The Cherrytree Family




Pennsylvania Longrifle Gunsmithing "Schools"


If any state has just claim to the rifle it's Pennsylvania (in the stretch of land from Easton to York just south of the Blue Mountain - right here in our own backyard!); where the first important rifle-making centers were located , where more rifles were produced than any other state, and where more fine artistic decoration was done than in any other state.  The name "Pennsylvania rifle" is championed by some (particularly Pennsylvanians!) but it really is equally as misleading to use this term in referring to a rifle made in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, or New England as it is to call all rifles of this genre "Kentucky longrifles".  Maybe they would be best called the "American Longrifle" as a generic term.



Christian's Spring (c. 1760-1780)



The earliest American school of rifle making that we know of today developed in Christian's Spring, a small Moravian village near Nazareth, PA at the Minsi Trail, serving as a home for single men and a school for boys.  Andreas Albrecht, a trained gunsmith, had emigrated from Germany in 1750 to teach music and other things at nearby Nazareth Hall, and in 1762 he established a gun shop at Christian's Spring.  In 1766 he was married and left Christian's Spring to become the keeper of the Sun Inn (photo left) in Bethlehem.  In 1771 he moved to the Moravian settlement in Lititz and resumed his gunmaking career, thereby influencing the Lancaster School as well.  John Christian Oerter, who was born in 1747 and apprenticed under Albrecht since 1759, took over the position of master gunsmith at Christian's Spring when Albrecht left.  Many of the famous Northampton/Lehigh County gunsmiths apprenticed with Albrecht.  Jacob Dickert of the Lancaster School, himself a Moravian, seems to have also had associations with Albrecht.


Not generally considered one of the classic Pennsylvania "schools", but rather, the forerunner of the Northampton/Lehigh school, the guns from Christian's Spring are considered "transitional" from the very large caliber, heavy, shorter-barreled German "Jaeger" hunting rifles to the long, slim, modest caliber "classic" Pennsylvania rifles of the "Golden Age" (1776-1825).


(a close representation of a famous transitional rifle by Eric Kettenburg, gunsmith)


(another representation of a Christian's Spring rifle by Narragansett Armes)






Northampton (includes Lehigh) County

 (c. 1770-1810)

(also sometimes known as Allentown or Bethlehem)


Follow this link to Lehigh County, PA Boundary Maps showing the changes from 1751 to 1812.





This type of rifle has a long graceful appearance that so many people find attractive.


The buttstock top of comb has a slight Roman nose and the bottom line has a subtle double step (two curves).


The neck is frequently more broad than it is high.


This rifle can come with a sliding wood patchbox or a 2 piece brass with a dome lid not being out of place.  With early Northampton rifles, the 2 piece brass patchboxes were made from solid, poured brass.  Frequently the cover was strongly curved.  The upper and lower frame parts frequently used with other styles are often symbolized by Schnitzereien or inlaid wire work.


The "Arrowhead" sideplate is a common feature.


Most silver inlays have a Christian meaning and the raised or incise carving being in the Rococo or Folk art style of form.


Later, very complex engravings of playful motifs developed.  One unknown and mysterious feature is the carved , inlayed or engraved face that resembles as some say an "Indian head" or perhaps a "women".  This figure is known only on Lehigh Co. rifles and no where else.  The origin and meaning of this figure is still unsettled today.


Original builders were Herman & John Rupp (Macungie), Johannes Moll (Allentown), Peter Neihard (North Whitehall) and Jacob Kuntz, all of whom probably studied with Albrecht at Christian's Spring.


The Northampton / Lehigh flintlock rifle is to some the classic Pennsylvania rifle.






Bucks County / Quakertown (c. 1775-1800)




(reproduction representative of the style of A. Verner by Narragansett Armes)



Just south of Lehigh County, the Bucks Co. school appears to have evolved from that school.  (Early pieces are very similar.)


The lower surface of the shank is evenly curved from the departure to the shank cap and mostly more strong than the comb.


Although patchboxes of the Bucks school can be developed up to four parts, most are simple; only with rifles of this school do the covers open downward.  Although most patchboxes are plain, some are very beautifully engraved.


Well-known builders were Andrew Verner (Richland Twp.), George Weiker (Quakertown), and John Shuler (Milford Twp.).






Berks County / Reading (c. 1760-1790)



(reproduction of a John P. Beck rifle by Narragansett Armes)




A very bulbous and stocky rifle with a heavier barrel being the norm.


