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Conservation of Three Historic Firearms in the Museum’s Collections

Debra Breslin

The examination and conservation treatment of a group of important handheld firearms were recently made possible with generous funding from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. Twenty firearms dating from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries were carefully disassembled, and both internal and external components were examined for condition problems. A small group received conservation treatment, with the remaining firearms to be treated in the future.

The majority of the firearms that have been examined are part of the Museum’s Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Collection of Arms and Armor. Assembled by the New York businessman, connoisseur, and philanthropist, Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch (1884-1976), and bequeathed by him to the Museum in 1977, the Kienbusch Collection comprises over a hundred and fifty European firearms of the highest quality. Other firearms included in the survey were acquired by the Museum from other sources and by purchase. The Museum’s holdings include long guns, rifles, and pistols representing the most important centers of European firearms production from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. Most of these firearms are richly decorated and were intended for noblemen’s use in the hunt or target-shooting. Matchlock, wheellock, flintlock, and percussion firing mechanisms are represented.

Debra & Pierre
The Museum’s firearms are not maintained to be in "working" order but rather are treated as masterpieces of craftsmanship and technology. These remarkable objects have ornate exterior surfaces and complicated internal mechanisms that are cared for in the most appropriate manner to preserve and protect the original materials. The examination and conservation treatment of the firearms advances the Museum’s goals of long-term care and preservation of its collections.

This survey and treatment project indicated an urgent need to address the conservation requirements of the firearms collection. A more recent conservation effort offered the Museum the opportunity to gain more scholarly information about the construction of individual examples.