A Dormayer-style percussion rifle marked "JA" with a relief carved eagle

Introduction
Most of the rifle photos on this page are provided courtesy of the Rock Island Auction Company with the permission of Matt Parise. The rifle has various Dormayer attributes, including the shape of the buttstock, the layout of the vine/floral carving on the buttstock, the rod-like shape of the front trigger, the tri-level configuration of the front of the stock panel for the lock bolt plate, and the design of a relief carved eagle on the cheekpiece. The initials "JA" are engraved on the lock plate. Although it is not necessary to know who made the rifle to appreciate its grace and beauty, over the years, students of Pennsylvania long rifles have attributed this rifle to two different 19th century Somerset County gunmakers: John Altfather and Peter Dormayer. I am in the Dormayer camp.

Conflicting attributions
The rifle is attributed to John Altfather (1834-1910) in several of the Whiskers' gun collecting books that were published in the 1991 to 2017 timeframe. Those books refer to this rifle as the only known gun that John Altfather made, and suggest that he apprenticed with Jonathan Dormayer (1826-1885). I can't find where the books provide a rationale for the John Altfather attribution. For the reasons provided on my John Altfather biography page, I don't believe John Altfather made the rifle.

Duppstadt's booklet "The rifles made by Peter and Jonathan Dormayer..." is the only publication I've seen that discusses the stylistic features of various Dormayer rifles. It acknowledges that the the rifle in question had been attributed to John Altfather, and then proposes that based on its stylistic features, it would be more logical to attribute the rifle to the Dormayer family, and to Peter Dormayer (c1795-c1873) in particular.

I agree that it is more logical to attribute the rifle to the Dormayers. The relief carving and the layout of the carved eagle convince me that among the Dormayers, Peter is the more likely candidate. One factor that weighs heavily against the John Altfather attribution (at least in my mind) is the back side of the lock plate, which is marked with the first and last names of a contemporary maker whose initials are "JA". I doubt the Whiskers had that important bit of information when they attributed the rifle to John Altfather.

The Joseph Aiken complication
A 2015 auction listing for this rifle reveals that the inner surface of the lock plate is marked "1959/Joseph Aiken". Mr. Aiken's obituary in the November 1969 "Journal of the SMPTE" indicates he was an accomplished motion picture engineer from Arlington, Virginia, and his avocation was restoring antique firearms for himself and other gun collectors. His interest in Pennsylvania long rifles is revealed by a rifle from his collection that is featured in Kauffman's 1960 book "The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle". Joseph Aikin also co-authored a book on Kentucky Rifles. From a friend of Joseph Aiken's son Bill, I learned that Joseph Aiken made at least one Bedford-style rifle, and it hung in Bill Aiken's house after Joseph Aiken died. That raises the question of whether Joseph Aiken made the rifle featured on this web page.

The 2015 auction listing that mentions the "1959/Joseph Aiken" marking indicates that the rifle appears to be much older than 1959. Logically, since the Whiskers' books attribute the rifle to John Altfather, it seems that they did not doubt its antiquity.

The wood near the nipple is eroded from cap detonation, and the surface of the barrel has significant corrosion near the nipple. This damage suggests the rifle has seen significant use. On the other hand, the lock plate is not corroded near the nipple, which is unusual considering the extent of the damage to the wood and to the surface of the barrel near the nipple. Because of the marking on the back of the lock plate and the lack of corrosion on the front, I suspect that Joseph Aiken provided the lock, and engraved his initials "JA" on the front of the lock using a script that is appropriate for the period the rifle represents.

I would be surprised if Joseph Aiken made the entire rifle, because of the disparities in cap detonation-related damage described above, and because so little seems to have been known about Peter Dormayer, or the stylistic elements of his rifles in 1959. Peter Dormayer is not even listed in the 1953 compendium "American Gun Makers". The first published photograph of any Peter Dormayer rifle seems to be Plate 136 of Calvin Hetrick's supplement to the 4th edition (1959) of Dillin's book "The Kentucky Rifle", which shows a then-unidentified rifle. When Shumway republished and updated Hetrick's supplement as a stand-alone booklet circa 1973, he still listed that rifle as unidentified, but mentions that a Somerset County gunsmith named Dunmeyer might have made it. The first publication that positively identified Peter Dormayer as the maker of that rifle appears to be Duppstadt's aforementioned booklet (First edition 2009, second edition 2012). Kauffman's 1960 book "The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle" identifies Peter "Dunmyer" (Dormayer) as a gunsmith based on Cambria and Somerset County tax records, but provides no photographs of his work. In order for Joseph Aiken to make this entire rifle in 1959, he would have needed access to or detailed photographs of several Dormayer rifles, in order to incorporate the various details from those rifles that this rifle shares. The problem with that is that the scholarly research needed to connect those rifles to a single maker took place long after Joseph Aiken died. (The difficulty of producing a Peter Dormayer-style rifle in 1959 was pointed out to me by Robert Duppstadt.)

Photographs of the rifle
The first image below shows a full view of the right-hand side of this interesting muzzle loading rifle. At 42-1/8-inches, the barrel on this rifle is much longer than the barrels on the typical small rifles that Jonathan Dormayer developed and is known for. This observation is not dispositive, however, because Jonathan Dormayer did produce some longer barreled rifles.
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The next image is an enlargement of a portion of the first image, to show more detail. The buttstock has a profile and vestigial comb that are similar to those on quite a few Jonathan Dormayer rifles. The wrist carving is relief carving. Click here to see the similarly shaped incised wrist carving on a typical Jonathan Dormayer rifle. Click here to compare the floral shape of the wrist carving on this rifle to the similarly-shaped wrist inlays on another Peter Dormayer rifle featured on this website.
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The next image is an enlargement of a portion of the first image, to provide a clearer view of the fore end of the rifle.
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The following image shows the patch box side of the buttstock.