The buttstock has a Roman (or Eagle) nose comb profile, dropping sharply forward; the lower surface of the shank curves already with the departure downward and remains then straight-line; with the cheekpiece being rounded, it has a very soft feel.  


This type of rifle usually has a sliding wood or a very simple 2 or 4 piece brass patchbox.  The patchbox of the Berks County Rifle is composed of two to four parts, the cover, an upper and a lower edge part, and that the mounting plate.  It is comparatively straight-line and plain implemented, however very stable: only with Berks Rifles is the bolting device riveted once (the other schools mostly being double-riveted).


The sideplate has very heavy bevels adding to the strong feel.


Decoration is very minimal and a simple volute incise or floral relief carving is most attractive.


Original builders were Swiss-born Wolfgang Haga or Hachen (Reading), John Schreit (Reading, Cumru Twp.), Mauger, and John Phillip Beck (Lebanon).




Lebanon County / Lancaster (c. 1770-1800)



(reproduction of a Haines rifle by Narragansett Armes)




Settlers from the Rhine Valley in Germany moved into this region as early as 1711 and there are records of gunsmiths beginning there work as early as 1719.  There were numerous Indian towns just west along the Susquehanna River and the early development of this school was due to the Indian trade that flourished there.


There appears to have been strong ties to the Christian's Spring shop in the early years with the Moravian gun smiths.  Many similarities can be noted, especially in the early pieces.


Very straight buttstock lines are characteristic making this style very comfortable-to-shoot.


A sliding wood (early) or a fancier 2 or 4 piece patchbox with a "daisy head " (in the Golden Age pieces) was very common.


Raised carving in "C" scroll is best known on this style of rifle.


Some of the many known builders are Jacob Dickert (Lancaster), Isaac Haines (Lampeter Twp.), J. Ferree (Paradise), and John Newcomer (Hempfield Twp.).


The Lancaster rifle played a very important part in the American Revolution.  In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, many rifles were made in Lancaster for military use.







Northern Berks Co. / Womelsdorf (c. 1770-1820)



Classic beauty comes to mind when beholding a rifle built by Bonewitz, Reedy or Figthorn.


The 4 piece patchboxes are engraved in a very delicate manner.


Beautiful relief carving is almost always present with vines and floral designs.


Buttstock architecture has a slight curve on top and bottom with the cheekpiece being crisp and the wrist has a soft rounded feel.


A "Golden Age" hunting rifle that has warmth and grace.






York Co. (c. 1780-1820)



Although close in proximity, this school shows a more distinct English influence rather than German as in Lancaster Co.


Tapered rear ramrod pipe finial (standard on 18th Century English guns).


Original builders were George Shroyer (Hanover), J. Leher, and Peter Goodling (Shrewsbury Twp.).





The following photo galleries show many examples of the different Pennsylvania "Schools"


Photo Gallery of Reproductions by Edwin Parry, Gunsmith


Photo Gallery of Reproductions by Eric Kettenburg, Gunsmith



Recommended reading:







Notes on the "Lehigh County" School of Riflemaking

Being Primarily a Discourse Upon Area Gunmakers and their Work
(of the Early Federal Period)


Eric Kettenburg, Gunsmith

Most of the major texts concerning American "Kentucky" rifles have addressed somewhat cursorily the various schools of Pennsylvania riflemaking, and among the schools so described one will inevitably come across - alternately - the terms "Lehigh Valley" school, "Lehigh County" school, "Allentown/Bethlehem" school and "Northampton County" school.  All of these terms are used in a vaguely interchangeable manner and generally refer to rifles being made during the Federal Period, or 1780 through approximately 1820.  The majority of the rifles referenced, when referring to this school, are attributable to a relatively small handful of men:  Johannes (John) Moll Sr., John Moll II, Peter Neihart and brothers Herman and John Rupp.  Jacob Kuntz and John Rupp II also bear mention.  There are of course other gunmaking families within the region which of course factor quite prominently - the Young's at Easton, Stoffil Long, the Hess family in the northwest corner of the county, Henry Hunsicker etc. - however it is primarily the style of rifle constructed by the Rupp's, Peter Neihart and the Moll's which is often considered to be the "classic" representation of the school.  It is for this reason, I believe, that the school is often identified by varying and quite contrary names.

