Sheridan Supergrade: Part 1
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
My new Sheridan Supergrade is in fantastic condition, despite the wood check at the butt.
The cheekpiece makes the Supergrade stand out!
This report covers:
- The back story
- Early reports
- How many pumps?
- So — how many pumps?
- We’re just getting started!
- Why so much?
- SO — why 12 pumps?
Awww! Not again! BB — you promised us something very special today. You have reviewed and tested the Sheridan Supergrade so many times on this blog!
Yes, I have. But this report will be different. This report will have a major impact on not just Supergrade owners, but on most multi-pump owners.
The back story
Several weeks ago a new reader posted that he had a Sheridan Supergrade to sell. I have to approve all new readers’ comments, so I approved and posted his, welcomed him to the blog and, because he included his email address in the message, I contacted him.
The rifle in question had been found in an attic, where it had been stored for years, and the owner only recently discovered what it is. He did some research and had a good idea of what it was worth, so when I contacted him he quoted a fair asking price.
Of course I didn’t know him at all, so I had to step out in faith. He sent me some pictures that looked good and he told me when he dry-fired it, it sounded good. While that is a good start, it’s not a lot to go on.
We negotiated a price I felt was both fair and also covered some of the risk I was taking in buying a sight-unseen air rifle, and we made a deal. He shipped the rifle and, when I received it, I was looking at the nicest Sheridan Supergrade it has ever been my privilege to handle. The late Ted Osborn once showed me a better one that was like-new in the box, but he was appalled when I mentioned I would like to shoot it. I was dropped from the list of buyers under consideration, which was good because I didn’t have the cash to buy it at the time.
That’s the back story, but like I said — this report isn’t just about Supergrades. Now I’ll show you what I mean.
The Sheridan Supergrade came out in 1947. It was developed by Bob Kraus, at the request of his friend, Ed Wackerhagen, who wanted a good multi-pump pneumatic for his son. He wanted a gun that was clearly better than anything then on the market, which would primarily have been the Crosman 101 Silent Pneumatic and the Benjamin 312 multi-pump. Both of those rifles are considered fine airguns today and in that day they were the best money could buy. Wackerhagen wanted better.
I’ll continue with the description and history in a moment, but let’s look at some early reports of the airgun. Major General Julian Hatcher tested and reviewed the Super Grade in American Rifleman magazine in April of 1947. He reported the following velocities with a Sheridan Bantam pellet.
You’ll find that on page 254 in Smith’s Standard Encyclopedia of Gas, Air and Spring Guns of the World, by W.H.B. Smith. That book, published in 1956, used to be the bible for airgun collectors, but the crop of collectors I grew up with is now long of tooth and vanishing rapidly. People don’t appreciate Smith’s book today, even though they all want the information it contains.
General Hatcher, by the way, is probably the single most important American name in the 20th century development of firearms. At the very least he is the equal of John Moses Browning. Hatcher is the man who changed the bullet for the .30 Government cartridge (30.06), taking it from 19th century performance into the 20th century and the equivalent of the then-best German 7.92X57mm Mauser.
W.H.B. Smith did his own testing of the Super Grade in 1956 and got the following results.
How many pumps?
Okay, reader Doc Holiday has waited patiently for me to address his concerns about pumping a multi-pump. This is the start of my answer.
Twelve pumps?!!! Are you out of your mind? If General Hatcher was a blog reader I would have to correct his confused approach to a multi-pump. You don’t pump them 12 times! But he did. And it worked. And Smith pumped his 10 times and that worked for him.
I pumped this new/old Supergrade I had just acquired 8 times and got 630 f.p.s. I was all set to call it macaroni when my research turned up these two tables. What I got from my first test of the new gun is the fastest, more or less, that I have ever seen a Supergrade shoot. How did these guys get so much more velocity, and who told them they could pump the rifle that many times?
Sheridan did, as it turns out. Oh, and by the way — this rifle is/was called a Super Grade by Sheridan from the start. I have a copy of the manual with that on the cover. Many airgunners think that title was invented by collectors along the way, but it original and correct. You just don’t see it in their advertising.
The Super Grade manual cover from 1947 shows that Sheridan used that title. All we have done in modern times is condense it into one word, like the word airgun.
So — how many pumps?
But the question remains — what did Sheridan say about the number of pump strokes? Take a look at page 20 of the owner’s manual.
