Sam Whitley, PM
Frontier Lodge No. 28
The Ragains rifle has 35 inlays of brass, nickel silver, and pewter. The number should more accurately be increased to 45, as several of the inlays are made up of two or more separate pieces combined to make a composite inlay. The maker (or his apprentice) inlet 45 pieces of metal in the stock of this rifle. One example of such an inlay is the spade and setting maul, which consists of 3 separate pieces installed to represent the crossed spade and maul. Several were pierced inlays, which are harder to inlet than non-pierced ones.
Installing inlays is a labor-intensive pursuit that first involves cutting the inlay to final shape, filing to the final profile, determining whether pins are needed to attach the inlay, and drilling holes in the inlay for such pins if they are needed. The pins then have to be cut and the finished inlay set and pinned in place (or glued). The inlays on the Ragains gun appear to have been made of 0.02 inches thick nickel silver and brass.
The inlays would have been cut near final shape with a jeweler’s saw and then filed to final shape with needle files. The inlay was then placed on the stock, scribed around with either knife or sharp pencil and the area inside the lines removed by careful excision with razor sharp chisels and knives. The measure of a maker’s expertise at inletting is the tightness of fit of these inlays. If done properly there is no visible gap around the inlays. J. Belau (or his apprentice) was very skilled at inletting. There are no visible gaps.
The myriad inlays on this rifle are presented here in alphabetical order for your consideration.
1. the 47th Problem of Euclid
This small inlay is 13x13mm and made of nickel silver. It is pinned with a single silver pin. It is lightly engraved. It is located on the right side of the fore stock.
2. the All-Seeing Eye
The All-Seeing Eye is a 3-piece composite inlay. It is made of an outer brass portion, with rays engraved on it and an inner nickel silver portion that has the eye engraved. The silver part of the inlay is held in place by an iron flat head screw driven just to the top of the silver part of the inlay then filed off to form the pupil. The brass portion is held in place by two brass pins near its lower border. This inlay measures 40x23mm and is located behind the cheek piece next to the butt plate.
3. The Anchor
The anchor inlay measures 30x45mm. It is a nickel silver inlay located on the bottom of the fore stock. This inlay is unusual in that one of the flukes is cracked through and visible in the image above. The inlay is held in place by five silver pins, two through the flukes, two through the upper crossbar, and one through the part just below the broken fluke.
4. The Beehive
This inlay of nickel silver is 18x21mm. Located just behind the end of the breech plug tang, it is attached with two silver pins.
5. the Charter
The charter inlay measures 11x30mm. It is made of nickel silver and is attached with two silver pins. Additionally it has a hole that receives a barrel pin located on the right edge of the inlay. This is the larger hole shown. This inlay is engraved with the word CHARTER and is further engraved to resemble a rolled scroll. It is located on the left side of the fore stock.
6. The Checkered Pavement
The Checkered pavement and blazing star is a 2-piece inlay measuring 23x33mm. The outer border (tassellated border)1 is made of brass. This surrounds the inner inlay which is engraved to represent the mosaic pavement and blazing star. The mosaic or checkered pavement is of nickel silver and is attached by four silver pins near the corners. The brass border is engraved to suggest mitered corners and is attached by four brass pins located at the corners. Note the dark edge of the silver inner inlay in the upper right corner above. This is tarnish on the nickel silver. It was not removed in cleaning because the edge of the silver was bent downward slightly when the inlay was installed, making it much more difficult to clean in place.
This inlay is located on the underside of the forestock.
7. The Coffin
The coffin is a nickel silver inlay some 10x38mm. It is pinned with two silver pins so well finished that they do not show but with the most careful scrutiny. The coffin lid is engraved with the 5-pointed star. This inlay is located on the lower portion of the left side of the butt stock near the butt plate.
8. a Column
The toeplate is in the form of a single column. This inlay measures 13x142mm and is of engraved brass. It is held in place by four flat head screws. It is significantly engraved to resemble either Jachin or Boaz. It is not designated one or the other, but has features of both. The column is short and relatively squatty like the Doric column, but its surface is engraved to resemble the Corinthian. It is certainly decorated with network and lillywork and is supplanted with a globe, but it is difficult to suggest which column is represented. Perhaps Boaz, since a large number of the symbols on the rifle pertain to the EA degree.