Johannes Moll lived and worked in Allentown (old Northampton Town) following the Revolution.  Likewise, Peter Neihart lived and worked in North Whitehall Township somewhat adjacent to Allentown and the Rupps worked in Macungie Township which is immediately South and West of Allentown heading towards Berks County.  It is the fact that these men were all working in a relatively small area in and around Allentown that has bestowed the title "Allentown" school upon their rifles and others, perhaps unsigned examples of their work or unsigned examples of unknown gunmakers' hands, like them.  The addition of "Bethlehem" to the regional references is somewhat inexplicable, however it seems to have tacked-on to the "Allentown/Bethlehem" title due to (1) Bethlehem's nearness to Allentown and (2) the importance of the Moravian gunstocking/locksmithing shop at Bethlehem throughout the late 1740s - 1760s and its importance to the gunmakers at Christian's Spring and surrounding area.

The use of the "Lehigh Valley" terminology is likewise a generic term which owes it's existence entirely to the presence of the Lehigh River bisecting a portion of old Northampton County, Allentown sitting squarely on the banks of the Lehigh River and thus linking the work of these men with the coincidental existence of the River.  It is a term which often encompasses a broader range of arms than the Moll/Rupp/Neihart triangle and often also is used in a somewhat broader chronological sense in that as a descriptive title is often applied to arms dating as early as the 1760s and as late as the percussion era.

Applying the title "Lehigh County school" to these rifles is a fairly accurate means of description, as Lehigh County was formed from a portion of Northampton County in 1812 and coincidentally happens to perfectly encompass the Molls, the Rupps and Neihart.  However, it has been often pointed out that by the time Lehigh County was formed in 1812, the high-point of design and construction of these rifles had already passed:  the majority of the extant pieces are attributed to the period 1780 through 1810.  For example, an extremely fine signed Neihart rifle is dated 1783, two spectacular rifles by Herman Rupp are dated 1793 and 1809 and two of the finest pieces of the region (in my opinion) by Johannes Moll must have been constructed prior to his death in 1794.  So, it would appear that the best work of this small area was being undertaken while Lehigh County was still part of old Northampton County.  This argument seems a bit useless, however, as frequently we refer to J.P. Beck's work as being reflective of Lebanon County or Peter Berry being reflective of Dauphin County yet both these men were living and working in areas which at the time were part of Lancaster County and were only split from that county at later dates.

Jacob Kuntz and John Rupp II (nephew of John Rupp the elder) were extremely talented gunmakers who worked in or near Allentown (Kuntz moving to Philadelphia in 1810/11 but carrying on Allentown-type work for at least another 10 years) and, when considered in relation to the Moll/Rupp/Neihart triangle, are often looked upon as the "next generation."  Their work can be viewed in a dual manner, being a simplified form of the earlier style in one sense - relief carving was wholly abandoned and the stocking lost width - while waxing more complex in another sense, the inlay and engraving work far surpassing anything done by the elder generation of builders as well as the development of high-polish, color varnishes.  Their rifles are often referred to as being Allentown school or Lehigh County school and very rightfully so.

So, some focus now on the Moll/Rupp/Neihart triangle.  These men created a very distinctive type of rifle which, as mentioned previously, is usually the first thing that springs to mind when the Lehigh County school is considered.  There are a fairly good number surviving antique rifles to use as a basis for study, a good number being signed and about an equal number unsigned but easily attributable.  There is precious little information available detailing each of these men's lives although due to tax records, probate lists and family genealogical research they can be fairly accurately pinned to certain locations during the period in question.  Johannes (John) Moll Sr. was apparently an immigrant but likely traversed the Atlantic while very young.  Peter Neihart and the Rupp brothers were born in Northampton County and spent the majority (if not the entirety) of their lives there.  Moll was probably the oldest of the men, Neihart being slightly younger and the Rupp’s younger still (not being active as gunmakers until after the Revolution).  Both Moll and Neihart must have been building rifles at least as early as the mid 1760s, however no signed early work has surfaced and as their later Federal Period work is obviously quite different in regards to anything they might have done prior to the Revolution, attempted attributions are nothing more than guesswork pure and simple.  There are no records extant indicating with whom any of these men may have trained as gunmakers.

