The New York State Firearms Trade Study Group (The Students of Swinney)

By Larry B. Schuknecht

Holman J. (Jerry) Swinney- 2001, photograph by Roy Marcot, courtesy of Russ Gilmore & Bill Loos

This informal group of New York State firearms collectors attempts to meet at least once a year at one of the group member's homes for Show and Tell, discussion and a meal. The group began these meetings in Late 2006. Their origin dates back decades to the Alexander Gun Show which Doc. (Harry) Spink operated. He and other like minded individuals would gather near the front door where Doc. held court, often with Mr. Holman J. (hereafter referred to as -Jerry as he was known by his friends) Swinney in attendance.

Jerry Swinney began his Study of New York State firearms makers in 1949 and in 1951 he published a 60 page booklet titled New York State Gunmakers. As the Director of several prominent Historical Societies and Museums, principally the Adirondack Museum and the Strong Museum, he had access to historical material and contacts which made his research easier. By the time he retired in 1982 he had amassed enough material to fill seventeen 2 inch notebooks. In 2003 the material was published by Mr. Tom Rowe as the five Volume set of books- The New York State Firearms Trade with the help and contributions of many others. While the material was limited to the Swinney research by practicality, we recognized that there was a lot more material on the Gunmakers out there, especially with the advent of the internet. For this reason our small group of collectors began meeting and in 2018 a fifth volume was printed titled An Addendum to The NY State Firearms Trade. We still continue to meet and do further research although our group is getting smaller each year.

The following images are both a memorial to those members who have passed on to lead the way for the rest of us (their names will be in Red in the captions) and a chronical of the group. Enjoy!

Clockwise from Left- Ed Stevens, Steve Collward (green shirt), Doc Spink, Bob Naum, Jerry Nelson, Bill Loos, Paul Cowles, Brian Lasco, John Holland, Bob Langford.
From left to right: Doc Spink, Jerry Nelson, Paul Cowles and Bill Loos
An important ingredient of each meeting is sharing food and beverage.
The Study group at the Genesee Country Village & Museum in 2007 after helping the staff put away the display items for the winter. From left to right- Paul Cowles, Doc Spink, Bob Naum, Jackie Holland, John Holland, the author.

Some other members of the Study Group are- Craig Adamson, Chris Aherns, Willis Barschied, Tom Rowe, Al Stone and Alan Wolcott.

If anyone reading this has information about a New York State gunmaker or a Gun that they wish to share with the group, they may contact me and I will see that it is done.

The Students of Swinney meet at Geneseo, N. Y. on July 15, 2021. It was a good time with different guns to examine, reconnecting with old friends and the opportunity to enjoy some black powder shooting.

Recently I became the new custodian of a group of stock makers tools which to me are significant and worthy of inclusion here. First some history of them. The following information was recorded during a conversation with Mr. Swinney.

In the 1940's Jerry Swinney who had learned the stock making trade from M. S. Risley, entered into a partnership with Mr. Harlan G. Howe of 236 Marshal Ave., W. Hempstead, N.Y. Mr. Howe was a superb machinist and Jerry Swinney a superb stockmaker. According to Jerry the firm was known as Swinney & Howe and they built 25 to 30 custom rifles over a three to four year period. It is possible that many of the custom rifles from the 1940's that are marked "Harlan G. Howe" on the barrel were stocked by Jerry. ( No rifles with Swinney's name are known to me while quite a few marked-"Harlan G. Howe" can be found on the internet. Swinney's demeanor during this conversation lead me to believe that the working relationship ended on a less than satisfactory note while he would not admit it. Since the rifles came out of Howe's shop, he may have refused to allow Swinney's name on them and if so, Swinney's displeasure can be understood. Perhaps someday someone with more knowledge of the situation can set the record straight) Below are images of Jerry's collection of Stock Maker's tools.

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Following are two images of a stock making pilot for the Sharps- Borchardt Rifle. I feel this is significant as it possibly ties Jerry to the Custom .225 Sharps Borchardt rifle sold by Christies in 1999.

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Two more images of a three flute tapered reamer clearly ties these tools to Jerry. On the shank it is stamped "Expressly made for H. J. Swinney".

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The following image shows the relationships of the receiver bedding tools used for stocking Bolt Action rifles. First the two holes for the receiver bolts were drilled and with the short pilot screws the receiver and barrel were bedded to the wood and drawn down into the wood by removing the pilots and replacing with the "T" handled draw bolts. When the bedding was completed the pilots replaced the draw bolts and the hollow "T" handled cutters would be used to enlarge the bolt holes for the pillar between the receiver and the box magazine floor plate. Note- on a Mauser as shown, only the rear bolt had a pillar, the front floor plate boss seated directly against the receiver recoil boss.