Restoration vs. Conservation
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Discussion of "restoration" work is a very slippery subject.

At the NMLRA Gunsmithing seminar John Bivins, Wallace Gusler and I taught a three day class in "restoration" for several years back in the 1980s. We stopped because we felt it was a work best left to professionals, who would follow the code of ethics, and not someone we had in a short course. An amateur restorer could get in trouble if it was determined that their actions were not responsible.

This web site has a history of the evolution of the code of ethics and also a set of guidelines for responsible practices.

The basic rules can be summed up as; document what you do and why, do nothing that harms the historical record or artistic value (not just $$) of the object, use reversible processes where ever possible, and respect the object and the artisan who created it's original intent.

Unfortunately, every collectors group seems to have it's own interpretation of these codes. I once attended a Carriage Association of America meeting and was told about the "restoration" of a fine 18th-century carriage. They explained that the body of the carriage was originally made of oak, steamed and bent, then lined with glued on linen for strength. They went on the explain proudly that all that oak and linen had been replaced by fiberglass panels!

In the firearms field we have examples of very different practices depending on the type of gun. Lynton McKenzie, world class engraver who taught at the NMLRA Seminar, explained that in fine double guns it was common to re-cut the engraving, so it would sparkle again, and redo the color case hardening as a normal restoration practice. Those who practiced that art made every effort to make the "restoration" impossible to detect.

In the longrifle collectors world the trend for the last 10 or 15 years has been toward doing less and less. Where re-conversion to flint was once the standard many collectors now see the percussion use of a rifle as part of its history that should be preserved. Not everyone agrees yet but, following the belief that the present owner is merely the temporary custodian, many of us have come to view any "restoration," beyond what is needed to prevent further damage/deterioration, as excessive.

Below are some before, during and after photographs where damaged guns have been stabilized.

Here is a late percussion rifle that was shattered through the wrist with several previous repair attempts. The cost of this work probably exceeded the value of the rifle but as a family piece the owner wanted it stabilized so he could display it. This work was done in 1985, before the decision by Colonial Williamsburg that the Gunsmith Shop should not do restoration work.

When we took the wire off the extent of the damage was even more obvious.

It was also missing the patchbox lid and rear pipe.


The new box lid was not engraved because there were no known examples to base the engraving on.

The top line of the wrist was not corrected because that would have required the addition of too much new wood.


This Virginia rifle was in good shape except for the iron band that had been applied to support the broken wrist. Although, in the 1980s, we removed the band and stabilized the wrist with modern glue I believe that the same rifle, if discovered today, should be left alone.


More to time permits.