LANCASTER - For those who hunt and target shoot with historically accurate, custom-built muzzleloader rifles, there are many choices.
Both in the deer woods and on the firing line will be styles that range from club-butt Germanic Jaegers of the type used in the 1600s to half-stock Hawken styles from the 1800s. As could be expected, however, most prominent are the sleek, long-barreled, full-stock Pennsylvania rifles.
Even among those whose rifle of choice is the longrifle, there is no one single favorite, with all the rifle-building schools from the 1700s - from the Lehigh Valley and Berks County to York and Mifflin counties - being represented. For many, however, the rifle of choice for both appearance and historic significance is those from the Lancaster County School.
Sentinel photos by DOYLE DIETZ
Landis Valley Farm Museum director Jim Lawers, left, and John Minchhoff, of Orwigsburg, inspect the workmanship of the brass patchbox on one of the more than 50 Lancaster County longrifles on display through the end of the year in a special exhibit at the museum near Lancaster.
These unique see-though display cases allow viewing both sides of the Lancaster County rifles on exhibit — including the rare side-by-side double barrel, third up from the bottom —at the Landis Valley Farm Museum near Lancaster.
Perhaps, more than any of the other longrifles, Lancaster County rifles best represent the Golden Age of Muzzle Loading, which is the period from the 1770s to the 1840s. And, now through Jan. 31, 2013, the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum near Lancaster is presenting "The Golden Age of an American Art Form: The Lancaster Long Rifle," which is a display of more than 50 of these rifles.
Many of these rifles are from the museum's collection, others are on loan from other museums and many are from private collections and are on public display for the first time.
One of the unique aspects of the exhibit, which was made possible by a grant from the Richard C. von Hess Foundation, are the special see-though display cases that allow the firearms to be viewed from both sides.
Lancaster County rifles helped forge the history of North America from the French and Indian and Revolutionary wars through the War of 1812 and - regardless of what some politically correct, revisionist-history authors suggest - were in the hands of many of the defenders at the siege of the Alamo, including one David Crockett.
In fact, David Cummings of Mifflin County - who was killed when the Alamo fell to Mexican forces, March 6, 1836 - delivered a shipment of Lancaster County rifles to Texas at the request of his father, who served with Sam Houston in the War of 1812.
In addition to the historical role of Lancaster County rifles, it can be argued they are the best designed of the Pennsylvania rifles. So comfortable do they fit when brought to the shoulder that the same drop at the comb of these rifles was used in the design of what Gen. George Patton called the finest military rifle of all time - the M-1 Garand.
Among the gunsmiths whose work is on display in the exhibit are Jacob Dickert, Melchior Fordney, J.P. Beck, Andreas Albrecht and Martin Mylin.
By exhibiting their works beside German wheel lock guns and Jaeger rifles, it is easy to see how these firearms that were brought to the New World evolved into the long, slender design of Pennsylvania rifles.
"In reality, we have more than 80 firearms on display, including smoothbores, pistols and a special exhibit on loan from the Henry's of Boulton collection," Landis Valley Museum director Jim Lewars said.
"Obviously, the focus is on Lancaster County gunsmiths, who as craftsmen excelled at producing exquisite, hand-made pieces incorporating highly refined artistic carving, engraving and inlaying while at the same time satisfying the need for accurate hunting firearms."
Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum is a nationally significant living-history village dedicated to collecting, preserving and interpreting the history and culture of the Pennsylvania German community from 1740-1940.
Administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in partnership with the Landis Valley Associates, it is located off Route 272/Oregon Pike, which is a marked exit off both Route 30 and Route 222.