Author Topic: In search of Nicholas Beyer information  (Read 6354 times)

jwh1947

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In search of Nicholas Beyer information
« on: October 30, 2009, 10:37:04 PM »
One of the more prolific master period gunsmiths was undoubtedly Nicholas Beyer.  Yet, not much is definite about this builder's life.  Conjecture, yes, but hard facts are scarce.  I wrote the following passage in the 1990 book The Pennsylvania Rifle: A Lancaster Legend. Since the book is long out-of-print and rather difficult to obtain, I include the language in its entirety.

     The work of Nicholas Beyer (1780-1850) is considered to be one of the finer statements of artistic rifle building in the late Golden Age.  A prolific maker of fine hunting rifles and fowlers, Beyer was almost certainly a late apprentice of J. P. Beck.  He worked in the Lebanon region during the period when the county borders were in a state of transition.  Beyer was born in Lancaster County and was taxed in Dauphin and later in Lebanon County, all without moving from his home near Annville. [present South Annville Twp.] He was probably active in the trade in the last years of the 18th century and he continued to work there until about 1835, establishing himself as one of the best builders of the Lebanon school.
     Beyer's relief carving is superior in both creativity and execution, and it usually covers a large area of the cheek side of the stock.  His motifs vary from provincial adaptations of the C-scroll to unique patterns reflecting considerable "Pennsylvania Dutch" influence.  Beyer used an array of patchbox finials, several featuring bird patterns.  Regardless of the pattern, his work is always well done.  Although Beyer was not one of the fanciest engravers, his metalwork is always tasteful.  While the "Pennsylvania Dutch" region was the proclaimed birthplace of the longrifle, Pennsylvania German motifs are not frequently seen on rifles built there.  Nicholas Beyer was one of the few builders to employ local themes; regional heart, tulip, bird, and other folk art patterns can be found on some of his rifles.  The federal census of 1850 lists a Nicholas Boyer, age 70, gunsmith, among those dwelling at the almshouse in South Annville Township.  As no death or burial records have been found for Beyer, it is probable that the old master was buried in the pauper's commons.

Since then, I have found no additional reliable material on Beyer.  Does anyone have any documented material that would flesh out the story? 

Incidentally, just for general information on folk-art motifs, I have a theory about why they may be so uncommon.  I am Pennsylvania Dutch on both sides and can tell you from personal experience that, just like most other ethnic groups, there was a strong desire in most of them to become assimilated to the mainstream as soon as possible.  They kept their customs and were a proud group, but wished to lay aside the "Dumb Dutch" label and fit in with the flow.  Hence, Pennsylvania Dutch folk art was, by my parents and grandparents alike, seen as pedestrian.  The Rococo was, in itself, an attempt to show an urbane, sophisticated bent, as it was the imported art of European culture.  My guess is simply that a sophisticated presentation suggested class and status to the original owner, as opposed to the common, local folk themes.

Please add anything that would be of value.  JWH

Offline louieparker

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Re: In search of Nicholas Beyer information
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2009, 11:24:19 PM »
You mention pauper's commons . That fits what I recall reading somewhere probably back in the seventies, that Beyer died in the poor house . This may be in Kindigs book . Does anyone know where this is documented ? Anyway I have thought it was fact . Louie parker

jwh1947

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Re: In search of Nicholas Beyer information
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2009, 11:33:23 PM »
If I am not mistaken Dr. Shumway mentions the poor house in an annotation to Kindig's book, and, when researching my book, I found the Boyer listing in the Dyke collection which was, at least then, housed in the Lancaster Co. Historical Society on Marietta Pike, Lancaster, PA.  JWH
« Last Edit: October 31, 2009, 12:22:17 AM by jwh1947 »

Offline Hurricane ( of Virginia)

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Re: In search of Nicholas Beyer information
« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2009, 01:36:01 AM »
Appreciation:

Many thanks to JWH1947 as he continues to add "fact" to the Library's' effort to build the ALR into the most reliable and extensive source of information on the Kentucky Rifle available to all who seek it. I hope others will join his laudable efforts either by starting forum discussions or adding to them. I will attempt to link them into the "Library" section of the "Museum" so that the information will be easily available to all students and researchers.
Hurricane

Offline Karl Kunkel

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Re: In search of Nicholas Beyer information
« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2009, 06:12:39 AM »
An excellant idea.  Waynes "articles" are most interesting and informative reading.  Placing them in the Library would make them easier to locate and retrieve, rather than having to do a search for them.
Kunk

Offline Fullstock longrifle

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Re: In search of Nicholas Beyer information
« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2011, 05:16:35 AM »
While doing research on Nicholas Beyer, I came across this post from 2009.  Because it's nearly 3 years old, I wondered if anyone out there has any new information to add to the topic.  Nicholas Beyer was probably the most prolific gunsmith from the golden age period, there must be more information about him out there somewhere.

FK
« Last Edit: August 29, 2011, 03:07:16 PM by Fullstock longrifle »

Offline Majorjoel

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Re: In search of Nicholas Beyer information
« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2011, 07:04:58 PM »
Hi Frank, the known facts about N. Beyer that I have gleaned from various writtings make him quite the interesting fellow. It would make for a great movie, especially if more details could be pieced together. A riches to rags story. Hollywood could sure use some fresh material these days to keep my patronage up. Speaking of " looking for Nicholas Beyer",  I wonder where the heck is "Doc Heck"?? ???
Joel Hall

Offline Fullstock longrifle

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Re: In search of Nicholas Beyer information
« Reply #7 on: August 29, 2011, 07:53:49 PM »
I agree Joel, he was an interesting character and sure made some great guns.  Because he worked for such a long period of time, his guns run the gamut from super to just so so.  His earliest guns look like his mentor, J.P. Becks work, and his late stuff was very folksy.  I once saw a signed Nicholas Beyer that was very primitive and almost looked like a crude copy of Beyers work.  After spending some time studying it, I came to the conclusion that it was one of his last guns, made when he was an old man.  He was a very interesting maker.

My buddy Wayne is alive and well, he just doesn't post here anymore, actually Wayne is like Beyer in that he's a character as well.   ;)

FK
« Last Edit: August 29, 2011, 07:56:20 PM by Fullstock longrifle »