Longrifle collections on display

MARIETTA – The ballroom of Marietta’s Lafayette Hotel could have been mistaken for a rifle museum Sunday as collectors displayed hundreds of antique longrifles and related accessories during the weekend’s 39th annual Association of Ohio Longrifle Collectors exhibit.

“My husband and I collected rifles since we were teenagers,” said Melva Dixon, of Beverly, whose late husband, Ted Dixon, was a founder of the longrifle association.

Ted Dixon died in 2002, but she continues to display their longrifle collection.

“Ted collected just about everything – cars, marbles, rifles – but he was very interested in history and had such a large collection of rifles that he had to build an extra room onto our house,” Dixon said. “We’re keeping it to show future generations.”

Mark Herman, of Columbus, a member of the AOLRC board of directors, said the Dixons played a big part in helping establish the association that began in Marietta in 1977. Today there are 237 members from Ohio and other states.

“Our purpose is for presentation of and dissemination of information about Ohio longrifles and their development over the years,” he said. “Most of the rifles exhibited here today are original longrifles, pistols and related accouterments from the 19th Century.”

Herman said a host of Ohio longrifle collectors from across the state as well as from several surrounding states like Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania brought items for display during this year’s exhibit Saturday and Sunday at the Lafayette.

“Many of these longrifles are what we call ‘working guns’ that were used in the 1800s for protection or to hunt in order to feed the family,” he said. “The longrifles were among the tools they depended on every day.”

Other rifles on display during the exhibit were simply presentation pieces, highly ornamental rifles designed to be displayed on the wall of a home.

“And some were used for competition,” Herman added. “Rifle competitions were a popular sport in the 19th Century.”

He picked up a competition rifle with an extra-long barrel from his collection.

“This is called a ‘chunk gun,'” Herman said. “It has a 49-inch barrel, but is only used in shooting competitions.”

He said the 18-pound rifle’s massive barrel is rested on a support and has to be fired from a prone position on the ground.

Longrifle collector Dean Scott, from Mansfield, had a much smaller rifle on display at his table Sunday afternoon.

“It’s an 1880 H.S. Groff rifle that’s been in my family since it was new,” he said of the petite-looking longrifle adorned with fancy metallic inlays, including a gold cross-hatch inlay along the top of the barrel.

“We think this may have been a lady’s rifle and was a gift for my great aunt Earle Scott,” Scott said. “But it was used to shoot hogs that were about to be butchered at one time.”

Herman said the weekend event in Marietta also included the association’s annual business meeting as well as a banquet for the exhibitors.

“We’ll have another show in September in Newark, but that will be a buy, sell and trade event featuring antique arms pre-dating 1898,” he said. “And in August we’ll have a family picnic and rifle shoot in Centerburg, Ohio.”

Herman added that part of the association’s mission is education about Ohio longrifles and their history. He said the group has published a five-volume set of books about the firearms and a sixth volume is nearing completion.