Author Topic: The mysterious Lebanon School  (Read 7522 times)

jwh1947

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The mysterious Lebanon School
« on: August 07, 2010, 06:44:32 PM »
As far back as 1960, men like Kauffman and Kindig had commented about the Lebanon school of gunsmithing.  Read closely what they wrote in Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in Its Golden Age:  "Another school of gunsmithing flourished around the town of Lebanon in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania.  The men of this school--N. Beyer, J. P. Beck, and one of the Christian Becks--produced some of the finest rifles of the early period."

Keep in mind that there was no Lebanon county prior to 1813, which is relatively late for county identity in these parts.  In short, it was all Lancaster County around here (Harrisburg/Hershey/Lebanon) until 1785 when Dauphin County was incorporated.  Then came Lebanon County in 1813, about 90% of the land being taken from Lancaster County and a thin sliver taken from Dauphin County.  So a man like Beyer in South Annville Twp.  paid taxes to more than one county during his working period.  It gets confusing, and all counties have a claim to this particular builder.  Kindig was focusing especially upon the J.P. Beck and N. Beyer products and on the assumed and suggested master/apprentice relationship of the two.

I state my subjective opinion on this apparent master/apprentice relationship.  Based on personal observation of many of the best examples, my eyes and records strongly suggest, even in the absence of documented evidence, that it is reasonable to conclude that some direct relationship existed.  This assumption is based on a preponderance of empirical observation.  The blatant physical characteristics of the hands of Beck and Beyer are so close, both in execution and detail, that my guess is that most juries of informed associates would agree.

Beyond that, as Scott Shea has appropriately mentioned recently, the "Lebanon school" is elusive and individualistic, at best loosely bound by region maybe more than by strict stylistic similarities.  

That being said, here are some things that I look for when I inspect a Beyer.  In addition to a distinctly "Dutchy" carving and engraving style that is easily identified after seeing a few good examples, I expect to find a closed-end muzzle cap, riveted three times in somewhat of a triangular fashion.  I want to see short thimbles, compared to Lancaster and Berks norms.  I would expect to see beavertails to the rear of the lock area, with three chip-carved lines inside each beavertail.  The patchbox lids that I have seen have a fastener always off-center...on the upper 1/2 of the lid.  That corresponds to the spring release commonly found to the rear of the lid on the plate.

Beyer was distinct.  I like him because he built a classic, full-sized, early-style rifle later into the Golden Age.  He appears to have been prolific and it also seems that, throughout his entire career, he continued to build rifles in the same consistently crisp manner.  Note:  I either have owned or seen both moderate Roman nose Beyers and others that are as straight as a downtown Lancaster, so that is not my primary hallmark of identification on these guns.  

Now, please add to "the art and mystery" of the Lebanon region or comment on the characteristics of your favorite Lebanon/Dauphin region builder.  
« Last Edit: August 07, 2010, 06:47:43 PM by jwh1947 »

Offline Dr. Tim-Boone

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Re: The mysterious Lebanon School
« Reply #1 on: August 07, 2010, 10:30:05 PM »
Wayne, What factors lead you to not include Peter Berry of Annville, dauphin County....? Or Martin or John Shell??
« Last Edit: August 07, 2010, 10:33:02 PM by DrTimBoone »
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jwh1947

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Re: The mysterious Lebanon School
« Reply #2 on: August 08, 2010, 03:15:13 AM »
Certainly Berry is a key figure in the discussion.  Martin Shell actually was in Lancaster County section which changed to Dauphin County (Shellsville, Hanover Twp., Lancaster/Dauphin Co. circa 1770-1790,) as per Committee of Safety and tax records.  His sons also worked in Dauphin County. 

I have had the privilege of owning some of the finest John Shells, both low numbers and high ones (200's).  Also once owned the only Shell and Early I ever saw.  It was long, sleek, percussion made as such, no box, but a stunning tiger maple stock.  About .40 cal when I sold it; the guy who bought it rerifled it to .45 and apparently still shoots the thing.   Incidentally, I would be a sucker for a pristine Martin Shell, providing it doesn't cost more than a new BMW and is totally righteous.

Actually, if you look at a map, you will notice that if you head toward Lancaster from Lebanon you will soon clearly be in the realm of strong Lancaster influence, this being the dominant and earlier school.  It is to the north and west of here that the study becomes somewhat a study of individual shops rather than close-knit school production.  You would be in the boundary area around the present Dauphin/ Lebanon Co. border.  A builder named Poorman should also be considered as gunsmith of this area.  Reedy is hard to categorize later in life, Gratz still being in the hinterland of upper Dauphin County, but I claim him before they stretch Allemengele to encompass him, too.  No joke, I could walk to Schuylkill Co. from Gratz, just to hit a good fishing hole. 


Offline Bill-52

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Re: The mysterious Lebanon School
« Reply #3 on: August 08, 2010, 04:30:57 AM »
Wayne, 

I'm curious about the possible links and influences between current Lebanon County and lower Dauphin County.  I would assume there was a fair amount of trade and travel between and through the two.  And being relatively small areas, the distances are not that great.  Wouldn't contemporaneous gunsmiths within the two area be aware of the others work?  Or am I giving too much weight to travel and communication between the two areas?