Complicating matters further, all of these men utilized at various times not only very similar stocking and carving styles but also practically identical gun furnishings.  This is especially true when comparing the work of Herman Rupp and John Moll; so much so, in fact, that the notion of Herman Rupp training under Moll at Allentown becomes not merely a possibility but rather a somewhat likely occurrence.  Herman Rupp's two signed and dated rifles of 1793 and 1809 are directly descendant of two signed Moll rifles (in private collections) which evidence slightly earlier features and slightly larger stocks but otherwise near-identical similarities.  Moll dying in 1794 puts the existence of the Moll rifles first without much remaining doubt.  Not only is the stocking extremely similar but the carving and engraving styles are strikingly similar and the furnishings are practically identical.  Thrown into this mix are surviving pieces of Peter Neihart, the earlier of which also carry practically identical furnishings - identical to the point of almost being interchangeable in some instances!  Likewise, surviving rifles signed "J. Rupp" and attributed to John Rupp (the elder) display very similar stocking, carving and in a few instances - again - furniture matching that extant upon all of the above as well as John Moll II.  Many questions remain and will likely go without answer:  was Johannes Moll the master who subsequently taught the younger men, or were all taught/influenced by another as-yet-unidentified master who exerted dominating influence within the region?  Where were all the identical gun furnishings being cast:  were they being purchased from a common source, perhaps founders in Allentown or Bethlehem?  How does the very unique and conservative style which developed in the Lehigh County region tie into the earlier work done by the Moravians at Bethlehem and Christian's Spring?  These rifles stand completely alone amongst all of the other assorted riflemaking centers in Pennsylvania:  they share essentially no common characteristics with any other school and seem to have developed in a very insular and sheltered manner.  For this reason alone, they deserve very particular examination by serious students of the American longrifle and can be considered truly original and uniquely American art forms.   

A bit of background on the "main players" of the Lehigh County school being previously examined, the discussion can now turn to some of the defining characteristics of the rifles in question.  It is necessary to view these characteristics in a generalized sense as - of course - not every extant antique will display all such features.  However, an understanding and recognition of regional style and decoration will serve one well in developing not only a great respect for the original masters but also a clear understanding of exactly what is involved in recreating these unique and complex rifles.

Immediately noticeable upon viewing Lehigh County rifles is the conservative adaptation of the old German step-wrist.  This is an extension of the cultural bias prevalent in the region and can be seen as directly descendant of the much earlier, massive rifles being built at Bethlehem/Christian's Spring.  As trends changed after the Revolution and stock design evolved into a form permissive of curvature, area gunmakers superposed the training in German style which they had long perpetuated atop a slimmer, more flowing philosophy.  The resulting architecture can best be described as both beautiful and odd simultaneously.  The "classic" form of the Federal period involves a combination of the "Roman nose," or convex comb carrying a very smooth arc, with a concave toe line the forward arc of which is typically terminated at the junction of the stock and rear trigger guard extension.  At this point, the stock curves upwards into the wrist much in the same manner as the earlier German step-wrist rifles with one very important and notable difference:  the upward curve actually dishes into the wrist to a point higher than the horizontal line of the forearm.  This manner of stocking is what makes possible another distinctive and extremely crucial Lehigh County characteristic, that being the "egg-shaped" or wider-than-tall wrist.  It is not out-of-place to see these arms with wrists as wide as 1 1/2" (earlier Molls, Neihart) but only 1 1/4" in height.  The forward terminus of the wrist arc, where it meets the forearm line, is usually at the front of the trigger plate/guard bow (under the triggerguard bow) or at the front of the trigger guard extension (typically right below the nose of the lock panels).  The earliest Moll pieces are particularly dramatic in this respect.

This upward curvature under the portion of the stock into which the lock is inlet then requires that very often the lock be oriented with an upward angle (towards the tail) and frequently above-center, the top of the bolster being above the centerline of the barrel.  In conjunction with this lock orientation is the commonly-seen "low forearm," or forearm cut below the centerline of the barrel:  the top edges of the forearm are aligned approximately 1 /3 of the way up the side flat of the barrel and not along the centerline or halfway-point which is appropriate to other riflemaking schools.  This philosophy of a low forearm is likewise carried into the manner by which the ramrod hole is drilled:  it is imperative that the ramrod hole be drilled in such as way as to almost touch the barrel at the breech.  This ensures that an absolute minimum of wood is present, vertically, within the forearm.  This "vertically narrow" concept is subsequently applied to the forward portion of the forearm as the sidewalls of the ramrod groove are taken to the 1/3 point.  The entire point of these practices would seem to be, in fact, an exercise in refining as much excess wood from the stock (in vertical profile as possible.  Why riflemaking in the Lehigh County region developed along these lines is unknown, however I would suggest that it may have been as a result of the conservative nature of the region's gunsmiths clashing with new trends in arms development which demanded a smaller, lighter piece in comparison to the older German rifles of stout architecture.  This theory would explain why efforts were made to reduce the size of the rifle in profile while retaining a relatively broad width.

