drop on their own. I find on most (99%) of pellets, that if I (very gently) lift and drop, (while doing a slight rotation), that many pellets will drop straight through. But, those same pellets will (not) drop through initially. No “forcing” or “shaving” of the pellet is going on.

      Is there some finer point of usage that I am overlooking?

      Thanks, Chris



      • Chris,

        I think you have to “play” with it to learn the feel of out-of-round pellets. If you barely tickle the pellet head from underneath, and watch whether the pellets drop straight, or if they “wobble” through, I think you’ll start to recognize if they’re not round. I hope that paints a clear picture.

        Some pellets won’t drop straight because of what I call the “flashing”, or mold marks. I think there’s an extremely small lip of sorts that is almost like the flashing on molded plastic parts. That catches and makes the pellet seem off a little, when it’s really not.

        Jim M.


        • Jim M.,

          Thank you for the tips. Pellets today seem to not have a flash issue. Sometimes, you can not even see the seam. But yes, if there is an issue to be suspect of,…. the seam area would the first place to look.

          Speaking of the seam, I remember reading where some shooters make sure the seam is oriented the same every time they load. It would be interesting to hear from someone that actually does that.

          Chris


          • Sure thing, Chris. Maybe I’m misinterpreting what I feel. If it’s not a flash issue, then maybe it’s a tiny bit of out-of-round on that pellet — just less obvious than what I was feeling on other pellets.

            Man, I think orienting the seam the same every time is definitely paying attention to the most minute detail. I smiled when I read that. Kind of makes me think of different things I did playing sports in my youth — you know, rolling socks a certain number of times, only using one type of shoelace…stuff that made more of a mental difference. But, I guess that’s what matters, is that your head is in the right place.

            Jim M.



  4. The Supergrade looks the part.

    I had another interesting range day over the weekend. I’m still landing my arrows at 30 yards, mostly, so the progress is real. While shooting handguns, I continued to reap the benefits of my new discovery. Before I had found myself leaning backwards with the two-handed hold to balance out the pistol. This deviated from a two-handed stance that I had seen demonstrated where the weight was forward, but it looked tiring. Finally, I gave it a try, and it was transformative. Somehow the forward weight seemed to lock things down. Maybe there is a similarity to the backward lean with the one-handed target stance and the cantilevered effect. I don’t know. But this has worked well. I also notice that most people on the firing line have a backwards lean with two hands, so the forward lean might be worth a try.

    One of my goals was to test my Winchester 94 which I take out once every few years for its accuracy potential. I had supposed that accuracy was not a priority with this gun. But then I came across reports of surprisingly good groups. So, I gave the rifle the best chance with the Leverolution ammo from Hornady with its pointed plastic tips to improve aerodynamics. It was a little nerve-wracking to slide those pointed bullets into the tube magazine. But I figured this had been tested in advance, and all went well. I got about 4 MOA at 50 and 100 yards which, considering the horrible side picture, seemed pretty good to me. From a rest, that gun has one of the more vicious recoils I’ve experienced.

    I was also testing the Lee-Enfield to see how it would cycle steel ammo and to try out more offhand. The offhand results were okay, but the main thing was that I was connecting with the target instead of missing. But even more important was the experience. With that burning metal, sweating wood, slick bolt-action, and my fingers scrabbling away at the occasional rim jam, it was a true re-enactment moment. While firearms are noisier and more destructive than airguns, they do have a great deal of culture and history. And I found yet another advantage to offhand shooting besides avoiding concussions. With the targets bouncing around my iron sights, it had some of the excitement of aerial gunnery. I felt like the Red Baron zooming in.

    Matt61


  5. BB
    Curious. Does the Supergrade have a smooth bore barrel or is it rifled?

    And ain’t it amazing how modern electronics keep getting put in smaller packages. It would be interesting to see a picture of that room sized chrony of days past.


  6. Tom, you’d have been in Germany same time as my parents. My Dad was military, mainly tanks. He spent time in Berlin, babysitting Hess. They came back to UK just before I was born. I spent a lot of time in Bavaria, especially Munchen. Love Germany, great people.

    Dying to try a “pumper” any suggestions on a beginner one that won’t break the bank?

    Been offered an anschutz 335, tempted… but wife says I can’t have a new rifle and that nomad pellet maker!!!

    Are those letters you mentioned online anywhere please? Thanks again for your blog, it’s really opened my eyes.

    Cheers.
    Rick.


    • Richardwales,

      To my knowledge there are no digitized copies of the “The Airgun Letter” extant.

      I hear your problem. Between the Anschutz 335 and the Nomad pellet maker I would choose the Anschutz 335. My reasoning is this, the 335 is being offered to you at an attractive price which after you have used it you can pass along to another interested party to raise funds for either another rifle or the Nomad pellet maker. At the present time the Nomad pellet maker has been selling for years but the chance to own an Anschutz 335 comes only once in a while.

      Just my thinking.

      Siraniko


      • Hi Siranko,

        Shame about the letters, but thanks for replying. Luckily there’s plenty here to keep me busy…

        Loving reading about all these vintage rifles and pistols. I’m never likely to handle most, but its still exciting! Always liked antique stuff, often they were made much better than the crap we get now!

        Sell something? I’d rather chop my arm off! Afraid I’m a hoarder… it annoys my my wife as I just won’t part with anything. Luckily we have plenty of storage! Your correct tho, as good stuff holds its value. I always look after my gear, otherwise it loses value an let’s you down when you need it.

        Doing overtime this month, so I’ll be grabbing that rifle payday.

        Regards
        Rick.



  7. Very interesting. Until today I had never heard of the Sheridan Supergrade. Amazing that they sold for $56.50 in 1948… according to the CPI inflation calculator that’s $564.66 in 2016. Can’t believe they sold any of them.



      • Hi B.B.
        Great to read about the model A, I had not heard of them before. I have a Silver Streak from the 1970s that probably has not been shot for 20 years. I would like to shoot it, but am worried the seals have all dried up and I might do some damage. It is in great shape other then I’m guessing the seals are pretty dry. Do you know what kind of oil to use on these? Have you ever written a blog on what to do before shooting an air rifle that has been sitting in the closet for 20 years?



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