Bill


Offline smshea

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Re: The mysterious Lebanon School
« Reply #4 on: August 08, 2010, 05:34:04 AM »
I have a natural tendency to over simplify things and may be doing so now but If one draws a line from womelsdorf to the Hershey (Modern day Dauphin Co line) its just shy of forty miles and this area includes all of these makers. I'm sure they could have seen each others work. The Womelsdorf guns have a fair amount in common. Some of Beck and Beyer's work have similarity's and those guns in my opinion have allot in common with the traditional Lancaster school, also I think there is pretty conclusive evidence that they had a working relationship. Some of Beyer's work (the roman nose guns )appear to have similar profiles to Berry guns, although in hand I think they have much less in common. Berry's guns seem in my view to have more in common with what we would think of as the more classic Dauphin Co. style.
So where is the School?
 I would argue that it is exactly what it is... a relatively small area where three countys(Maybe Schools) come together. It would be very hard to list a group of characteristics that would make a "Lebanon Gun".You quickly find yourself describing one of these makers and excluding the others with the possible exceptions of the Beck/Beyer connection. I live here, and even in terms of Contemporary work when someone asks for a"Lebanon County gun....I have to ask what exactly they are after. Even in the somewhat debated Allemangle school. I could build a somewhat generic gun based on Stophel long, J. Gerog or the Hess family.....That's almost impossible in Lebanon or the area in question. Again, Maybe this is too simple....but I don't think so. I'd love to be wrong but I think the makers from Meterstown to west Annville have to be assessed individually.   

jwh1947

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Re: The mysterious Lebanon School
« Reply #5 on: August 08, 2010, 06:05:27 AM »
That pretty much sums it up.  For out-of-towners with a map of PA..  If I stand at the intersection connecting Palmyra with "Hershey" I would have one foot in Lebanon County and one in Dauphin County.  If I head toward the mountain range for 15 minutes by car I am near Shellsville where the Shells started out.  If I head for 10 minutes toward Lebanon, I am in South Annville Twp. where Beyer worked.  Scotty is on one extreme end of this region, while I am on the other.  If we considered only gunsmiths that worked between our present shops, we'd have a lengthy list.   We would need to  also consider Roop, the Middletown gunsmiths, Halifax builders like Peter Bellis, Baum of Derry Twp., and Hummelstown, home of the Revolutionary gun factory, (c1778, Colonial Records. just on the Harrisburg side of Hershey. ( Incidentally, there is no real incorporated municipality of Hershey.  The only thing that puts it on the map is a U. S. Post Office.  The area is incorporated as Derry Township, Dauphin County.)

Offline smshea

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Re: The mysterious Lebanon School
« Reply #6 on: August 08, 2010, 07:09:48 PM »
Let me say this as well... when I get on one of my "Lebanon School' rants, it may seem that I am somehow discounting the area gun makers by insinuating that their area is not deserving of a "School" .....Not at all! I actually think it to be one of the most interesting places of study where several high profile(by today's standards)  makers  were doing their own thing while certainly being close enough to influence each other. I think generalizing their work in anyway does them a disservice. All of their work is "Stand alone work" in my opinion. The Wommelsdorf guns being some of the best work of Berks Co. Beck's work  being some of the finest work done anywhere, Beyer's work being influenced by Beck but quickly identifiable as his own and no one else's. If you categorize Berry in Dauphin Co. I would say that his work stands out as some of the best ever done there. All working in fairly close proximity but at the fringes of other Schools. All of them being among the most easily distinguishable guns out there , but very different.

Offline Nate McKenzie

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Re: The mysterious Lebanon School
« Reply #7 on: August 09, 2010, 06:20:49 AM »
Back to Beck-Beyer connection. If you get to Danville, Pa. stop at the Montour County Historical Society museum. They have a beautiful Beck smoothbored rifle donated by the Beyer family descendants. Boy, if this one could only talk.

Offline smshea

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Re: The mysterious Lebanon School
« Reply #8 on: August 09, 2010, 07:18:58 AM »
Someone else recently mentioned this gun to me, I do get through Danville a few times a year and will be checking it out ASAP. There are quite a few Becks and especially Beyers floating around these parts in private hands in what I call "underground Collections". Allot of these guns never left the area.

Offline rich pierce

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Re: The mysterious Lebanon School
« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2010, 09:44:52 PM »
Upon request from readers, I have split this topic and moved the remaining posts about the Amish to the moderators area until we decide whether to put it over the back fence or delete it.  Please stay on topic of the Lebanon school here.
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Offline Bill-52

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Re: The mysterious Lebanon School
« Reply #10 on: August 13, 2010, 05:46:31 PM »
Getting back to Wayne's original posts, I would have to agree with his mentioning of Martin Shell.  He would certainly be one of my favorite Lebanon/Dauphin region builders.  I've only seen pictures of his rifles but to my inexperienced eye his relief carving is magnificent and his patchbox engraving appears simple but elegant.

Does anybody know where I can actually view any Martin Shell originals?

Bill

Offline Majorjoel

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Re: The mysterious Lebanon School
« Reply #11 on: August 13, 2010, 07:09:53 PM »
Bill, the best chance to get to see a Martin Shell rifle would be at the CLA/KRA show coming up in Lexington KY next week. Hope you can make it!  Joel
Joel Hall

Offline Bill-52

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Re: The mysterious Lebanon School
« Reply #12 on: August 14, 2010, 01:35:00 AM »
Joel,  regrettably, I cannot.  It would have been great to meet you and others.  I'll have to plan better next year.

Anybody know of any museums in the Northeast with a Martin Shell?

Bill