9. the Grip
This small inlay (7x18mm) is of nickel silver and is located spanning the break site at the wrist. It was originally covered with the electrical tape, and on removing this tape was covered with a heavy layer of tape residue. Its single silver pin may have provided the source of a tiny crack that made the break easier to start. It is well engraved, but when received, the inlay was found to be installed upside down. It has been restored in that same orientation.
10. the FC Apron
This inlay is a 19x22mm silver inlay that is engraved to show the left-hand corner tucked up. Both bib and bottom of apron are rounded. The bib is decorated with the all-seeing eye. It is located on the right side of the fore stock.
11. the 24-Inch Gauge & Common Gavel
This is a one-piece nickel silver inlay. The inlay is held in place by five silver pins. Located just behind the lock on right side of butt stock.
12. the Heart
This small nickel silver inlay is located on the top of the wrist immediately behind the breech plug tang. It is 10x12mm and has one silver pin.
13. the Holy Bible-EA Degree
The Holy Bible consists of a two-piece inlay 22x23mm. The inner part is nickel silver while the outside is of brass. It is engraved Psalms CCCIII (133) and the square and compasses are laid out for the EA degree. It has four brass pins in the brass outer border- one at each corner. There are no discernable silver pins. This inlay is located under the forestock
14. Jacob’s Ladder
This nickel silver inlay is 10x47mm and is attached with two silver pins. It is located on the left side of the fore stock behind the rear sight..
15. the Lamb
The lamb is a nickel silver inlay 17x39mm located on the left side of the wrist ahead of the break location. It has 2 silver pins. I first took this to be a goat, but as all the other symbols are valid symbols, I now believe this may be a shorn sheep. This would make it a reasonable rather than tongue-in-cheek inlay.
16. the Letter “G”
This “letter G” is 22x35mm and of nickel silver. It is held in place by 3 silver pins. It is highly engraved. It is located on the cheek piece.
17. the Level
This inlay is 30x33mm and rendered in nickel silver. It is located on the flat of the left side of the butt stock forward of the cheek piece. It is held in place by 3 silver pins. Its weight is a flat-head screw driven in then most of the head filed off. The screw is then lightly engraved.
18. the MM Apron
The Master Mason’s apron is 20x22mm and is located on the left side of the forestock. It is of nickel silver and is held in place by two silver pins at top and bottom. The inlay is engraved with the all-seeing eye on the bib and has marks to indicate either fringe or a ruffled border (e.g. a ribbon border) on its lower edge. Both bib and bottom of the inlay show rounded profile.
19. Maker’s name
The maker’s name is engraved on a nickel silver inlay that is inlet on the top barrel flat immediately forward of the rear sight. The plate is engraved J. BELAU. G. S. (Gun Smith?) in Roman block letters. The [plate is 10x88mm with rounded ends.
20. the Master at the Altar
The Worshipful Master at the altar. This inlay is made up of both brass and nickel silver. The brass outer portion represents the checkered pavement or a kneeling pillow and two of the candlesticks. It appears to have these two candle sticks placed west of the altar as shown in many old monitors. The candlesticks are floor candlesticks. The altar contains the Great Lights arranged for the EA degree. The WM is clearly wearing a neck collar, and the symbol of his office is barely discernable. The engraving of the altar suggests it is frame and panel construction. The brass portion of the inlay is held by four brass pins and the silver part by at least 5. Located near the back of the cheekpiece.
21. the Moon
The moon is a 15mm circular inlay of nickel silver. It is located near the comb at the front of the patch box. It is held in place by 2 silver pins and is engraved with the “man in the moon” on one side of the orb.
22. Patch box
The patch box is of cast brass with a hinged lid. It is typical of mid-19th Century cast patch boxes, and is similar to those found on plains rifles of the period. It is 45x116mm and is held in place by 6 iron screws at top and bottom. These screws have their slots filed off. The engraving will be described below. It is located on the right of the butt stock.