The patch box release button is clearly visible on the underside of the stock. I'm told by Robert Duppstadt that Peter Dormayer used button releases, and Jonathan Dormayer did not. For example, see the button release on the rifle featured in Plate 136 of Hetrick's booklet "The Bedford County Rifle and Its Makers". Also see the button release on the rifle featured on page 93 of the 1991 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Somerset, and Fulton Counties". Click here to see the button release on another Peter Dormayer rifle that is featured on this website.

The straight line engraving shading technique is also used on the "PD"-marked rifle featured on page 93 of the 1991 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Somerset, and Fulton Counties" and is also featured on page 89 of the 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties".

The rearmost piercings on the patch box are similar to those on the rifle featured in Plate 136 of Hetrick's booklet "The Bedford County Rifle and Its Makers".

Click here to see a patch box on a typical Jonathan Dormayer rifle that has the same rearmost piercing shape, similar wavy lines on both sides of the patch box lid, and lid engraving that has the same general layout.

Click here to compare the lid engraving at the hinge and the wavy lines on either side of the lid on this rifle to the same features on another Peter Dormayer rifle featured on this website.
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The next image shows the lock, lock panel, and trigger portion of the rifle. The rifle has a Bedford County-style hammer and a rod-type front trigger. Rod-type front triggers are commonly encountered on Dormayer rifles. For example, see the front trigger on the rifle featured in Plate 136 of Hetrick's booklet "The Bedford County Rifle and Its Makers". This isn't to claim that the Dormayers are the only gunsmiths who used rod-type front triggers.
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The next image is an enlarged and lightened version of the preceding image. It shows significant corrosion of the surface of the breech from cap detonation, and corresponding erosion of the wood aft of the barrel. For example, enough of the wood is eroded away that the side of the tang is visible near the barrel. By comparison, the lock plate and the nose of the hammer are not significantly corroded from cap detonation. This, to me, suggests that the lock is not as old as the rifle. In other words, it suggests that the lock was replaced by Joseph Aiken when he marked the rear of the lock plate, "1959/Joseph Aiken". If the rifle was made in 1959 and then heavily used, it is unlikely the lock would have been spared the cap detonation-related damage that occurred to the barrel and to the stock.
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The next image provides a full-length view of the left-hand side of the rifle.
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The next image is enlarged from the preceding image, to show more detail of the left-hand side of the rifle.

Compare the relief carving just forward of the cheekpiece to the relief carving just forward of the cheekpiece on the rifle featured in Plate 136 of Hetrick's booklet "The Bedford County Rifle and Its Makers".

Note the tri-level configuration of the front of the stock panel for the lock bolt plate. This is a feature I have only seen on rifles by the Dormayers and their apprentices, but I don't claim my knowledge on the subject of lock panels is extensive.
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The next image provides an enlarged view of the left-hand side of the fore end of the rifle.
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The following image features the left-hand side of the buttstock.

The relief carving aft of the cheekpiece is laid out in Dormayer style. The fact that it is relief carving rather than incised carving suggests the rifle was made by Peter Dormayer, rather than Jonathan Dormayer. Compare to the relief carving aft of the cheekpiece on the rifle attributed to Peter Dormayer that is featured in Plate 136 of Hetrick's booklet "The Bedford County Rifle and Its Makers". Click here to compare to the similarly shaped incised carving aft of the cheekpiece on a typical Jonathan Dormayer rifle.

The peripheral shape of the carved fish below the cheekpiece is similar to the fish-shaped escutcheons on the forearm of the rifle featured in Plate 136 of Hetrick's booklet "The Bedford County Rifle and Its Makers". Also compare the carved fish to the fish inlay below the cheekpiece on the mislabeled Peter Dormayer rifle on page 116 of the 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties". Specifically, notice the two fins on the underside of the fish on both rifles, and the unusual three fin treatment of the tail on both rifles.

The relief carved eagle on the cheekpiece is similar to the engraved eagle on the cheekpiece inlays on known Peter Dormayer rifles. Compare the carved eagle to the engraved eagle on the cheekpiece inlay of the "PD"-marked rifle on page 89 of the 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties". Compare to the eagle inlay and engraved eagle on the mislabeled Peter Dormayer rifle on page 116 of the 2001 book "Gunsmiths of Bedford, Fulton, Huntingdon, & Somerset Counties". Compare the design (but not the proportions) of the carved eagle to the engraved eagle on the cheekpiece inlay of the rifle featured in Plate 136 of Hetrick's booklet "The Bedford County Rifle and Its Makers". Click here to compare the carved eagle to a forearm eagle inlay, and to an engraved eagle on the cheekpiece inlay of a Peter Dormayer rifle with a silver-plated barrel that is featured on this website. Click here to compare to a Peter Dormayer rifle that has an incised carving eagle on the cheek piece.
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The following photo provides a comparison between the "Running D" rifle with the silver-plated barrel (top), the rifle with the relief-carved eagle that is featured on this page (middle), and the rifle with the incised carving eagle (bottom).
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