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Conservation of Firearms from the Kienbusch Collection

See examples of conserved firearms.
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The Museum recently documented and conserved 125 firearms from the Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Collection of Arms and Armor. Artistic and technological masterpieces, the objects were collected by New York businessman and philanthropist Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch and bequeathed to the Museum in 1977. Mainly used by noblemen for hunting and target-shooting, the firearms include long guns, rifles, and pistols from leading schools of gun-making in Europe, and range in date from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries.

A previous survey and treatment project indicated an urgent need to address the conservation requirements of the firearms in this collection. This recent conservation effort offered the Museum the opportunity to gain more scholarly information about the construction of individual examples. All major firing mechanisms (matchlock, wheellock, flintlock, and percussion systems) are represented. The barrels and stocks feature a wide variety of decorative techniques (inlay, damascening, etching, engraving, and chiseling) and an array of materials (steel, silver, gold, copper-alloy, wood, bone, horn, mother-of-pearl, ivory, and tortoiseshell).

Conservators disassembled and examined each firearm to document the construction, decorative techniques, and condition of the components. Photographs were taken to allow visual access to interior parts and makers’ marks, thus reducing the need for future handling and disassembly of these fragile objects, a main goal of preservation.

Go behind the scenes in the conservation lab.
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Conservation treatment addressed the stabilization and aesthetic needs of each firearm. It consisted of cleaning, removal of corrosion and old coatings from metal surfaces, stabilization of cracked wooden stocks, repair and replacement of broken or missing hardware, repair of loose inlays or old restoration fills, and applications of new and appropriate surface coatings for protection.

The bores (interior of the barrels) were a specific area of focus, since the majority had not been addressed in a very long time and were covered with heavy corrosion. Limited access to this area, through the muzzle (front opening of the barrels), presented a unique challenge. Extensive research was conducted to determine the best methods for cleaning and coating.

A new display of the firearms collection in the Kienbusch Galleries is planned, as well as a corresponding print publication. Additionally, the Museum’s website will be updated to include more comprehensive descriptions of the objects and details about their conservation over the past few years.


This project was made possible by a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).