Lafayette Hotel hosts annual long rifle exhibition
The Association of Ohio Long Rifle Collectors (AOLRC) held its 42nd annual exhibition Saturday and Sunday in Marietta, presenting around 400 Ohio-made muzzle-loading rifles, said Tom Oakes, AOLRC President.
“Things have gone well this weekend,” he said.
They had around 130 adults and children who came to the exhibition on Saturday. Attendance was a little light on Sunday, but they still had a number of people coming through while exhibitors got to interact more with each other, he said.
The rifles were shown by private collectors and included plain working rifles as well as decorated brass, silver and ivory inlayed rifles representing American folk art.
“There were around 1,500-2,000 documented gunsmiths in Ohio,” Oakes said. “Here in this room, you can find somewhere between 400 and 500 documented Ohio rifles.”
The rules allow for any documented Ohio-made rifle made before 1900. There is a clause in the rules that allows exhibitors to display more contemporary-made rifles, around 10 percent. Many muzzleloaders came to this area and fanned out as the area was settled and the demand grew across a wider area. Similar growth could be tracked from Cincinnati and other parts of the state.
The types of rifles range from half-stocks, full-stocks and flintlocks from the early Ohio period.
“Some of the rifles here were possibly built before Ohio became a state,” Oakes said.
Many gunsmiths came into Ohio from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New York, New England and elsewhere with many coming in through Marietta, which was settled in 1788 and is considered the first formal settlement in the territory.
Others eventually came in through Cincinnati and moved northward.
“A lot of it depended on the (Ohio) river which was the most reliable transportation route of the time,” Oakes said. “You will find rifles here that are plain and you will find rifles here that are absolute works of art when it comes to engraving, carving and embellishments.”
The “Ohio Period” for long rifles was diverse with many types of rifles made.
“There was quite a variety here in Ohio over the years,” Oakes said. “You realize there really isn’t a definition for an ‘Ohio Rifle’ other than it was made here.”
Many gunsmiths in Ohio eventually moved on to Michigan, Indiana and points further west.
“I have found Ohio rifles as far west as California,” Oakes said. “I know of at least two in Alaska.
“Ohio rifles make it all over the place. I have talked to people where Ohio rifles made it all the way to England.”
The main purpose of the exhibit is to provide education to the public about muzzle-loading rifles, their purpose, historical value and the gunsmiths who made them.
Oakes hopes the people who came to the exhibition appreciate the work that went into making the rifles.
The collectors spend a lot of time thinking about their displays and how they will be set up. Many collectors specialize in certain types of rifles.
“This is a planned affair with a lot of work that goes into it,” Oakes said. “Things have changed.
“There was a time when these rifles were considered tools, like a hammer or a saw. Today, many of them are cherished as works of art.”
The AOLRC currently has around 230 members with people from Ohio and at least six other states.
However the show had people attend who was just interested in the rifles.
Bob Kurtz of Canton, Ohio, was interested in the workmanship and wanted to compare the rifles on display to what he had in his own collection.
“Where else can you go and find this many fine quality Ohio-made guns like this,” he said Sunday.
All of the guns on display were handmade whereas nowadays rifles are produced in a factory using a lot of machines.
“These are all handmade,” Kurtz said. “These were done in dimly lit little sheds and cabins with the most common knives and chisels.
“It is like comparing a chair that was made in a factory to a beautiful antique rocker that was made by hand by someone using draw knives and the most primitive tools. That is how these guns were made. It is just amazing how beautiful they are. They are all unique, everyone of them.”
Many of the exhibitors were happy with the turnout throughout the weekend.
“We had a good crowd,” said Bob Poch of Shadyside, Ohio. “It is well attended.
“You see a lot of nice guns, that is for sure.”
Poch collects guns from his native Belmont County of which he had a number on display.
Many people have been fascinated with the workmanship of the rifles with many being made by hand with no power, poor lighting and no corrective lens for many.
“It is amazing there were that many guys who could do this work with primitive tools,” Poch said.
Larry Poston, of Thornville, Ohio, said many people had been through looking for guns that were made by an ancestor. Others were bring in guns that have been in their families for years and trying to gather information and history about them, he said.
Some of Poston’s rifles had a lot of detail to them.
“They used coin silver on a lot of them,” he said. “They took old coins and hammered them out, made inlays and filed them out.”
Many gunsmiths signed on the barrel of the rifle to identify their work. Poston said some weren’t signed, but people can sometimes tell who made them by certain designs and inlays as well as techniques used in making them. Many of the highly detailed and designed rifles were for show and status symbols.
“They would all gather on a Sunday after church for a shoot,” Poston said. “Many wanted to show off.”
The AOLRC was formed in 1975 for the study and preservation of Ohio-made muzzle-loading rifles. The annual exhibit started that year at the Campus Martius Museum where it ran out of space after the first couple of years and moved to the Lafayette, where it has been held each year since that time.
Usually, they try to hold the show a week or so before or after Easter.
“We are looking forward to being here next year,” Oakes said. “We are scheduled to be here through 2020.”
People can contact the Lafayette Hotel for next year’s dates.