Shotgun and rifle maker since 1578, written by Helmut Klett
Iron was already produced in the southern valleys of the Thuringian Forest in the 13th Century, following the ore deposits, waterpower and charcoal. The first steamhammer was described in the year 1437 at the small river Lauter. Powered by water, the steamhammer and bore blacksmith shops processed the crude steel to suits of armour and weapons. In the 16th century the town Suhl, beside the river Hasel, developed to a center of armouries which provided worldwide reputation to the German gunsmiths. Around 1563, Georg, Prince of Henneberg gave the rights of guild to the gunsmiths, metal workers and winch makers of Suhl. In order to be protected against bad work and to gain international and national reputation, strict conditions for manufacture of weapons were enacted.
Gunsmiths of Suhl supplied their goods to Switzerland, Spain, France, Hungary, Poland, Denmark and Prussia. Already in 1597 the gunsmith Klaus Klett received the tithe of the town Zurich, which can be followed up by records of the town's arsenal. In 1600 Denmark purchased 6000 rifle barrels, showing an engraved royal coat of arms. During the Wars of the Turks Emperor Rudolf II ordered thousands of muskets, which were supplied by the gunsmith Simon Stöhr and to be transported via ship on the Danube from Regensburg to Vienna. Wallenstein bought weapons at the traders Georg Klett, Hans Heyelmann, Valentin Cronenberger, Hans Stöhr, Baltasar Klett and Anton Frey Aldenhoven from Suhl. At that time the citizens of Suhl achieved a high degree of prosperity and reputation. Together with the prosperity a demand on luxury developed in the 16th century. The demand on precious weapons rose, and therewith the manufacturing of splendour weapons.
There is still a wheel lock rifle of Valentin Klett existing in the German Hunting Museum in Munich. But also other European museums have old Klett rifles on display: the Windsor Collection includes the oldest rifle with insert barrel from Sigmund Klett from 1652. Further examples of him and Cornelius Klett are shown in the Museum of Baden and respectively in the Metropolitan Museum of New York. And Sotherby's auctions catalogue of June 1991 called on an "extremely rare quad barreled percussion-revolving-pair" manufactured by Paul Klett in 1680 for 20,000 £.
Manufacturing these guns did not only depend on quality of the single parts but also on precision of combining them. This required of the gunsmiths a continuous effort for technical improvements. During the Thirty Years' War (1618 - 1648) the branch came to a temporary standstill, when Croatia set Suhl on fire under commander Count Isolani in 1634. More than 800 buildings were destroyed, many citizens were murdered or taken away. 84 houses were spared, amongst them the steamhammer, the bore blacksmiths shop, the bore and grinding mill of the family Klett. There a part of the work could be taken up again. The persistence of some craftsmen and the renewed demand of guns made in Suhl - as the war was not over yet - led to a new increase.
At that time many gunsmiths and their families left the town to build a life for themselves in foreign countries. That way Johann-Paul Klett the Elder moved to Ebenau near Salzburg, took over the prince-bishop bore blacksmith shop and introduced the first flintlock rifles to Austria. Later he returned to Suhl. His sons Cornelius, Sigmund and Johann-Paul the younger were well known designers far over the Austrian borders. They developed insert barrels, magazine rifles and quad barreled revolving guns.
The high demand for guns in these days went on the expense of quality. The guns were not only manufactured by gunsmiths, but also by tailors, shoemakers and butchers. This led to a year lasting quarrel and finally to the decree of a trade regulation in the year 1663, which was not obeyed. Only after the decree in 1710 brought back reputation to the gunsmiths of Suhl, which only permitted persons to manufacture and trade guns, which belonged to the guilds of bore smiths and gunsmiths.
During the Nordic War (1700 - 1721) the Swedish Colonel Görtz, who invaded Suhl with 4000 riders, took thousands of guns as spoils of war. After that years of little orders followed. Only the Austrian War of Succession (1740 - 1748) stimulated the demand. The Bavarians and also King Frederick II, called the Great, ordered rifles. A fire in the year 1753 led again to a setback, but the gunsmiths rebuild their blacksmith shops quickly.
During the Seven Years War (1756 - 1763) the citizens of Suhl built in the first four years 25,000 rifles. Also during this war it came to plundering, on which the citizens of Suhl lost much money. As many orders failed to arrive there were many unemployed people at the End of this War. Many craftsmen emigrated to Austria and Prussia. The crisis lasted until 1778 when a new war was threatening and the Saxons needed rifles. Denmark ordered sea guns - rifles without bajonett - for the slave trade in Guinea.
In the 19th century the gunsmiths from Suhl delivered their rifles mainly to Bavaria and Prussia. But after the Napoleonic Wars an important centre for manufacturing sporting guns was formed.
The last citizen of Suhl within the genealogical table of the family Klett, Helmut Klett, learned his trade at the company Adamy in Suhl. After the war he had to find a new place to stay in the West, thus he established himself in Borken and built up his shop and gunsmith workshop. His son Eberhard Klett took over the succession of Helmut Klett, who died in 1990. After his apprenticeship in his father's business he gained more knowledge at W. Gehmann / Karlsruhe (owner of the company 'vom Hofe') and possesses the master craftsman's diploma since 1986. Since 1988 Eberhard Klett runs the company, moving to larger rooms in 2011 together with one of the latest indoor shooting-cinema in Germany, under the name WAFFEN KLETT - Gun- and Riflemaker since 1578
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