Joseph Haberstro, A Buffalo,N.Y. Gunmaker & his Masterpiece

By Larry B. Schuknecht

This story has two parts. First- it is the story of the life and career of Joseph Haberstro and second- it is a pictorial record of a rifle that is surely a masterpiece and a testament to his extraordinary gun making talents.

Most of the following information comes from the book The History of the Germans in Buffalo & Erie County, Part II-1898- with additional information from Ancestry.com

Joseph Haberstro was born in Altkirch, part of the upper Alsace region in 1799. In 1828 he emigrated to America after completing an apprenticeship as a gunmaker in his homeland. He seems to have immediately settled in Buffalo with a residence at Washington and Carroll Streets. He took employment with Abraham Sylvanus Dygert (Sept. 1, 1795- ) a gunmaker who had established a Shop on the west side of Main Street south of Seneca Street in 1827. In a short period of time Abraham Dygert and Joseph Haberstro became partners. On Sept. 28, 1832 Dygert sold his share in the partnership to Haberstro.

A full stock rifle made by Haberstro & Dygert 1828-1832, Courtesy of Mr. Tom Rowe.

His next move was to 193 Main St. when he took out a 15 year lease on a piece of property owned by Mr. Le Couteulx where he built a two story wood frame structure. He had his Store and Shop on the first floor and his residence on the second floor. The cited book of reference states that his next move was to 401 Main St. where he built a 3 story brick building for both his business and residence but his 1842 Directory advertisement clearly states "Number 145 Main St". This may be explained by changes in the Street numbers over the years, Later-401 Main Street between Mohawk & Genesee Streets became 523 Main St. In 1830 Jacob married Miss Catherine Mesmer and they had eleven children.

Following is the 1842 advertisement from the Commercial Directory of Buffalo.

Below are images of a Half Stock Rifle made in 1836 by Joseph Haberstro. Examination of the barrel stamp shows that the "A" in Haberstro was damaged which lead some early researchers to deduce that the name was H.A.Berstro. It has the Patch box finial particular to Haberstro guns.

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Below are images of another full stock Haberstro rifle recently sold on Guns International showing the patch box style typical of his work.

In late 1844 or 1845 Jacob left the gun making behind and entered into Textiles. He opened his Textile Mill on May 1, 1845 and remained in that business until his death on March 26, 1862. While still gun making he taught his son Joseph Lambert Haberstro the trade which he carried on for a few years but gave that up for a lucrative career in Brewing Beer.

Jacob was very civic minded and it is said that he was a firearms maker for the federal Army from 1830 to 1845 ( something which I have found no evidence to prove, but he was paid by the Federal gov't. for Gunsmith and Blacksmith work for the Seneca Indians, not the U. S. Army) and he was an active member of the St. louis Catholic Church in Buffalo.

Jacob Haberstro's Masterpiece

The following rifle is owned by the Haberstro family and is one of the highest quality muzzle loading New York State guns I have had the opportunity to examine. It has sterling silver and mother of pearl inlays and approximately 1000 silver pins. It has finely executed engraving and the contouring of the Barrel exterior is remarkable when considering that it was most likely done by hand (use of milling machines were in their infancy at that time and were being developed in England). The Walnut stock is very highly figured.

The family story surrounding the rifle is that Jacob was contracted to make a presentation rifle for Chief Red Jacket. While doing that he also made a second identical rifle to keep, perhaps to show his skill as a gun maker. The family lore states that red Jacket's rifle was buried with him when he died in Jan. 1830.

One thing that is documented (in a 1848 Congressional Record) is that Jacob was paid $413.61 by the federal Gov't. for supposed Blacksmith Work for a group of Seneca Indian Chiefs in 1839. A great amount of Money for what would be Blacksmith work at the time, or was it for a presentation rifle?

Other Congressional records show that Jacob Haberstro was paid $317.87 for the 3rd Quarter of 1831 to the 1st Quarter of 1832, $508,66 in the last Quarter of 1838 for Gunsmith Work and $411.70 for Blacksmith work in 1843.

Below are sliders of the fantastic Haberstro Masterpiece.

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Following is the full document from the 1848 Congressional record related to the allocations and disputed funds with the Seneca's from 1839.