Brass gun mounts found upon these arms are particularly distinctive in that (1) the buttplate carries a somewhat short upper extension which is usually let into the comb rather than spanning it completely, (2) a type of two-piece cast box was developed which is almost unknown outside of the region, carrying a raised central portion reminiscent of wooden boxes and (3) there is a strong preference for sideplates which display an "arrowhead" shape to the rear portion of the plate, often also incorporating a bit of decorative filework.  Furthermore, nosecaps upon these rifles are commonly formed of thin sheet brass which is either wrapped around the exterior of the stock and riveted in place or wrapped completely around the exterior of the stock and under the barrel as well.  In either case, the nosecaps are open-ended and the end-grain is visible.  Particularly interesting are the extreme similarities found in cast components upon rifles by different makers (Moll, Neihart, H. Rupp and J. Rupp) which are so nearly identical as to probably have been cast from the same patterns.  This helps to reinforce the notion that these men somehow shared a connection other than proximity alone:  a shared training is highly probable (or at the least one may have trained or aided the others) and a shared source of gun mounts is also a very strong possibility.



Christian's Spring

The Settlement at Christian’s Spring comes next in order of time, to that of Gnadenthal, which it adjoins on the Southwest, being separated from its buildings by the ridge previously mentioned. It was begun in 1747. Here the waters of the Monocacy were made to turn the overshot wheel of a grist and saw mill, and, after the erection of dwellings and stables, of a smith shop and a brewery, the settlement was complete. Men marveled much at the quaintness of its houses, quartered and brick-nogged, hip-roofed and tiled; they marveled much, too, at the quaintness of the brotherhood, which for almost half a century divided its time between the management of the mills and the raising of horses and cattle. It was named Albrecht’s Spring at first, subsequently, however, Christian’s Spring, in remembrance of Christian Renatus, a son of Count Zinzendorf.

From the same report mentioned in connection with Gnadenthal I find the following details concerning the buildings which composed this grange:

1- A House of 47 feet long by 30 feet in Breadth, two Stories high, with 5 Rooms, 1
       Hall, 1 Cellar and 1 Fore-house…..Value £200
2- A new Brick-house, 36 feet long by 28 feet, three Stories high, with 8 Rooms, 1
       Kitchen and a Bake-house………Value £200
3- A Smith’s Shop, 40 by 21 feet…..Value £30
4- A Saw-mill and Miller’s house….Value £150
5- A Coal-shop and Stable….. Value £5
6- A walled Brew-house with a vaulted cellar and Grainary, 50 by 30 feet…..Value
7- A Cow-house of quartering and Brick-nogged, 70X30 feet…..Value £90
8- A Barn, 75 feet long, 36 feet broad, 16 feet high…..Value £75

A peculiarity about Christian’s Spring was the fact that during the interval between December, of 1749, and April, 1796, this farm was the seat of an Economy of unmarried men, known in Moravian parlance as “The Single Brethren’s Economy at Christian’s Spring.” Therefore during the Indian depredations about nine-tenths of the inhabitants of the place were men, unburdened by the care and protection of wives or little ones. This at once placed them in a position entirely different from that of the other settlements. They not only needed no especial protection for themselves, but were always in a position to go to the assistance of others, which they cheerfully did. I can find no record of the erection of a stockade at Christian’s Spring. So many of its principal buildings being either of stone or brick, it became only necessary to set a watch and provide temporary shutters for the upper windows of the main buildings to insure against any possibility of capture, surprise or destruction by fire.

Here, too, the ever hospitable doors of the Brethren were thrown open to accommodate the refugees of January, 1756, of whom 48 were sheltered and cared for within them, as we have already seen.

At the outbreak of hostilities Brother Nathaniel Seidel, of Bethlehem (afterwards a Bishop), was in command of the “Upper Places.” He made his headquarters at Christian’s Spring. It is related of him, on one occasion, that, as he was starting for Bethlehem on foot and had gone probably a mile from the settlement, he detected three Indians in hiding who were trying to capture him. Being fleet of foot, he managed to escape by dodging between the trees, and finally regained the Spring.

It was at this place also that Zeisberger, the renowned Indian missionary, finished the compilation of his well known Indian Dictionary—from the letter W to the end.

The history of Christian’s Spring during the Indian War may have been comparatively uneventful, but this, in itself, only adds to its luster. Owing to the peculiar character of its inhabitants, it became a species of “Flying Camp,” or rather a body of “Emergency Men.” Was aid needed at Friedensthal or Nazareth, it was immediately afforded by a detachment from the Spring. Did “The Rose” send an appeal for help, it was the men of Christian’s Brunn who answered it. So, whenever needed and wherever needed, they were always ready to aid. Let us accord them the praise they well deserve for their unselfish action.



        Hit Counter