Georg Leyendecher 1771.     

     This unique brass box lid was found in Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania, in 2004; the area is just south of Easton on the Delaware River, Easton being the county seat of Northampton County.  This relic was found intermingled with a box of antique clock components and a few other unrelated gun parts, and second-hand information relayed to me indicated that the lid may have originally come to light ca. 1970 in the broad area between Easton and Allentown.  Allentown is currently the county seat of Lehigh County, however prior to 1812, Lehigh County was completely within the bounds of old Northampton County.  In light of the condition of the box lid [subsequently cleaned and conserved], I think it is very possible that the lid was an excavated find.  There are two primary issues which arise in consideration of this piece, these being (1) the attribution of a maker and region, and (2) its manner of design and construction.

     In addition to the various decorative elements present upon the piece, prominently engraved within a central cartouche is the name, "GEORG LEYENDECHER," the name flanked on either side by one-half of the date "1771."  This  is not a case of 18th century illiteracy or creative spelling:  'Georg' is an old German form of the anglicized name 'George.'  The box is hinged - via a concealed hinge - along it's lower side and thus by definition is a side-opening box, the lettering being engraved so as to be legible when the gun was either carried or racked barrel-side up.  Traditional wisdom holds that this engraving orientation most often is indicative of the gun maker's identity [i.e., advertising].  This manner of box-lid engraving became quite common during the Federal Period in conjunction with side-opening boxes of the Bucks County and upper Montgomery County region, as evidenced by signed work of Andrew Verner, John Shuler and George Weiker [amongst lesser-known others - Daub, Hirsch etc.].  These men typically signed or initialed both the box lid and either barrel or lock, thus reinforcing the aforementioned engraving philosophy.  In contrast, there also are instances of boxes being engraved so that any lettering could be read when held by the individual holding the rifle:  a very good example of this can be seen upon an early rifle made by Christian Oerter at Christian's Spring in 1774 [boldly marked upon the barrel] yet engraved upon it's side-opening box with the name of its owner, Samuel Coykendall [Mount Bethel township, Northampton County], and dated September 12, 1774.  Thus, I believe it correct to view the particular box lid in question as bearing the name of its maker, Georg Leyendecher.

     An investigation into the Leyendecher family via period sources - and many variants upon the spelling are evident - has yielded a good degree of supportive information to indicate that at least two men of this surname were working ca. 1760-1778 in the area of western Northampton County, Pennsylvania, these men being Georg or George Leyendecher, who was alternately referenced as a smith or locksmith, and Simon Layendecker/Leytecker, who arrived in 1750 aboard the Royal Union [a Palatine ship] and was a resident of eastern Berks County ca. 1758-60 before moving to the town of Northampton [also known as Allen's Town or Allentown] ca. 1761.  There exists ample documentation to indicate that Simon remained there until 1769 whereupon he sold his property and vanished.  Simon was always referenced as a locksmith.  George, meanwhile, has been documented to have been present in the area of Allen's Town ca. 1762-63; in the 'upper township' area [now Lehigh and Moore townships] along the base of the Blue Mountain, at the time noted as 'Lehi' or 'Lehay' ca. 1769-70; and finally, somehow involved in a felony with Peter Bechtel - another documented smith of Whitehall township - in 1778 before subsequently vanishing.  I believe it very possible that these two men moved south to the area of Rowan County, North Carolina or possibly eastern Tennessee, although for the present time this can not be documented.  A family group of the same surname - Leyendecker - were residents of eastern Berks and upper Philadelphia [now Montgomery] Counties ca. 1759-1775 before themselves relocating to Rowan and Cabarrus Counties, North Carolina, during the Revolution and I believe it quite a strong possibility that George and Simon were somehow tied to this family.

     This lid is 5 1/4" in length, approximately 1 25/32" wide across the base (the bent portion makes precise measurement difficult) and 1 11/16" wide across the top (shy of the scalloped area).  It would appear to be comprised of a piece of cast brass that has been heavily planished; it is 3/32" in thickness along the center and tapers out to approximately 1/16" at the outer edges.  The location of the release catch, now missing, was along the upper edge approximately 5/8" from the rear of the box lid.  The hinge is along the lower side of the box and is constructed so that it would have been completely concealed.  It was constructed in a very unique manner:  it would appear that a piece of brass was rolled and hammered to make a 'tube,' this tube then being cut into individual hinge segments  that were silver-soldered to the underside of the lid.  Each of these segments is approximately 7/16" in length.  The rearmost segment is attached 3/16" forward of the base of the box, and the forward segment would have been approximately the same distance shy of the start of the scalloped 'head' but it has detached and is now missing.  I would tend to designate these soldered segments as comprising the 'female' portion of the hinge, and the total length of this string of knuckles would have been approximately 4 inches long and would have contained five knuckles (had one not been missing).

     The 'male' portion of the hinge, the portion which would be used for attachment to the stock, is 3 3/8" long and carries three knuckles also approximately 7/16" long apiece.  This side of the hinge was formed in a typical manner, i.e. folding a piece of sheet around a mandril.  The 'tab' used for stock attachment is almost 7/16" wide and contains two holes fore and aft for screws, these holes being 5/32" in diameter.  The folded portion of the tab was also riveted for security as there are three tiny brass rivets present which are filed flat.  The iron hinge pin appears to be about 1/16" in diameter.  All over the underside of the box can be found evidence of both heavy hammering with a cross-pein hammer as well as very coarse file marks.  It would appear that the individual hinge knuckles were soldered to the box lid with a rather liberal use of solder, and the intervening spaces were squared and brought to a uniform spacing via the use of a coarse square file.  Also evident upon the underside of the box is a small worn area near the lower [hinge] side approximately the same distance from the rear as the hole for the now-missing release catch:  this is apparently where a kick spring constantly rubbed against the softer brass of the lid.  Finally, at the forward-most round portion of the scalloped decoration on the underside of the lid can be very faintly seen [amongst the heavy hammer and file evidence] a lightly-scratched "JOH" in crude lettering.  This probably was placed there by an owner as it very definitely does not represent the more sophisticated hand that shaped and engraved the lid.  It is possible that there once was a letter "N" to complete the name "John," however if so it is no longer visible.

