CHAPTER I

 

AN AMERICAN INVENTION

 

          This is the first in a series of chapters that are intended to give the neophyte student of the “Art of the American ( Kentucky) Longrifle” a basic understanding of the beginning and evolution of the AMERICAN LONGRIFLE and its artistic elements, both sophisticated and elementary.

 

There are three main differences between rifles developed in America and those made on the Continent and in Great Britain.  One is the choice of wood used for stocking.   The Europeans used several types of hardwoods including maple, walnut, cherry, and an occasional burl amongst others.  The Americans used primarily tiger striped or “curly” maple.  The second is the length of the barrel.  European rifles were made with relatively short barrels, commonly less than thirty inches and the Americans used barrels much longer.  Most were forty two to forty four inches long but some reached fifty inches.

 

        While the longer barrel and the tiger striped maple wood created distinctly different and strikingly handsome rifle, the third and most outstanding difference was the treatment of the “Patchbox”.  This consists of a small compartment chiseled out of the buttstock used to carry small accoutrements necessary to shoot the rifle.  This recess has to be covered in one form or another to keep the contents from falling out.  For centuries, wherever firearms were made, these covers were simple wooden “sliding” lids that were not attached to the rifle and could easily be lost when used.

 

        The first immigrant gunsmiths to America quite naturally used this same containment system but sometime shortly prior to or even during the Revolutionary War someone had the idea to use a hinged lid with one half of the hinge permanently attached to the stock for its obvious convenience.  While blacksmiths did the bulk of the ironwork in the colonies, it’s hard to imagine that the gunsmiths didn’t have a hand in the making and repairing of metal objects as well, especially the smaller items.  It’s easy to imagine a riflesmith making or repairing a door hinge and being struck with an idea. A hinge, of course, would have to be made of metal and since brass was the chosen material for most other gun mounts, it became the material of choice.

 

        At their inception hinged lids were very simple, unadorned affairs without embellishment or decoration.  The finials (the part of the cover attached to the stock) of known examples extant have some very rudimentary design to them.  The concept caught on very quickly and spread rapidly because the majority of surviving examples of early rifles produced throughout all of the colonies (wherever rifles were made) are equipped with the new device, a metal patchbox. 

 

       

        It soon became evident to the gunsmiths that this two piece brass lid was a perfect pallet for further enhancement and decoration to be limited only by their abilities and imagination.  They began to engrave them, they added form to the finial, they added side plates and eventually began to incorporate piercings to give further beauty to the overall design.  How so many of them accomplished all of this in the frontier settlements with little or no access to the arts, far removed from the cultural centers of Philadelphia and New York remains a mystery.     

 

        From a simple, two piece hinged lid the brass patchbox cover developed into a beautiful work of art and became the focal point of the American Longrifle, or Kentucky Rifle as it is commonly called today making it one of the most recognizable firearms in the world. The introduction of the cartridge and changing fashions spelled doom for the Patchbox and its Lid so after a lifespan of a mere sixty years or so it was all but forgotten.   

 

  Chapter 2