Montgomery County man, 78, sentenced in theft and sale of rare 1775 rifle

A 78-year-old Montgomery County man has been sentenced in the theft and sale of a rare antique rifle, dating to 1775.

United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams made the announcement Tuesday, stating 78-year-old Thomas Gavin, of Pottstown, pleaded guilty in July of disposal of an object of cultural heritage stolen from a museum.

As part of the plea, Williams explained, Gavin admitted to stealing the Christian Oerter rifle from the Valley Forge State Park Museum in 1971. He went on to admit he sold the rare artifact in 2018, along with other items he had stolen from museums in the 1970’s, after hanging on to the rifle for nearly 40 years.


The rifle is rare, dating to 1775 and made by master gunsmith Christian Oerter, in the Christian Springs Philadelphia area gun making center. It’s known to be one of two rifles to have its original flint mechanism with the maker’s name, site and date of manufacture. It is reported to be worth in excess of $175,000. The other Christian Oerter rifle is at Windsor Castle in England, a part of the Royal Collection.

"Stealing an artifact from a museum – literally a piece of American history – is a serious federal offense," said Williams. "After four decades, justice finally caught up with this defendant. Thanks to the work of our law enforcement partners, the Christian Oerter rifle is safely back where it can be enjoyed by all Americans."

Gavin is sentenced to one day in prison, three years of supervised release with the first year in home confinement, a $25,000 fine and ordered to pay $23,385 in restitution.



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