Original 18th century Virginia Rifle

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rich pierce

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Do we have an approximate date this rifle was made by Newcomer? Just curious as what had me intrigued in the original post is the thought that it could be as early as 1760. And, it is a really nice rifle....

Thanks.
John Newcomer the elder was listed as a gunsmith in Lancaster PA in 1767 in a court document according to Kindig then through the 1770s. He died in 1782 and was referred to as “old John Newcomer” possibly because his son had the same name and trade. I surmise he was trained in Great Britain. If he died at age 70 he could have been working as early as 1740 somewhere.

When it comes to dates on unsigned, not dated guns, there is a strong bias to guessing on the early side. Makes them more interesting and valuable. This one looks 1770s from here but we cannot know.
 

Spence10

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The Pennsylvania Gazette
November 25, 1772
FOUR DOLLARS Reward. LOST, or taken out of a waggon loaded with hops, betwixt the river Sasquehanna and Philadelphia, upon the 5th, 6th, or 7th day of this present month November, a strong board CASE, without mark or direction, inclosing a very neat new FOWLING PIECE, 4 feet 2 inches in the barrel, 5 feet 5 inches the whole length of the gun, with a curled walnut stock, sliding loops, mounted with brass, the foresight and thumb piece silver, the maker’s name John Newcomer, engraven upon the hind part of the barrel, near the figure of a man’s head, and J. Newcomer engraven on the lock. Whoever has found the same, is desired to deliver it to Joseph Vandegrist, at the sign of the Cross keys, in Chestnut street, Philadelphia; to Caleb Way, at the sign of the Waggon, on the Philadelphia road; to Matthias Slough, at the sign of the Swan, in Lancaster; or to James Wright, in Hempfield, near Susquehanna, and they shall receive FOUR DOLLARS reward. JAMES WRIGHT.*

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plmeek

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The engraving on and shape of the brass furniture suggests to me that they were repurposed from an English fowler. The boar's head engraving with bow, quiver, and arrows are classic heraldic symbolism common in Europe and England. It is engraved on the bow of the trigger guard, the side plate, and on the extension of the heel of the butt plate. I don't think we see this same heraldic symbolism on American guns, even in the Colonial period. The sparse engraving on the tang of the barrel is of a different style and probably different hand that that on the brass furniture.

This type of symbolism became popular with American Indians as it fit in with their spiritualism and religious beliefs and is often seen on English trade guns well into the early 19th century.
 

Stophel

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The Newcomer attribution is based on the engraved decoration, which is SO similar to that on the signed Newcomer rifle, that it seems apparent that they both are by the same hand, though the two guns don't resemble each other at all otherwise (the signed rifle has normal "rifle type" triggerguard and buttplate and sideplate, so probably not imported from England. I don't have good photos showing the patchbox well, but from what little I can see, it is not engraved in the same way as the rest of the hardware. It also interrupts the carving extending back from the nose of the comb, and without being able to see it better, I am thinking that the brass patchbox was added to the gun later).

The boars heads/bows and arrows/axes/etc. are a VERY common theme engraved on English guns, one should not be surprised to see it used on American arms as well.
 

Spikebuck

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Does anyone know if this gun has been restored? For a gun of that age, it was either extremely lightly used and cared for beyond belief or has had some restoration of some kind. It's in incredible condition!
 

plmeek

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The Newcomer attribution is based on the engraved decoration, which is SO similar to that on the signed Newcomer rifle, that it seems apparent that they both are by the same hand, though the two guns don't resemble each other at all otherwise (the signed rifle has normal "rifle type" triggerguard and buttplate and sideplate, so probably not imported from England.
Stophel, could you have meant the carving rather than the engraving?

Does anyone have pictures of the J Newcomer signed rifle that is the basis of the attribution that they can share?
 

Stophel

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Stophel, could you have meant the carving rather than the engraving?

Does anyone have pictures of the J Newcomer signed rifle that is the basis of the attribution that they can share?
No, I meant the engraving. The carving on the two guns is of different form.

No pictures that I can share. You'll just have to buy the books. It's probably shown in more than one, but the one I was looking at the other day was "Gunsmiths of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania" by James B. Whisker. Long out of print, I'm sure, as most of the books are.
 

