August G. Genez – A Practical Gunmaker
August G. Genez was a French Gunsmith that began working in the gun-making industry at 13 years old in France. He died on June 17, 1897 and over the course of his career he had many successful ventures as well as challenging tragedies.
This article will take a look at A. G. Genez, the gunsmith in New York, New York, and follow his 50-year career in the gun industry. We will also take a look at his successors of his gun shop, Vincent Bissig and John P. Dannefelser.
When August Genez was 21 years old he immigrated to the United States from a port in Le Havre, France on a ship named Charles Thompson and arrived in New York, New York on April 10, 1854. The ship log of his emigration record states he was from Germany but his naturalization record, son’s wedding record, various ads of his, son’s various census records all state his birthplace was France.
The Genez name first shows up in the 1856/1857 issue of Trow’s New York City Directory where Genez August is listed as a gunsmith at 221 William. The same year the Wilson’s business directory of New-York City list him under the Gunsmiths section with his business at 221 William.
He shows up again in the 1858 and 1859 directories with both his business and home addresses listed at 249 William.
The next few years, from 1860 – 1864 he has his home or business or both listed at 232 William.
These first 3 apartments that he lived at were also home to people such as shoe makers, boot makers, butchers, machinists, silver makers, case makers, peddlers, lithographers, bartenders and printers. So it was filled with a solid group of working class people.
I found a good map from 1857 to map these various locations on. Interestingly none of these still exist as it is now home to the Brooklyn Bridge and other highway interchanges.
In 1863 He enlisted and served a very short, 30 day assignment for the New York 55th State Militia, Infantry as a Col Sergt for the Union Army during the American Civil War.
A couple years after his service, in 1865 he moved to the location, 9 Chambers Street, which is where he would be for the next 15 years and his successors, Vincent Bissig and J. P. Dannefelser would be for another 27 years until the shop would be torn down to make room for a larger interchange to the Brooklyn Bridge. City directories for the next few years only list the 9 Chambers location so it is likely he also lived there, maybe directly above it as shown in the following picture of his shop located at 9 Chambers.
One of these men in the picture in front of Genez’s shop is likely A. G. Genez and he may even be standing with J. P. Dannefelser, one of the workers at the shop who will come back into the story later. Now that Genez had his own storefront he began taking out advertisements in the city directories. I searched through them all to find all of the ads!
The first ad I could find was in the 1866 city directory. Here Genez describes himself as an Armurier Français, or French Gunsmith. He indicated that he carries all sorts of the best quality rifles, single and double barrel shotguns, and pocket cutlery and everything else related. He also specifically calls out that he carries fine Lefaucheux pinfire guns and even pictured one in his image on his ad.
In addition to all of the guns he carried, he also advertised that he will make any kind of firearm or airgun in a superior manner.
The next year he included another ad that is not formatted as well but has the same text. He did change the image a bit and will use this new image for the next few years.
He also took out a newspaper ad that advertised that he altered muzzle-loading shotguns into breech-loaders using his own patented process. However, I am not sure that Genez ever actually received a patent on this process. Some guns that undertook this conversion from muzzle-loading to pinfire from this time period state: “A. G. Genez Patent Applied For April 20.1867” or “A. G. Genez, N.Y. Patent applied for April 20th 1867”
There does not seem to be a corresponding patent record for Genez. It is likely that his patent was denied due to a patent that was approved a month prior by John Webster Cochran of New York on March 26, 1867 for a process of converting muzzle-loading firearms to breech loaders. It is also possible that Genez purchased this patent from Cochran. There is also an interesting coincidence that Cochran received patent coverage for this same invention in Great Britain on April 20, 1867; The same dates printed on these guns.
Genez also indicated in his ads that he manufactured firearms.
Here is a cased pair of A.G. Genez percussion derringers with silver furniture that were engraved by the renowned engraver, L.D. Nimschke. Some of the patterns Nimschke would use on Genez’s guns can be found in the book by R. L. Wilson, L.D. Nimschke, Firearms Engraver.
In 1868 and 1869 there are two key new aspects in the ads he took out. He starts to mention that he converts breech loading guns to be used as breech-loaders or muzzle loaders. He also converts muzzle-loaders to breech-loaders and even loads shotshells for these guns.
Here are some examples of the A. G. Genez loaded pinfire shotshells from my collection. There are some loaded with number 4 shot and some with number 7 shot.
He also sold all sorts of ammunition for guns such as this box of cartridges for teatfire revolvers that have his sticker stuck on it.
Around this time, in 1868, he is listed in the Real estate record and builders’ guide as having $9335 in liabilities and $5921 in assets when he took out a loan for $428 for Gunsmith Fixtures. He also lists a new home address there and in the city directories. This house is located in Morrisania which is now The Bronx. During this time period there were no subways or automobiles so it would actually take hours to travel this 17 mile drive by a horse-drawn carriage or bus through the increasingly busy New York streets. A period article mentioned that it would take an hour to drive from Gramercy Park to Lower Manhattan. So it is likely he stayed living in the same location, such as potentially above his shop, most of the time.
At some point he also married a German immigrant, Margaret Biser, and in 1866 had their first child, Justine. It is possible that he got a nice house outside the city to allow his wife to have a nice area to raise their kids while he spend most of his time in the city. This house was listed as being at the southwest corner of Washington Ave and 169th St.
Here are a couple images from the NYPL Digital Collections from the time period that are within a couple blocks from his two houses on Washington and 3rd. So this gives a good example of his neighborhood at the time.
