- Robert E. Petersen Collection
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- Innovation, Oddities and Competition
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J. Cooper Left handed Pennsylvania Kentucky Flintlock Rifle
Left-handed firearms were rarely built as most guns were designed for use by righthanders. This gun features a horsehead patchbox. The length of pull is unusually long in this piece, and is perhaps as long as 16 inches.
Historians are in general agreement that Lancaster cradled the
Pennsylvania gunmaking industry, and that in Lancaster County the
long rifle first evolved from its rather clumsy European progenitor
to the graceful and unique American Kentucky. While this evolution
at first took rather slow, logical steps, soon the European Yaeger
rifle and the Kentucky had little in common. In Europe, rifles were
seldom used in warfare. As in America, they were primarily the gun
of the hunter - variously known as the Yaeger, Yager, Jager, or
Jaeger. Short-barrel rifles were preferred for the forest hunting
of central Europe, where the riffeln originated. The Swiss needed
somewhat longer barrel guns for hunting the chamois and other
Alpine game, but their rifles differed little from the
thick-stocked, heavy guns of their neighbors.
Travel distances in Europe were not especially great; supplies were easily obtained; and hunters were generally wealthy. The situation was quite different in the New World. American riflemen, who were generally endowed with hope and courage rather than material wealth, often traveled long distances through locales lacking in supplies. The great need for a more accurate, more economical rifle prompted Pennsylvania gunmakers work long hours at their benches, trying new principles and shaping available materials to new forms.
In the process, the traditional Yaeger rifle went through transformations: The broad butt-stock was made thinner with more efficient contour; the butt progressed from straight musket-like form to a modified crescent. Easily damaged or lost wood patch-box covers were replaced by lids of hinged brass or silver. Trigger guards were reduced in size, given a rather straight under-line, and made sturdier and simpler. Forestocks were lengthened and slenderized, brass fore-ends replacing bone or horn. Native maple replaced European walnut, and a decorative tiger-stripe of dark red or brown was applied where no natural curl or striping showed in the grain. It was found that maple that grew on thin rocky soil produced a closer and curlier grain than trees native to open ground and heavy soil. The trees were cut into 2" planks which were air-dried for 4 years before they were at their best. The charcoal iron barrels were lengthened, and bores were made smaller. A slow twist was employed for the rifling, of which the groove depth was often less than that found on the Yaeger rifles. A heavier powder charge was employed in relation to bore size.
A survey of 200 barrels indicates that they ranged from 40" to 44", with a very few as long as 50". One-third had 7-groove rifling, one quarter had 8-groove rifling, a very few had straight rifling, and the remaining one third were smoothbores. The fragile ivory, bone, and pearl decorative inlays of European arms had no place in American guns. Coin silver or brass were used sparingly for patch-boxes and inlays in the flintlock era, more extensively in the percussion period. Slings, by which the short, heavy European guns were usually carried, were eliminated on the American long rifle.
In short, the Pennsylvania rifle was somewhat more accurate, used less powder and lead, had longer range, and was of graceful contour and handsome finish. It was for practical reasons, therefore, that the average .65 caliber bore of European guns was eventually reduced to an average .45 caliber bore typical in the Pennsylvania-made guns. This was considered large enough for the wild game or the hostile Indian. As larger game became more scarce, bores were reduced further, or in some instances made smooth to use shot.