Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 291: Wheellock Sporting Rifle by the Master of the Animal-Head Scroll

Auction Date: September 10, 2021

Extraordinary Relief Carved and Chiseled 17th Century Austrian Wheellock Sporting Rifle by the Renowned "Master of the Animal-Head Scroll" with Spanner

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $50,000 - $85,000

Extraordinary Relief Carved and Chiseled 17th Century Austrian Wheellock Sporting Rifle by the Renowned "Master of the Animal-Head Scroll" with Spanner

Manufacturer: Austrian
Model: Wheellock
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 58
Barrel: 32 3/4 inch octagon
Finish: silver/brown/bright
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 1819
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 215
Class: Antique

This 17th century rifle is a true work of art from end to end and is an exceptional example of how ornate wheellock firearms can be thanks to their production mainly being limited to arms for the aristocracy. Their artistry has also made wheellocks staples of the arms collections of world renowned art museums, but while many wheellocks have highly ornate stocks, this rifle also has full coverage chiseled and silvered designs on the visible portions of the lock and barrel, a very uncommon feature that really sets it apart. The amount of time invested in this incredible sporting rifle must have been extraordinary. Its incredibly ornate, relief carved stock is consistent with the work of a master gunstocker active in the early to mid 17th century and that has been nicknamed the "Master of the Animal-Head Scroll" (Meister der Tierkopfranke). This unidentified artisan produced some of the most ornate and beautiful stocks of the 17th century. The high coverage, relief carved floral scroll patterns with animal heads and animal designs are considered his hallmark. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in their listing for similar sporting rifle (Accession Number: 2018.103) with stock attributed to the this stockmaker states: the stock was "produced by the anonymous gunstocker called the Master of the Animal-Head Scroll, after the eponymous design motif that appears throughout his work. Probably employed by the imperial court in Vienna, he was active between 1624 and 1659, the dates recorded on his earliest and latest-known firearms. Characteristic of this master's work is the carving of the stock, with leafy tendrils ending in animal or bird heads, and the recessed background, which is either stippled or matted for contrast and, often, engraved with foliage." That rifle is pictured on page 154 from the "Antique Arms Annual" from 1971 in an article about Joe Kindig Jr.'s collection. Included with the rifle is a copy of the relevant page from the rough draft of Tom Lewis' book which notes that "The mate to this rifle is pictured in" the article "The Master of the Animal-Head Scroll" by Hans Schedelmann in "Arms and Armor Annual Volume 1" and is "located in the museum in Torino, Italy." Other examples are noted from the Collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein, and the rifle in the Philadelphia Museum of Art was made for Ferdinand III of Austria, King of Hungary and Bohemia. The current rifle has panels of relief carved scrollwork along the sides of the forend that include eagle masks, floral blooms, and leafs. The forend also has brass furniture engraved with coordinating floral designs. The patch box contains an iron spanner, and the lid has two lions and a pierced escutcheon with bestial mask finials and a human mask. The left stock flat has additional animals, including two deer, and the lock screw washers are shaped as cornucopias and heralds, the rear holding a serpent. The left side of the butt includes buildings by the barrel tang, a reposed figure with a leashed dog, a falconer, hunter with horn and spear, eagle head, brass cheekpiece plate with pierced scroll design with mask elements that coordinate with the stock carving and a central mother of peal inlay, bestial accent on the cheek piece edge, and a male figure with fruit on the accent near the edge of the butt. The buttplate is smooth staghorn. The MET's rifle also features high relief, silver ornamented chiseled designs on the barrel and lock that are very similar to this rifle. Note especially the lock designs which are clearly based on the same pattern with only minor differences. The rifled octagon barrel has engraving around the bore on the muzzle face, a brass dovetailed blade front sight, a dovetailed two-leaf rear sight (one standing, one folding), a flat folding peep sight with three apertures on the tang, and full coverage chiseled engraving highlighted by silver with a border and scroll design that incorporates repeating mask elements and a figure under a crown in different poses, including holding a sword on the breech section. The lock has a coordinating design that has a figure with scrolls emanating from their arms at the center flanked by two figures with horns whose bodies also terminate with scrolls, and floral designs. The rifle has double set triggers, and the trigger guard has finger grooves. Provenance: The Collections of Frank Bivens and Tom Lewis

Rating Definition:

Exceptionally fine with aged patina on the silver and brass, dark brown in the backgrounds on the barrel and lock, traces of gilt finish on the dog, and mild overall wear. The stock is also very fine and has crisp carving, smooth finish, minor dings and scratches, slight slivers absent by the barrel tang, and a few insignificant hairline cracks. Mechanically untested. This extraordinary wheellock rifle is a truly outstanding work of art by one of the 17th century's finest firearms artisans: the anonymous "Master of the Animal-Head Scroll."

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