Author Topic: Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"  (Read 7273 times)

Offline flehto

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Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"
« on: July 06, 2010, 09:46:07 PM »
Probably because I know so little about the history of the American LR and it's evolution, I shouldn't even be in this "forum", but because of a curiousity, especially about Bucks County LRs but all "schools" in general, I'm wondering how gradual or abrupt the evolution of each "school" was. Seems some of the "schools" have a long documented history of evolution  { Lancaster and Berks?} while others have some documentation {Lehighs?} and it seems "some" just came on the scene {Bucks County?}.  I know I'm probably simplifying this whole thing due to my lack of knowledge, but would still like to hear some erudite opinions from some very knowledgeable members that frquent this "forum".....Fred
« Last Edit: July 06, 2010, 09:47:16 PM by flehto »

Offline Dr. Tim-Boone

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Re: Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"
« Reply #1 on: July 07, 2010, 01:02:59 AM »
erudite opinions...................hhhhhhmmmm......... Ok step right up!!  I am curious too.  I heard Wallace Gusler talk about migration and gunsmiths in the Valley of VA once.....but have never heaard any explanation of the emergence of the schools in PA and what their timing was.  Should be interesting. Good question Fred.
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Offline Don Getz

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Re: Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"
« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2010, 03:27:49 AM »
The gunbuilders themselves did not create these names, I think they were created by the early students in the collecting
business.   They were probably created by people like Henry Kauffman, Joe Kindig, Dillon, and Shumway.    One of the first books I bought after getting interested in muzzleloaders was Shumways "Longrifles of Note", and in it he shows one or
several guns within a given "school".   It is still one of my favorite books............Don

Offline rich pierce

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Re: Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"
« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2010, 03:58:50 PM »
As Don said, these “schools” are names invented by collectors and students to classify rifles or guns by where they were made.   Often, 60% or more of Golden Age rifles from an area will share a number of architectural and decorative characteristics.  For a recognizable style to emerge, it seems there would have to be a dominant maker early on who influenced others by training them or by market pressure; customers wanting guns that "look like his".  That means stability is part of the picture; perhaps a gunsmith established a first shop in an area, developed a style and a market, and then trained others.  If on the other hand a group of gunsmiths all started up shop at the same time, a regional style may not emerge.

What can be confusing for students is the amount of variation of longrifles produced by gunsmiths within an area.  So for example, we know what a Lancaster style rifle should look like, but will put a Valentine Fondersmith rifle, a John Newcomer rifle, an Isaac Haines rifle, a Dickert rifle and a Fordney rifle all in the Lancaster school because they were all made in Lancaster.  Although they may share furniture (available locally or perhaps cast  by a local gunsmith) and some overall architectural features, carving details and patchbox stylings will often be quite different on guns by these Lancaster smiths.  Later on, there was more homogeneity as perhaps customers expected a Lancaster rifle to have a daisy patchbox.  But there were still later makers with truly distinctive styles; Fordney being an outstanding example.
 
Same is true among Reading rifles; we'll lump a Bonewitz with a Schreit and RCA 21 because they were all made in a given region.  These 3 look no more alike to me than lumping a J.P. Beck with a Dickert and a Schroyer.  So in my mind there are rifles assigned to schools because of where they were made, and others that truly belong together because of shared stylistic motifs.
« Last Edit: July 07, 2010, 04:01:35 PM by richpierce »
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Offline Dr. Tim-Boone

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Re: Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"
« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2010, 07:47:49 PM »
Probably because I know so little about the history of the American LR and it's evolution, I shouldn't even be in this "forum", but because of a curiousity, especially about Bucks County LRs but all "schools" in general, I'm wondering how gradual or abrupt the evolution of each "school" was. Seems some of the "schools" have a long documented history of evolution  { Lancaster and Berks?} while others have some documentation {Lehighs?} and it seems "some" just came on the scene {Bucks County?}.  I know I'm probably simplifying this whole thing due to my lack of knowledge, but would still like to hear some erudite opinions from some very knowledgeable members that frquent this "forum".....Fred

I think.........What Fred is asking are a couple of questions... or more about history.....not  about the modern collectors classification system... Is there historical evidence of names for different styles  that we now call schools??
  • What year did the style of gun we now call "Bucks County" (Or any other style identified by County or geography) emerge as an identifiable regional style? How long did it take from the earliest example until the regional style was /label was used? Was it immediate, or did it emerge over time
  • Was there any particular order in which these different syles of longrifles emerged??  What factors contributed to that order if there wass one?
Is this what you are asking Fred?

If, not thats OK I will just steal your thread and ask for people's thoughts on these questions too  ::) ;D ;D ;)
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Offline rich pierce

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Re: Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"
« Reply #5 on: July 07, 2010, 10:02:06 PM »
There's not a lot of documentation on the Bucks County school's origins or the relationships between the builders.  EK could do a great job of filling us in.  What is amazing to me is that masters like Verner came and went in and out of the rifle making business and were often referred to in tax rolls as "smiths" if any profession was attached to them.  He sure knew how to design a rifle and engraving!

We can look at features associated with Bucks county guns and look at their roots.  The earliest dated side opening patchbox is the Leyendecker box without a rifle.  The earliest looking guns with side opening patchboxes are RCA 42 and the Deschler gun.  So let's say the roots of the side-opening patchbox, which came to be used more exclusively in Pennsylvania in Bucks county guns after the Revolutionary War, were present 1765-1770 or so.  Wallace Gusler had a series of Muzzle Blasts articles on the evolution of the side-opening patchbox in Muzzle Blasts 5 or so years ago, but did not focus on  tracing it forward to the Bucks county guns IIRC.