His oldest daughter, Justine was born in 1866. His son, August Louis, was born in 1870 and his son, Julius Benjamin was born in 1873; all in this house.
His next ad, in 1871 is when he begins calling himself a “practical gun-maker.” He also took out a large ad in the magazine Fur, fin, and feather where they also write the following about him, “Mr. Genez has been a practical gun-smith for over twenty-five years, and having a thorough knowledge of his business, is well posted in regard to all the different varieties of shooting implements, a complete stock of which he keeps constantly on hand; and all good purchased of him can be relied on as being all the are represented. Mr. Genez does repairing in all its branches in a most satisfactory manner.”
This is another L.D. Nimschke engraved gun made by A. G. Genez that was sold at Rock Island Auctions for $7500.
In 1876 he took out an ad in a centennial publication that listed highlights of things that happened over the past hundred years. They actually put the wrong street name!
Genez was listed in various years of the Almanach du commerce et de l’industrie des ETATS-UNIS which was a French directory of businesses. In 1877 he took out a large ad where he specifically calls out his focus on luxury weapons. He also mentions his focus on creating guns that can be both breech-loaded and muzzle-loaded. He also mentions that he gives an 8-day trial period to allow the gun to be fully tested. And lastly, he mentions that he buys and sells any kind of ancient and modern weapons.
The year 1880 is the last year that Genez lists himself in the city directories as a gun-maker with a business at 9 Chambers. That same year, Vincent Bissig, a machinist, takes out an ad in Forest and Stream advertising himself as the successor to A. G. Genez. He also lists himself as a manufacturer of fine brass work.
He takes out a similar ad the next year too. In these ads he calls that he alters pinfire guns into centerfire. He also repairs, manufactures and sells all sorts of guns and loads shotshells to order.
Around this timeframe he shows up in city directories as living at 221 William; the same place Genez used to live.
A few years later he took out another, larger ad in Forest and Stream with all the same information and this will be the last we hear of him.
John P. Dannefelser
John P. Dannefelser was a young errand boy who worked for A. G. Genez at his 9 Chambers location. Dannefelser reported that Genez was one of the best gunsmiths in America; a very careful and thorough workman who was very conscientious in all his dealings. He stated that Genez made him work hard at the bench which he did not like at all, but it distilled in him a strong work ethic and made him a good worker.
In February of 1884, John was reported in the Real estate record and builders’ guide as taking out a small loan of $550 for Gunsmith’s Fixtures and etc from Bissig.
In 1886 Dannefelser started listing his business address in city directories as 9 Chambers. It is likely around this time frame that Dannefelser took over the business from Bissig though I have not found any specific date or transfer record.
This ad in Nature from 1889 is the first ad I could find for Dannedelser. He also took out various ads in 1891, 1896 and 1903.
In 1907 a couple articles appeared in both Forest and Stream and in Hardware A review of the American Hardware market indicating that “The Old Gun Shop” at 9 Chambers Street would be moved to 97 Chambers Street as the building would be torn down to make room for the enlargement of the Manhattan terminal of the Brooklyn Bridge. Dannefelser is actually only at this address for 1 year and shows up in the 1907 city directory at this address.
In the 1908 directory he lists his business a block over at 19 Warren Street. He will be listed here until at least 1930 which is the last record I could find.
Here is a view of Warren Street from Broadway to Church taken on September 11, 1918. Dannefelser’s shop would have been about halfway down the picture on the left.
The book, The Shotgunner by Bob Nichols, written in 1949, mentions that Dannefelser’s place has long since disappeared from downtown Warren Street.
A. G. Genez & The Morrisania Schuetzenverein
After A. G. Genez sold his gun shop located on 9 Chambers Street to Vincent Bissig in 1880 he also moved from his house we talked about on Washington Street to a property on Boston Ave across from East 170th Street. This property was the Morrisania Schuetzen park (Schuetzenverein). A Schuetzenverein was a German-style shooting club that was basically a country club with fancy shooting ranges instead of a golf course. This location that Genez owned had a hotel and a saloon and various events were held here.
For 10 years Genez listed his address here and listed his occupations each year as follows: park, beer, liquor, beer, manager, hotel, hotel, beer, smith liquors. There were actually multiple complaints to the Health Department from various members of the community close to the park of bullets being shot through their windows and walls and endangering their lives. All the alcohol and shooting must not have mixed very well!
Above is a German-style percussion halfstock schuetzen rifle made by Genez. These would be the type of target rifles that would be popularly used at his park.
On April 11, 1889, Genez made national news and was covered in multiple newspapers across New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana and Ohio. This is the date that his eldest daughter, Justine committed suicide in her parents bedroom with her father’s large pistol after quarreling earlier in the day with her parents. It also states she had a painful cronic disease and is the source that provides the information about Genez owning the Morrisania Schuetzen park.
Shortly after this incident, Genez would sell the Morrisania Schuetzenverein and move to 3663 Third Avenue to a large house with a large yard. He would witness the marriage of his eldest son, August Louis to Susan Aust and then die on June 17, 1897 just 3 months before the marriage of his youngest son and a year before the birth of his first granddaughter. His widow, Margaret would live on for awhile longer.
You may have noticed that the one of those occupations listed in the directories over the last 10 years (in 1889) is smith. It seems that Genez never completely gave up his passion for building guns. Once he moved to to 3663 Third Avenue he again lists himself as a gunsmith.