As a small boy in the 1900s, Joe Kindig Jr. always wanted a rifle, but his father, coming from a Mennonite background, did not believe in firearms. When the elder Kindig told him that a rifle could kill a person, Joe asked about purchasing an air rifle. But, he learned, an air rifle could shoot a person’s eye out. Joe’s last request was for an old, antique gun. Finally, he was told, he could buy plenty of them, and he took it quite literally. Joe had an aunt who was an antique collector and fond of local farm sales. He accompanied her on many an outing and found that he could buy old furniture, which in turn he could sell to the more established dealers in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. He used the proceeds to purchase more rifles.
In 1916, at age 16, Joe distributed his first mail order listing of American and European firearms. The many enquires and orders launched him into the antique arms business. Later, he expanded his business to include 18th century American furniture and opened a shop in downtown York, Pennsylvania. At the bottom of the Depression, he became one of the few advertisers in the Magazine Antiques and the American Collector. His conviction and belief throughout the 1930s and 40s that American furniture would survive the Depression prompted him to invest everything in the best objects he could find. During this period, the disastrous economy eliminated the great collectors of European arms and armor, and important pieces were going begging in the European and American auction markets. Since high-art arms had been his passion from the beginning, he started buying in Europe and New York, and his collection was formed.
The Kentucky rifle, also known as the Pennsylvania long rifle, was Joe’s first love, and he continued acquiring in this field.Ultimately, he assembled the largest collection of long rifles in the world. In May 1955, Life magazine published its first-ever foldout, highlighting a few of Joe’s rifles. In 1960, he finished Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in Its Golden Age, a book that became the bible on the subject. It changed popular and scholarly attitudes from thinking of the rifle as a weapon to appreciating it as an art form and the gunsmith a skilled artisan.
His son Joe III came into the business in 1947 and, since Joe Jr.’s death in 1971, has maintained the collection. Ninety-five percent of it remains intact. Few rifles are ever offered to the collecting public.