Saturday, January 4, 2014

John Shell at Cowan's Auction

Raised Carved Kentucky rifle by John Shell
.60 caliber smoothbore, 42" octagonal-to-round barrel, buckhorn rear sight and brass front sight. Brass signature escutcheon signed by John Shell. Curly maple stock with raised carving behind tang, on wrist, rear left side of buttstock, around the first thimble, incised lines from the toe to triggerguard, and around the lock mortise and on the reverse, then down both sides of barrel. Brass buttplate, engraved brass patchbox, engraved brass side plate, engraved brass toe plate, brass triggerguard, ferrules and nosecap. Stock inlaid with twenty-two pieces of silver cut-outs and has some silver wire work around the lockplate, triggerguard, comb of stock and cheek piece. Ramrod may or may not be original, but certainly looks period. John Shell worked in Lower Paxton Township, Dauphin County Pennsylvania, ca 1817. 


This rifle was originally purchased by Steve Hench at a farm auction in Western Pennsylvania in 1970, and was subsequently sold by Steve to Wes White. When White died, the rifle was consigned to Cowan’s by his son. At the time, his son indicated that the rifle was restored by Carl Pipert, who reconverted the lock from percussion to flint and restored several pieces of missing silver inlay. We assumed that the stock – made of two pieces of closely matched curly maple – had also been repaired by Pipert.

We were recently notified that the stock has NOT been repaired. Photographs of the rifle taken in 1970 shortly after its purchase -- and before Pipert’s work -- clearly reveals this to be an original, as-made stock. Hench (personal communication, October 2009) has verified that the stock was complete when he purchased it. 

The stock is constructed of two pieces of curly maple carefully and expertly dove-tailed together approximately 24.5” behind the muzzle of the rifle. Apparently Shell could not acquire a length of maple sufficient to construct the entire stock and settled for dovetailing together two closely matched pieces of wood.

We consider this an important addendum, that adds significantly to the integrity of this exceptional rifle. Accompanying the rifle is a letter from Stephen Hench attesting to the circumstances of the discovery of this rifle and its condition when found.

Ex Collection of Steve Hench, purchased at auction in PA in 1974
Sold to Wes White

Condition: This rifle was restored by the late Carl Pippert many years ago. He restored the lock and some inlays to match those on the original stock. Brass patchbox, triggerguard and toe plate have nice untouched patina. Most of the silver inlays are dark with patina. Entire rifle has a great look, barrel with a deep untouched brown patina. A great classic from the "Golden Age" of rifle making.
Price Realized: $40,250.00

Leather Hunting Bag and Priming Horn belonging to John Shell
6" horn, 12" x 10" leather bag. This lot is associated with the John Shell rifle in the prior lot (18).
Ex Collection of Steve Hench, purchased at auction in PA in 1974
Sold to Wes White

Condition: Horn is excellent, bag is good with broken shoulder strap. Leather is supple.

Price Realized: $1,725.00

Pencil Templates and Designs of Patch Boxes and Inlays by John Shell and his Army Register of Officer's Book owned by John Shell
This group is composed of penciled designs used by the maker John Shell on rifles he made. Further included is an Army Register of Officers dated 1814. The book is 112pp and printed in Philadelphia. The cover is personally signed John Shell Major, August 15, 1815.
Ex Collection of Steve Hench, purchased at auction in PA in 1974
Sold to Wes White

Condition: Excellent.

Price Realized: $3,450.00

Copy and photos from a 2009 Cowan's Auction.

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