Author Topic: Hess, Thomas 131006-1  (Read 6311 times)

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Hess, Thomas 131006-1
« on: November 07, 2013, 04:08:54 PM »
This swivel breech rifle is engraved “Thomas Hefs” on the rifled barrel and “T. Hess/Warrented” stamped on the lockplate.  There is also a Masonic compass and square engraved on the lockplate.  The caliber of the rifled barrel as well as the smoothbore barrel is .50.  The two sets of sights are of brass.  The octagonal barrels are 34-1/2” in length and the overall length of this rifle is 50”.

The fittings and patchbox are brass and there are some additional inlays at the sides and top of the wrist that are of German silver.  The maple stock appears to have its original finish.  The original ramrod has a horn tip and iron worm at the base.  The barrels are released to swivel by depressing the checkered lever opposite the lockplate.

Several articles referencing the Hess family of gunmakers do not reference a Thomas who would have been born early enough to make this rifle.  Most Hess rifles seem to be on the plain side with two piece patchboxes as usual.  This rifle may have been made by a Hess relative who didn’t make many more ornate examples and has not been found so far by researchers of the family.  I have seen a patchbox identical to this one pictured in an article about the Hess family by Tim Lubenesky but have been unable to find more about that rifle or see any other pictures of it so I don’t know if that one is signed or not.  I am attempting to see if the Masons in Pennsylvania have any records as to when he was a Mason and what county he may have resided in.
The overall condition is very fine – the frizzens appear have been struck once or twice and the rifling at the muzzle is very sharp.


A great example of the utilitarian features of a swivel breech. One barrel rifled for a patched ball the other smooth for either the same or a variety of shot loads including buck shot.

If there isn't already a place in the museum for the 'swivel breech' this might be an excellent example to start with as it has survived well.

It is unique to see the gunsmith sign his name Hefs. The use of the 'f' being interchangeable with an 's' is an earlier form of English writing than the rifle itself. Possibly the maker was an older person use to writing in the earlier style.

In addition, the use of masonic symbols doesn't necessarily mean the maker was a Mason. They could actually be placed on the gun at the request of the buyer.

It is my understanding the early records of the Masons can be located in Philadelphia. Certainly worth pursuing. 

The majority of Hess rifles that I have seen have been pretty plain, but very well made guns. Almost all have had the Lehigh style, two piece patch box, with lid and finial. Even engraving has been modest and minimal, so this one comes as a bit of surprise, and a welcome one at that. This is a very pretty rifle made at a time most likely when utilitarian concerns had superseded ornamentation. Perhaps also affected by the rise of multi-shot guns, (Patterson Colt, 1836) and breech loaders which sidelined muzzle loaders within a few years .
This is a fine swivel breech that definitely belongs in the Virtual Library for its uniqueness, condition and rarity. This is just a beautifully made gun that has had the best of care down through the years and is a piece that has been well executed in its construction. Send it on without delay. Many will be waiting to see it.
He has brought up a timely subject; that is, establishing a separate category for multi barrel KY Rifles to include swivel breech guns, and side by side double guns.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2020, 03:33:35 AM by Dennis Glazener »
In Memory of Lt. Catherine Hauptman Miller 6/1/21 - 10/1/00 & Capt. Raymond A. Miller 12/26/13 - 5/15/03...  They served proudly.