Architectural features found on Bucks county guns such as the curved underside to the buttstock were present in RCA 52 and 53 (Antes) as well as many other 1770's (estimated) rifles.  The guard style found on most Bucks county guns is present on the Antes rifle, RCA 53.  The thumbnail feature common on furniture of many Bucks county gunswas perhaps first found on Isaac Berlin rifles made in the Easton area, but saw widespread use in eastern Pennsylvania in the 1770's and beyond.

The full development of Bucks county features including the distinctive skirt on the entry thimble seems to have emerged around 1800, reached a zenith by 1820, and then faded as styles changed.  Plainer guns with clear Bucks county architecture and features were made into the early percussion era.
« Last Edit: July 07, 2010, 10:03:35 PM by richpierce »
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Offline flehto

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Re: Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"
« Reply #6 on: July 07, 2010, 10:29:41 PM »
Thanks to Dr. Tim Boone for asking what I meant to ask and to Rich Pierce for suppyinhg some answers. I guess the history of the Am. LR isn't as "neat" or organized as I would prefer, but am curious as to who started these "schools" or styles....somebody had to start or a particular "school" wouldn't exist. Why many original gunsmiths left their trade prematurely  possibly was due to eye troubles? Kinda late in the game, but  what are some good references that delve into this LR history besides that offered by Don Getz?....Fred

Offline rich pierce

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Re: Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"
« Reply #7 on: July 07, 2010, 11:20:11 PM »
 I think the term "school" has some formal connotations that are not represented in real history.  Some builders in a region used similar styles; that's about it.  And within a region, a certain percentage of guns were easily identifiable as "coming from there".  There were still makers who were highly individualistic.  Except for the gunshop at Christians Spring, there are few documentable, organized enterprises that could be considered a "school" in the sense of exercising formal training and control.

"Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in its Golden Age" by Kindig is the book many of us cut our teeth on.  There are a good many rifles organized into schools or locales and some info on each maker is presented.  It's a very old resource but very valuable.  Then "Rifles of Colonial America" volumes 1 and 2 by Shumway became my most valuable resource in the mid 1980's.  Eric Kettenburg's site has a lot of historical material on it, focusing a lot on the Bethlehem/Allentown/Northhampton/Lehigh valley area.  There are a good many smaller books focusing on one particular area or another, and every year someone at Dixon's gives talks on the origins and features of one "school" or another. In some cases, experts can pinpoint where a rifle from 1790-1810 or so was made within a few miles.
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Offline Dr. Tim-Boone

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Re: Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"
« Reply #8 on: July 08, 2010, 12:51:09 AM »
The article by Henry Bishop in the inaugural Edition of American Tradition shows and interesting Master/apprentice relationship that may be a big part of how the schools developed. If a gunmaker had a high volume business and lots of apprentices.....many more similar loking --to a point.....guns would have been made......Maybe it was a matter of scial acceptance...the style in a locale.  People didn't travel as muuch or as far in the day.......Those Lehigh folks mut have never gotten out of the county!! :o :o ;D ;D ;D ::)
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Offline Larry Pletcher

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Re: Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"
« Reply #9 on: July 08, 2010, 01:05:49 PM »
The article by Henry Bishop in the inaugural Edition of American Tradition shows and interesting Master/apprentice relationship that may be a big part of how the schools developed. If a gunmaker had a high volume business and lots of apprentices.....many more similar looking --to a point.....guns would have been made......Maybe it was a matter of social acceptance...the style in a locale.  People didn't travel as much or as far in the day.......Those Lehigh folks must have never gotten out of the county!! :o :o ;D ;D ;D ::)

Tim,
I like your thoughts and would add that I suspect that areas where travel was restricted heavily by the mountains, poor roads, or rivers may have developed a tighter styling than perhaps in Lancaster where the Great Wagon Road or the Susquehanna may have allowed apprentices to spread out from their masters shops.

Regards,
Pletch
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Re: Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"
« Reply #10 on: July 14, 2010, 05:54:39 PM »
Don Getz said again what I have said on other threads.  It is quite simple.  His list of early 20th century authors suffices to answer the question.  Only thing I can add is that I sat in author Henry Kaufmann's living room on many occasions and discussed these matters with him personally.  By 1960 the linguistic die had been cast, spawned by its use by collectors prior to mid-century.

 People still tamper with terminology, delimit and even create new schools. Certainly, the earliest lines of demarcation were crude, yet we now talk of "schools," as if some divine creator threw out a ball of clay which became our world, complete with these boundary lines carved into the east coast of North America. 

All man-made, and in the big scheme of things, quite recently. 

Offline Dr. Tim-Boone

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Re: Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"
« Reply #11 on: July 14, 2010, 09:16:00 PM »
Was at Dodgertown back in the day and overheard three umpires who were a little into their cups arguing about who was the best umpire.
No.1 said "I'm the best umpire cause I call em the way they are!"
No.2 said"I'm the best umpire cause I callem the way I see them!"
The older of the three took a thoughtful sip of his Manhattan and said "You guys don't even understand.....I'm the best umpire cause...they're nothing until I call 'em!!" :o :o ;D :D ;D

If the categories are useful to help us quickly understand what you are talking about, and for helping to identify unsigned guns to some degree....then they are useful........... beyond that...the meaning is in the guns, not in the words! :)
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Offline Robby

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Re: Evolution of Am. LR "Schools"
« Reply #12 on: July 14, 2010, 10:12:48 PM »
Very well put Dr.Tim! Thats why we give things, and people, names. Ever stand by a crowd of people and shout "Hey You"!
Robby
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