Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Guenther Kurth at Dixon’s Gunmakers Fair in 2008.


The summer seems to be flying by, or maybe it is the advent of older age, where one feels there is never enough time for everything. July 4th. is just past, and I spent another rewarding day at Poplar Forest where the holiday is celebrated in grand 18th. century fashion. This year Rick Sheets was able to join me and capably demonstrated traditional horn working for the many attendees. Our tables were crowded all day with folks asking questions, and experiencing something many had never seen before.

July signals the approach of another grand celebration, this one held annually in Kempton, PA. Yes, it is time for Dixon’s Gunmakers Fair! Mark you calendars for the 26th, 27th, and 28th. The Guild will have a table in the Accoutrements Tent. Please come by to say “hi“, purchase a raffle ticket, and spend some time with us. I ask once again that if you can spare an hour or two from the busy schedule, please help us out at the table. We will have an outstanding array of prizes for the raffle, Hartley books will be available for sale, and out newest publication about the accoutrement judging at Dixon’s will be unveiled and available for purchase. Contact Dick Toone if you can help out. I will be working at the table as much as possible this year, in addition to my duties as an accoutrements judge.

Plan to join us Friday evening at the Jacobsburg Historical Museum for our annual dinner. This year promises to be a splendid time. In addition to the dinner, tour the rifle museum, the house, and the new workshop, where the HCH has been teaching beginner and advanced horn making classes. The reservation form is available on our website.

Dixon’s has come to mean many things to many people. It is a time to gather and celebrate the heritage of our past. There are few places that one can find the level of talent and enthusiasm that is exhibited each year. In addition, how many venues offer the amount of knowledge that is available and freely passed along during the numerous workshops each year?  The gun and accoutrement judging offer the opportunity to have your work reviewed by nationally known artisans who generously donate many hours each year.  For three days one can wander the hillsides, trying to take in as many sights and experiences as possible, often making promises to themselves to return next year and see more.

My own experience with Dixon’s is perhaps more limited than some. I was taken there as a guest in 2007 by a family friend who made guns for many years. He firmly stated in typical Germanic fashion that I would attend Dixon’s with him and learn to make guns. There would be no other option. His optimism was fueled by his lifelong love for early antique firearms, their design, and creation. These were subjects he was very familiar with.

In 1957, a German citizen named Guenther Kurth and his wife, Gerta, packed their belongings and immigrated to North America. The walled division of Germany was drawing near, and he did not want to be held as a virtual prisoner in his own country. After settling in Ontario, Canada, they moved to Rochester, NY, where Guenther enjoyed a long career with Eastman Kodak as an engineer.  In 1998, they retired and purchased a home next to our farm in Virginia.

During the 1970’s Guenther’s interest in traditional muzzle loading guns grew. In addition to his love for fine German guns, he developed a particular interest in American muzzle loaders… pistols. A .69 English Tower pistol was his first disappointing purchase. In addition to the sloppy workmanship, the lock was horrible, and would not spark. Guenther proceeded to dismantle the lock, professionally construct new internals for it, and make a new frizzen and springs. He now had a working gun, and shot it for many years.

Following this project, he discovered that there really wasn’t much available for him unless he made it himself. After buying some books he found about traditional rifles and pistols, he began making his own.  Since he did not have good sources for parts for his guns, Guenther designed and made everything including his rifled barrels. He fashioned a small rifling machine for his pistol barrels, similar to the large devices used by the colonial gunsmiths.  Working mostly from photos in books, and looking at original guns, he developed his own talent for duplicating the work of the past, and bringing it to life once again.

His particular love was the German wheel lock, a beautiful, but very complicated lock that many builder shy away from. Guenther located an old book written in German, that showed detailed drawings of the wheel lock mechanism.  Following these drawings and photos of originals in museums, he constructed two wheel lock pistols, both first place Dixon’s winners.

During his gun making career, Guenther built several dozen flintlock and percussion pistols, along with his prized wheel locks. He made one Pennsylvania long rifle, several Hawken style guns for hunting, and a beautiful Jaeger rifle. Many of his pistols were first place Dixon’s winners. He once dryly joked that he was disappointed with his award at Dixon’s that year. His pistol had only won a second place ribbon….. but that it was okay since his other gun won a blue ribbon.

I suppose the most startling aspect of Guenther’s talent was the lack of machinery that he owned. In his basement workshop  was a small metal lathe, a tabletop drill press, and a small metal band saw. Other than that, there were only hand tools, including his rifling machine. He usually made every part of his guns, carved and decorated the stocks, inlaid the silver wire, and engraved the metal surfaces. Following completion, he made cherry or walnut presentation cases for each one, shot them to be certain of their accuracy, and then started his next project.

Sadly,  Guenther is now 85 years old, and stricken with Alzheimer’s. The disease has left him with almost no memory of his gun making friends, or the many beautiful works he created. He still smiles and heartily greets his friends, but conversations have become difficult and more halting than the times I remember so well.

For me, this type of talent  exemplifies the true spirit of Dixon’s Gun Making Fair. There are many artisans working today who exhibit this level of skill and art in their work. Many of them are not as young as they used to be, and there does not seem to be many younger people taking up the craft. It has been said that we are in the midst of another golden age of  traditional gun making. I hope that we treasure it as we should.

I look forward to seeing all of you later this month. As usual, your comments, suggestions, and criticisms are always welcome.

 Thank you,

Jeff Bibb

Guenther Kurth_Dixons_2008 (2)

Guenther Kurth made wheel lock pistol.