There it is — in 1947 Sheridan recommended a maximum of 8 pump strokes for the Supergrade. But the wording is not emphatic and it does allow for fudging up to 10 strokes, if you don’t read carefully.
I have not fully addressed why General Hatcher got to pump his test gun 12 times yet. I will get to it, but not yet.
We’re just getting started!
This manual is very detailed and not only explains what to do to maintain your rifle, it also tells you why. I will be exposing you to several more looks inside the manual as this report advances, but for now let’s return to the air rifle.
The Sheridan Supergrade is a single shot bolt action multi-pump pneumatic air rifle. It was produced in .20 caliber only and was made from 1947 to around 1953. In total, 2130 were produced, but the serial numbers got mixed in with the Model B Sporter (the Supergrade is the model A) serial numbers, of which another 1050 guns were made. The Sporter ran from 1948 to 1951.
As a parenthetical side note, there was/is one Supergrade in .22 caliber. It was the testbed gun Kraus used during development. The decision was made to go with .20 caliber because the pellets of the day were not precise enough to extract the gun’s full potential.
My rifle is serial 1099, and was probably made after model B production started. It has the long bolt handle of the early guns, and is probably one of the last that did.
My Supergrade has the graceful early long bolt handle. All Supergrades have a peep sight.
The two pieces of walnut on Supergrades are numbered, and Jeff Cloud told me Sheridan did that to keep the forearms mated to the buttstocks during production. That way the wood grain is matched, since both pieces were cut from the same piece of wood.
The end of the pump handle and buttstock have matching assembly numbers. That kept the wood together so the grain matched.
The rifle is 37 inches long, with a 20-inch barrel. This one weighs 6 lbs. 4 oz. and they all vary a little because of the wood weight. If you held it you would be surprised that it feels very much like a Sheridan Blue Streak and even like a Benjamin 392, for that matter. The size and weight are about the same.
Why so much?
So, why was the Supergrade retailed for $56.50 in 1947, at a time when a Winchester model 61 slide-action .22 sold for $44.95? The short version — time and materials. Time because the Sheridan company was a startup company and everything was done by hand — probably including the hands of the two inventors in the beginning. Materials because, where all other pneumatic rifles used red brass for their barrels and pump tubes, the Supergrade used phosphor bronze that’s far more expensive. Red brass is just as good from a performance standpoint, and a Blue Streak from 1952 can be just as powerful and accurate as a Supergrade.
But almost everyone who sees a Supergrade in person sees the quality right away. My rifle is especially nice in that respect because it has almost 85 percent of its original finish. So far every knowledgeable airgunner I have shown it to has had the same reaction as me.
SO — why 12 pumps?
Why did General Hatcher get to pump his Super Grade 12 times? Was he just ignorant? I don’t think so.
Look at the date his article was published — April of 1947. Sheridan started production just one month earlier. To publish in April, Hatcher’s article had to be finished by the middle of February or earlier, so he was testing a pre-production gun that was probably given to him in October of 1946. Pictures in those days took many rolls of film to take and weeks at the developer to see whether they came out.
Do you suppose the Sheridan folks built General Hatcher a rifle intentionally? In other words — a ringer? A setup? General Hatcher was the man who made America’s 30.06 bullet travel one mile farther than its inventors intended during World War I, so giving him an airgun to test for the most widely-read gun magazine on the planet was like giving Bill Gates a personal computer to test and then asking for his thoughts.
Now, W.H.B. Smith was just a writer schmuck like me. A far more famous writer schmuck, no doubt, but a schmuck, nevertheless. He pumped a Super Grade 10 times in 1956 and got just over 700 f.p.s. I will show you how that can happen in a future report.
I’m going to end today’s report here, but I haven’t even scratched the surface. Part 2 will be a continuation of the description of my new rifle, plus more information about Supergrades and pneumatics than has never been printed anywhere. Doc, I still haven’t answered your question about how long you can leave a pneumatic fully pumped up. The Super Grade manual tells you specifically how long and why you would do it. It also tells you in detail what happens when you oil a pneumatic, and even when you over-oil one.
I am going to test this new rifle for you in the conventional way and I have a mega-surprise coming in that respect. I’ll just put it this way — you don’t need a DeLorean and 1.2 gigawatts of electricity to go back in time!