There are three of these rifles, each with enough detail in common that one can easily attribute them all to at least from the same shop and probably by the same hand. They are published in Shumways, “Rifles of Colonial America” as rifles # 20 thru # 22. This featured rifle is # 21.
Of all of the Revolutionary war or earlier period rifles, I doubt there is another that has received the exposure and respect that this piece has demanded. It has just finished its second stint at the Smithsonian Institute with the conclusion of the landmark French and Indian War exhibit, “Clash of Empires”. It was first featured at the Smithsonian in the early 1970’s for several years as “their” displayed example of the early American Flintlock Rifle. Then for America’s bi-centennial celebration in 1976, the National Rifle Association chose this rifle to highlight an exhibit at their headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia and featured the piece in the supporting article in the American Rifleman magazine.
The maker of this un-signed rifle and the other two related examples is unknown, but much study and speculation has lead most students of the Kentucky rifle to attribute them to the Reading area and perhaps by Wolfgang Hachen. Often this name is spelled “Haga”, thus pronounced “Ha-gah”. Hachen was born in 1721 and settled in Reading about 1750. He was born and raised in Bern, Switzerland and came to this country as an accomplished gunsmith. Plans have been made to travel to Switzerland in quest of finding something by his hand produced before his move to America. Quite possibly this could fill in many of the missing pieces of the enormous puzzle of the evolution of the American flintlock rifle.
All three of these rifles have a design carved behind the cheek-piece that emits a very baroque feeling. This motif seems to appear related to the design used at Christian Springs and similar to the carving on the Edward Marshall rifle. George Shumway has suggested that perhaps this design was brought to American from Switzerland by Hachen and used in early Reading, beginning about 1750 or so. However, this is the same year Andreas Albrecht came to the Lehigh Valley and perhaps he brought with him such a design - somewhat related - that later developed into the forms found on the known Christian Spring rifles.
One of the most pleasing rifles you will ever shoulder, the stock of this piece has a prominent cheek piece with a rather complex molding along its edge. The comb is slightly curved, giving it the so-called “Roman nose” so often associated with rifles from the Reading area. The elongated “beaver tail” type carving surrounding the lock and sideplate mortises help the lines of the rifle smoothly flow, creating graceful lines and very pleasant architecture. The small relief carved beaver tail or “tear-drop” behind the barrel tang is very simple, yet pleasing. The side plate is boldly filed with wide angular bevels and the nose cap is not attached to the wood of the forestock, but secured to the under side of the barrel with a screw. The rifle is in exceptional condition, with its early Germanic flintlock un-altered and with what appears to be the original ramrod. You will also notice that the finials of the wide trigger guard bow outward, instead of being straight and parallel, a characteristic that has become known as a feature used in and around Reading.
A very unique characteristic discovered by Earl Lanning during his tenure with this grand rifle, is that the rear extension of the trigger guard is not inlet and merely sets flush on the stock at the termination of the toe as it blends into the underside of the wrist. After this discovery, it was found that the rifle featured as number # 20 in R.C.A. also has the same feature, although rifle # 22 does not.
Mel Hankla - Kentucky