23. The Plumb
The plumb is a 9x40mm nickel silver inlay held in place by 2 silver pins. One of these is highlighted to visually act as the weight and a “string” is also deeply engraved on its surface. It is located under the cheek piece.
24. The Setting Maul and Spade
The setting maul and spade is a three piece inlay consisting of a single piece brass setting maul and a 2-piece spade. The inlay measures 25x42mm and was missing the spade bit when received. The inlay shows the spade bit replaced. The maul was secured with 2 brass pins and the shovel with two silver ones. It is found on the left side of the butt stock behind the cheek piece.
25. the Slipper
The inlay of the slipper is 7 x 15mm and is nickel silver. It has no pin attachment. It is located near the lower right portion of the butt stock below the patch box.
26. King Solomon’s Temple
King Solomon’s temple is the subject of this nickel silver inlay. It is located on the right fore stock near the nose cap.
27. The Square
This inlay is 27mm on a side. It is located below the cheek piece on the left side of the butt stock.
28. the Square and Compasses
The square and compasses inlay is 40 x 55mm, of one piece and nickel silver. This inlay is one of the few that are pierced, so that properly installed, wood shows through the piercing. This type inlay is much more difficult to inlet than solid form inlays. It is held in place with two silver pins at the top of the compasses and at the bottom of the square. It is in the configuration for the EA degree with the square over the legs of the compasses. Its location is in front of the patch box
29. the 5-Pointed Star of Fellowship
The star inlay is 25 x 25 mm and is located on the underside of the fore stock. It is of nickel silver and is held in place with five silver pins located near the end of each of its points. It is engraved so as to make it appear 3-dimensional
30. Three Steps Escutcheon
The three steps are emblematic of the three stages of life: youth, maturity, and old age. This escutcheon plate is used to keep the lock bolt from working through the stock. This nickel silver inlay’s dimensions are 28x28mm. It is located on the left side of the stock immediately opposite the lock.
31. the Sun
The sun is a 20mm circular inlay of nickel silver held in place by two silver pins at its top and bottom and an iron screw in the center, whose slot has been filed off leaving a circular flat surface. The engraving includes a face engraved on the iron screw head and rays radiating from the center. It is located beneath the front of the patch box.
31 & 32. the Sword pointing to a naked heart
The sword pointing to a naked heart consists of two nickel silver inlays. The sword is 17x80mm with one piercing held in place by two silver pins, while the heart is a 13x20mm inlay held in place by a single silver pin in its center. Both are located between the patch box and the butt plate. The sword is engraved to show its handle. The heart is not engraved
33. the Trowel
The trowel is an 8x21mm nickel silver inlay. It is engraved and held in place by a single silver pin. It is located on the bottom flat portion of the butt stock.
34. the Winged Hour Glass
The winged hour glass is the most elaborate of the inlays. It is composed of three pieces of brass. One of these pieces (the hour glass) has two piercings, making it very fragile to make and inlay. The wings are separate and were inlaid separately from the body of the hour glass. There are no visible pins that attach the body of the hour glass to the stock. This leads me to believe that the metal inlay was filed to dovetail shape and then installed into a mortise cut atop another, deeper mortise that locks the pewter nose cap in place. The gun smith then glued a paper collar to the front end of the stock. This trapped the hour glass against the nose cap mortise. He next poured the nose cap and dressed both nose cap and outer surface of the hour glass to the same plane with flat file and glass paper (early version of sand paper). He then cut the wing mortises and installed the wings with two pins each. Its location is just behind and below the nose cap of the rifle.
35. the Year made
A nickel silver plate inlaid on the top flat of the barrel bears the inscription 1858, the year of manufacture. It is shaped to resemble a plumb.
1My research suggests strongly that what has today become “tessellated border” began as “tasselated” because of its origins… as the tassels on ropes surrounding some French Masonic art and aprons. Later it became “tessellated” due to mistakes in transcription.