An ornate percussion conversion rifle attributed to Samuel Spangler

The 1920 and 1921 photos on this page show an exceptional antique full stock percussion conversion rifle that was then in the Marc Woodmansee rifle collection (Des Moines). The 1920 photos are from Volume III of Charles Winthrop Sawyer's book "Our Rifles" and the 1921 photos are from Horace Kephart's article "Early American Rifles De Luxe" in the December, 1921 issue of the "All Outdoors" magazine. The barrel engraving is reported as "Rusily" in the 1920 book and "Ruslin" in the 1921 article. These two publications, and the fact that the rifle descriptions in the 1920 book are accidently reversed, may be why page 185 of the 1953 book "American Gun Makers" lists Jacob Ruslin and Jacob Rusily as separate gunsmiths. Collectors now believe Ruslin was the owner of the gun and Somerset County, Pennsylvania gunsmith Samuel Spangler (whose name is on the lock) was the maker.

This handsome elaborately decorated 19th century rifle has silver furniture. Even though the photos are fuzzy, it's clear that the frizzen spring is still present. According to the 1921 article, somehow the frizzen spring is used in regard to a cap protector, which is unique.

This splendid rifle is also pictured on page 42 of the Whiskers' 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Somerset County, Pennsylvania". Some of the observations below are based on what can be seen in the Whiskers' 2017 book. I am sorry to report that the photos in the Whiskers' book show a flintlock rifle with a waterproof pan/fence/bridle configuration, which means that we may never get to see clear photos of the percussion conversion configuration, and the interesting cap protector that used the flintlock frizzen spring. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I'm not impressed by flintlock reconversions. To me, a percussion conversion is an authentic part of the history of a rifle and in most cases a converted rifle should be preserved in that authentic working state. Oh well, what fun would life be if we never got to gripe about anything! Given that this black powder gun was originally a flintlock, it was probably made in Somerset County, Pennsylvania before Spangler moved west.

I suspect this rifle is also included in Robert Wilson's 2015 book "The History and Art of the American Gun: The Art of American Arms", but I haven't seen Wilson's book yet.

Rifle photos from Sawyer's 1920 book
The following images and related caption are from Sawyer's 1920 book "Our Rifles". The images show an antique Pennsylvania long rifle with a 58-3/4-inch overall length. This full stock percussion rifle is stocked in curly maple and the barrel is 44 inches long. The bore size is 80 balls per pound (about 0.385-inch diameter balls). When viewing "Plate 1, Right" and "Plate 2, Left" in Sawyer's book, be aware that the rifle images are numbered backwards from the rifle descriptions, and description six goes with rifle three.

Regarding the decorative aspects of the rifle, the caption for the photos (included below) states, "Solid Silver large furniture, silver and gold small furniture and inlay. Carving and engraving of admirable quality. Three-leaf-gold trimmed rear sight." The caption erroneously states that "The lock ... is of an early percussion type". The 1921 article makes it clear that the lock was originally made as a flintlock.

The first photograph below shows the entire right-hand side of this long and slender rifle. The belly and low comb of the stock are substantially straight, and the butt of the stock is protected by a crescent buttplate. The buttstock incorporates an engraved and pierced four-piece patch box. Each side plate has two half-circle piercings. The patch box finial, which is a modification of the region's popular Q-shape, has piercings that are exceptionally complex, and in one place appear to define the shape of an elk antler. The concave radiused shape of the percussion conversion hammer is forward facing, and appears to have been influenced by the Bedford School of gunsmithing. The frizzen spring can be seen on the rat tail lock plate.
This is a 1920 halftone image of a percussion conversion muzzle loading rifle that is believed to have been made by the Somerset County, Pennsylvania gunsmith Samuel Spangler.

The next photograph shows the entire left-hand side of the rifle. The image is clear enough to see that each lock retention screw has its own small lock bolt plate. An exceedingly complicated inlay is located below the cheekpiece, and its upper edge may represent various animals.
This is a halftone image from 1920 that shows the left-hand side of a muzzle loader gun marked 'Jacob Rusily'. This gun is attributed to Samuel Spangler, who was a gunsmith in Somerset County, Pennsylvania before moving to Wisconsin.