Spence10

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It's probably shown in more than one, but the one I was looking at the other day was "Gunsmiths of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania" by James B. Whisker. Long out of print, I'm sure, as most of the books are.
Kindig has a picture of a signed Newcomer rifle, is it by any chance the same one?

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Spence10

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Does anyone have pictures of the J Newcomer signed rifle that is the basis of the attribution that they can share?
Stophel said the one shown in Kindig is the same. Here it is.

Newcomer Kindig.JPG
The legend says, "No. 32. Signed "John Newcomer"; length 65 1/2 inches; octagonal smoothbore 49 1/2 inch barrel, 51 caliber; weight 10 pounds.

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plmeek

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Thanks, Dave. At least the Jud Brennan rifle looks related, even though it's probably a contemporary interpretation. The engraving is nothing like that on RCA #119, but then I didn't expect it to be.

I was getting confused about the references to a rifle in Kindig. I had understood that the rifle the attribution for RCA #119 is based on was a relatively recent discovery and not something that would have been pictured in Kindig. If it had been around that long, why hadn't somebody made the connection decades ago?

I checked my books as Stophel suggested and found a John Newcomer rifle in The Lancaster Long Rifle by Hornberger & Kolar, page 34-35, that might be the mystery rifle. The description says it is walnut stocked with fowler mounts. Unfortunately, it doesn't say it's signed, but does say it's a Newcomer. It has a two-piece brass patch box with an unusual finial design and what looks like brass wire inlay where side plates are usually found. The wire inlay could be silver--hard to tell in photograph.

Pictures of the butt plate extension and of the bottom of the trigger guard are not shown, but what I can see of the engraving on the side plate and the lid of the patch box, it looks nothing like the boar's head hunter's motif engraved on RCA #119. The carving on the Newcomer in The Lancaster Long Rifle book is more elaborate than on RCA #119, but I can see some similarities, especially in the treatment of the flower petals on both rifles..

I'm guessing that the attribution is based on the use of walnut for both rifles, the use of fowler mounts on both rifles, the similarity in architecture of both rifles, and the carving. As suspected, the attribution doesn't appear to be based on the engraving, which still leaves the possibility, if not the likelihood, that RCA #119's mounts were re-used from an English fowler.

I see the similarity in the style of engraving between RCA #119 and Kindig's #32 (Shumway included this signed Newcomer rifle as RCA #73) that Stophel was referring to. Kindigs' #32/RCA #73 has a "trophy of arms utilizing a battle-axe or tomahawk, arrows, a bow, and in one case, a sword." No boar's head, though. Shumway saw the trophy engraving on Kindigs' #32/RCA #73 as having "much in common with corresponding furniture engraving on rifle No. 115 [sic, No. 119]", but interestingly, he didn't see enough in common to believe they were by the same hand. It just made him suspect that Kindigs' #32/RCA #73 had some Southern connection. Funny how he couldn't see it the other way around.

I also noted that Jim Chambers' Smooth Rifle kit, Model RK-7, is based on RCA #119.
 

Art Caputo

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I’m a fan of the circa. 1750’s Virginia Rifle. Also, shown in my avatar, this is a Jack Hubbard rifle(50cal) that is a very good representation with features found on the early Virginia Rifles, Queen Anne style lock, single trigger with loop(similar to the previous photo), brass furniture, swamped 38” barrelI. The Hubbard aging treatment of the wood/metal gives the rifle a very authentic look.
D564C6B5-24F7-4334-B7D5-5A68E4F95BB5.jpeg 6272BD64-343A-45B3-9343-02164BDDC3BB.jpeg
 

rich pierce

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The 1750s Virginia Rifle exists mostly in the imagination and creativity of builders over the last 30 or 40 years. There’s a demand for it. People build based on back- dating or “early-ifying” 1770s guns. I wish builders would’ve stop labeling their creative works as historical.


If anyone can show an original that 1) was undoubtedly made in Virginia and 2) was undoubtedly made in the 1750s, please do show it. Not a rifle “so and so who knows what he’s talking about” says is a 1750s Virginia rifle. It would have to be signed by a gunsmith who only lived in Virginia and either dated in the 1750s or made by a guy who died in the 1750s. Same as any other clear definitive attribution.
 
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