Almost 50 years after being stolen from a museum, a piece of America’s Revolutionary War heritage is back on display.
A rifle made in 1775 by one of the era’s premier gun makers is now enshrined at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, thanks to an antiques dealer with a sharp eye and a commitment to patriotism.
The antique rifle is owned by the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution and its Color Guard, and was stolen from the Valley Forge Park museum in 1971 while on loan there.
The rifle was not seen again until 2018, when antiques dealer Kelly Kinzle obtained it at a Berks County barn sale.
The recently returned rifle made by Johann Christian Oerter in 1775 is now on display in #CostofRevolution! The Continental Army riflemen often carried rifles like this one when going head-to-head against the British light infantry.
— Museum of the American Revolution (@AmRevMuseum) November 6, 2019
Once he realized what he had acquired, he worked with the FBI to get the rifle back into the proper hands.
“This moment is that rare thing — it’s pure good news — and a reminder of the many levels of good citizenship that have evolved in this country.”
Kinzle said he was not sure at first that the rifle was a treasure.
“I actually thought it was a reproduction,” he told The Inquirer. “My first inclination was that it had to be fake, because the real gun isn’t going to show up in a barn in today’s world. Things like that are already in collections.”
The more he looked and the more he researched, the more he knew he had a stolen relic on his hands, and contacted the FBI.
Kinzle said he didn’t believe the person who sold him the gun, whom Kinzle described as a “hoarder,” knew the value of the weapon.
“These are weapons that after being used to win the war were brought home and used to build a nation,” Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, the Museum of the American Revolution’s president, said.
“They really are witnesses not just to the founding of the nation but to all the generations that followed.”
The rifle was made by Johann Christian Oerter, a master gunsmith in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, who engraved his name on the rifle. The rifle is also engraved with “W.Goodwin,” which is believed to be the name of the original owner, according to Fox News.
“The Christian Oerter rifle exhibits exemplary early American artistry and is a reminder that courage and sacrifice were necessary to secure American Independence,” Stephenson said.
“Only a handful of signed and dated American rifles from the Revolutionary era have survived,” the Museum of the American Revolution said in a statement. “Oerter’s work is recognized by arms scholars as among the finest and most important.”
Rifles such as the one found were of vast military importance in 1775 because they had greater range and accuracy than the smooth-bore muskets fired by British troops.
The FBI is still trying to unravel the mystery of how the gun went from being stolen to being sold in a barn sale, but decided it should go on display as their investigation continued.
“This significant piece of American Revolutionary history is now back where it belongs, displayed in a museum to be viewed and enjoyed by all Americans,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said.
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