     This manner of hinge attachment in relation to a side-opening box is currently known upon only two additional rifles:  the unsigned rifle designated "No. 42" in George Shumway's Rifles of Colonial America, Volume 1 (182-187) and another unsigned, early rifle which will be subsequently discussed and referenced as the "Deshler Rifle."  Both known rifles have concealed hinges, although all three examples display a slightly different mention of attachment.  The Leyendecher box hinge has been described above; the hinge upon rifle 42 is of a more typical "piano hinge" type construction with one tab screwed to the side wall of the box mortice [as was - at one time - the Leyendecher lid also] and the other tab silver-soldered to the underside of the lid without the use of rivets [this box was extensively examined in Wallace Gusler's four-part hypothesis, "An 18th Century North Carolina Moravian Rifle Gun" which was published in Muzzle Blasts, January through November, 2005]; the hinge upon Deshler's rifle is the most durable of all, consisting of two folded sheet-brass segments, one side screwed to the side-wall of the mortise and the other tab riveted both upon itself as well as riveted to the lid (photo 9).  There is no evident solder usage within this context.  All three boxes are extremely similar in concept and construction, and very likely date to within five years of each other, yet the subtle variations in hinge attachment and design evidence experimentation and a desire to 'work out the kinks' inherent to this rather troublesome means of effecting a concealed hinge.

     The hinge upon the Leyendecher box is curious in that the method of rolling what is basically a piece of 'tubing' to form individual knuckles is quite rare as applicable to American boxes of any period.  This example, blatantly dated 1771, is the earliest example thus far seen by the author.  Very few additional examples - certainly so in relation to the overall evident number of surviving American rifles ca. 1750-1850 - are known.  One piece which has been prominently examined was featured within the Journal of Historical Armsmaking Technology, Volume II of June, 1987 within an article entitled, "Two Virginia Longrifles as Documents of Traditions, Shop Tools, Processes and Technology" by Wallace B. Gusler.  The box upon this rifle, attributed by Gusler to either Rockbridge or Augusta County, Virginia ca. 1770-1775, was described as follows:

"The hinge relief bosses were cast solid, but the knuckles or hinge segments were not part of the casting.  They were made by drawing sheet stock to form small-sized brass tubing.  Each knuckle segment was then silver-soldered to the door and finial.  Perhaps this was done to increase the strength of the hinge using hammered and extruded brass.  This technique of hingemaking is derived from silversmithing tradition.  Eighteenth century tankard and coffeepot hinges often were made in this manner..."

(Gusler 13)

In addition to the example cited by Gusler, this manner of hinge construction [in relation to sheet-brass, not cast, boxes] was occasionally utilized by a variety of 'Upper Susquehanna River School' gunsmiths ca. 1800-1850 and in particular would seem to have been a somewhat common practice upon the work of Samuel Baum, Sr.  Baum was born [and most likely trained, either partly or in entirety] in Bucks County, Pennsylvania ca. 1769 before moving to the area of the Buffalo Valley (and thence to New Berlin) in what is now Union County, Pennsylvania.  He has been shown to have been living and/or working there as early as 1793 and he died in 1842.  [See "A Nicely Decorated Rifle by Samuel Baum" in the --- issue of Muzzle Blasts magazine for much additional detail concerning Baum and his family.]  A fairly large number of his signed rifles have survived and I have thus far viewed a total of six with this form of hinge-knuckle construction.

     Side-opening box lids of varied design are known to have been made in a variety of areas, although by far the largest number of them (and those most closely related in style to these three examples) were made in the areas of upper Montgomery and northeastern Bucks County, Pennsylvania ca. 1785-1810.  These later boxes are essentially composed of large brass lids hinged along the lower edge and occasionally found with an applied brass surround which is never an integral component of the boxes themselves.  The only noticeable differences between the 'classic' Bucks County boxes and the three considerably earlier boxes subject to discussion are (1), the hinges were no longer concealed but rather were formed from the lids themselves - a much easier construction arrangement than the earlier boxes - and visible upon the exterior, and (2) the release catch, in most instances, is no longer the earlier simplistic form extending through the buttplate but rather follows the then-popular trend of moving the release to either the comb or toe; the Bucks County makers practically always opted to hide the release 'button' under the forward circular portion of the toeplate.  By doing away with the concealed hinge, the Bucks County gunmakers also were able to do away with the necessity to cut the awkward lid clearance groove along the lower edge of the box that the earlier concealed hinges mandated.  It has yet to be explained, however, why boxes of this particular style developed where and when they did. 

     It would appear that a hitherto unknown avenue of longrifle evolution was occurring throughout the 1760s and early 1770s in Northampton County and possibly extending outward into upper Bucks/Montgomery Counties.  All of the aforementioned pieces would seem to be related via a small pool of individuals working within a somewhat confined region, and these pieces appear to represent the origins of a short-lived experiment in box construction.  The outward dispersal of this experiment [represented by the second generation two-piece boxes of indeterminate origin which were displayed within Gusler's aforementioned articles as well as the substantial, cast two-piece boxes that appear to be Christian Oerter's design] in multiple directions likely occurred either immediately prior-to or during the Revolution; however, any determination of specific tradesmen involved in the actual dispersal, Moravian or not, remains purely speculative at the present time outside of the innovation displayed by Christian Oerter ca. the early 1770s.