The next image is the caption that goes with the two 1920 rifle pictures above. The caption is misnumbered, and description six goes with rifle three.
Description of the percussion conversion muzzleloader that is shown in Plate 1.

Rifle photos from the 1921 article
The following images and related caption are from the 1921 article, and the first image is a bit clearer than its counterpart above. The caption for the photos (included below) indicates that Jacob Ruslin's name is present on the barrel in gold, and then states, "Barrel, 44 inches. The butt plate, patch box, trigger guard, and rod thimbles are of solid silver. There are 30 silver inlays, and some scroll designs in gold. This piece has been remodeled from flintlock. An interesting feature is that the original frizzen spring is still on the lock and has been arranged to serve as a cap protector." Clearly, this highly decorated rifle was intended more as a status symbol than an actual hunting rifle.

The first image below shows the entire right-hand side of the lavishly decorated rifle. The piercing in the finial of the patch box is very complex. The lock plate seems relatively wide top to bottom and has a rat tail. The tail of the lock panel of the stock has a tapering streamlined shape and there is a trailing edge panel finial with a teardrop-shaped wrist inlay, as often seen on rifles from neighboring Bedford County. The cap protector can be seen in its open position. There is a wing-shaped inlay just in front of the lock panel. The forearm escutcheons are shaped a bit like birds flying directly toward or away from the viewer. The back sight is located over the ramrod entry pipe. Looking into the bow of the trigger guard, a double set trigger arrangment and an adjustment screw are visible. The set trigger is curved and the hair trigger is substantially straight. The difference in shape helps the shooter distinguish between the triggers by touch. The straightness of the hair trigger also concentrates the force of a light trigger pull, for improved sensitivity.
This is a 1921 halftone image of a silver-mounted rifle that is marked 'Jacob Ruslin'. It is believed to have been made by Samuel Spangler, a gunsmith who worked in Somerset County, Pennsylvania before moving to Wisconsin.

The next image shows the rear part of the left-hand side of this ornate cap lock Pennsylvania long rifle. The cheekpiece has a very complicated inlay surrounding a lanceolate-shaped inlay that incorporates an engraved spread-wing eagle. The portion of the buttstock that is located rearward of the cheekpiece is relief carved.
This shows the left-hand side of the buttstock of a long rifle marked 'Jacob Ruslin' that is attributed to Samuel Spangler, a gunsmith who practiced in Somerset County, PA before moving west.

The next image shows the caption for the two 1921 photos that are included above.
Description of the percussion conversion rifle that is shown in the 1921 article.

More on Jacob Ruslin
Plate 141 of Hetrick's book "The Bedford County Rifle and its Makers" shows a muzzleloader double rifle with mule ear hammers that is engraved with the name "John Jacob Rusley" somewhere, and is engraved "S. Spangler" on the rat tail-shaped lock plates. One of the 37-1/2-inch long octagonal barrels is 46 caliber and rifled, and the other is 50 caliber and smooth bored. The rifle is 53-1/2-inches long and weighs ten pounds. That rifle was attributed to Rusley by Hetrick and others, but now is attributed to the gunsmith Samuel Spangler. If you have a single or double barrel muzzle loader that was made by Samuel Spangler, please consider donating photographs of it to this website.

The Whiskers' 2017 book "Gunsmiths of Somerset County, Pennsylvania" indicates that:

  • John Jacob Ruslin's name is included in the records of the Saint Thomas Catholic Church in Bedford, Pennsylvania.
  • John Jacob Ruslin was a sheep farmer.
  • John Jacob Ruslin owned and operated a woolen mill.
  • John Jacob Ruslin owned and operated a tavern.
  • The guns bearing the names of Jacob Ruslin and Isaac Wendle were probably made by Samuel Spangler.

    See the gunsmith project index for other Somerset County long rifles, and biographical information about the riflesmiths who made them.

    See the home page for access to additional regional history topics.

    This Somerset and Bedford County, Pennsylvania gunsmith project is intended to be a collaborative effort with gun collectors, historians, genealogists, etc. who may have information or photos to share.