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John Noll, Washington Township, Franklin County, PA Ca. 1810
Ex Coll. Joe Kindig

John Noll was born in 1747 and lived with his father John Jacob Noll, a physician, his mother and two brothers in Lancaster County. Shortly after marrying Susan Pressel John moved to Antrim (now Washington) Township, Franklin County in 1782. John, Susan and 7 children lived in a 15’ X 14’ log house with 2 windows on 18 acres located near Nicholson’s Gap. This was a perfect location for a gunsmith; 2 iron furnaces, a rolling mill, and several industrial sites were located nearby. No known records shed light on where John learned his trade. Lancaster seems likely since he grew up there. An early rifle by Lancaster gunsmith John Newcomer shows angular cuts on the left and right sides of the cheek piece molding. We see this repeatedly on John Noll rifles.

John decorated this rifle in the American Rococo style most commonly executed on fine decorative arts produced in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston in the 18th century. The peacock finial patchbox is engraved with C and S scrolls, flowers, leafage, and cross-hatching; all elements of the American Rococo. The relief carving in all areas is composed of similar motifs and executed in a sculptural manner. Noll was proficient with the American Rococo and incorporated the Federal style in motifs like an American eagle engraved on the oval cheek piece inlay, and oval thumb plate. Astonishingly he was able to execute both engraving and carving with equal brilliance.

The rifled barrel is octagon to round, 45 & ½ inches, and is the original length. He signed it in engraved block letters “John Noll” and used his touch mark, “I N” in silver near the breech together with a sword shaped touch mark.

Stocked in maple with little curl, and profusely carved in all the usual places. Carving is more difficult on tightly grained curly maple so I believe John chose this piece of wood to carve extensively and more intricately, like flower heads, with better control. The stock was broken through the lock area and repaired with a brass plate while in use. The plate was removed recently and the break repaired with modern techniques. The brass repair plate comes with the rifle.

All brass mounts are original. The lock bolt plate has repair to damage caused by early use of oversized lock bolt screws. The lock is an accurate replacement of the same era.

There is minor wood replacement around the top screw area of the lock bolt plate. Slivers of wood were replaced repairing old break through lock area. The surface shows even wear with no evidence of hash cleaning, and the rifle retains a thin finish with a warm old color. The carving is clearly visible in all its detail.

Its importance is well established. Joe Kindig Jr. collected it and included it in his work, “Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in its Golden Age”. He speaks highly of Noll’s work and this rifle, #241, in particular. Joe Kindig III, from whom I purchased the rifle, illustrates and describes it in his work “Artistic Merits of the Kentucky Rifle”. Viewed as a canvas of wood and metal this rifle represents excellence in American Rococo decoration, effortless execution, and pleasing architecture.

John Noll stayed in the same small house, on the same 18 acres until his death in 1824. He died without a will and is buried in an unmarked grave. His mark on American decorative arts however, is noteworthy.

Email me for excellent photos by Mark Elliott

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