Joe Kindig III earned respect as world-class antiquarian, Kentucky long rifle collector

In 1973, York-based antiquarian Joe K. Kindig III was studying a Sotheby’s London auction catalog when he noticed a set of five chairs from Ireland matched a chair at Winterthur museum in Delaware
He phoned in a bid for the set.
This signaled to the famed auction house that the chairs might be American. Sotheby’s withdrew the chair from sale in London so they could be studied by its American division.
The chairs indeed matched a chair at Winterthur, the famed New Castle County museum. They were later sold and ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Colonial Williamsburg and the National Gallery.
One phone call delayed a sale.
This story from the Maine Antique Digest shows Kindig’s vast knowledge of American, English and Irish antiques and the respect accorded to this member of a venerable family of antiquarians. In his long life, he also developed expertise in the Kentucky, or Pennsylvania, long rifle and 1700s architecture, among a host of other topics.
He contributed mightily to York County history, too. His attention to detail in discovering the rare half-timber construction of the Golden Plough Tavern hiding under siding is legendary. The York County History Center’s Joan Mummert tells that story below.
Joe Kindig III died on Sept. 4, at age 98.
“Young Joe” Kindig worked quietly from his 325 W. Market St. building and rarely went to antique shows.
People today still confuse “Young Joe” with his father Joe Kindig Jr. (1898-1971), called “flamboyant” by the Maine journal. Late in life, the very visible “Old Joe,” as he was called, dressed in simple shirts and pants, wore no socks and let his hair and beard grow without trimming.
This story from the Kindig Antiques website tells how Old Joe founded the venerable antique business:
Old Joe, then a young boy in the early 1900s, badly wanted a rifle. His father, of Mennonite heritage, did not believe in such weapons.
His father suggested his son purchase an air rifle, but then discovered one could damage an eye.
Joe then requested an antique gun. He was told he could buy plenty of them.
And he did.
Joe’s aunt, an antique dealer, would go to local farm sales. Joe would accompany her and also started to buy old furniture, which he started selling to dealers in New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. He used money generated from these sales to buy more rifles. At age 16, Joe circulated a mail order listing of firearms.
The Kindig website says that the Kentucky rifle was Old Joe’s first love.
“Ultimately, he assembled the largest collection of long rifles in the world,” the website says.
Young Joe entered the family business in 1947 and maintained the collection after his father’s death.
“Ninety-five percent of it remains intact,” the website states. “Few rifles are ever offered to the collecting public.”
In 2014, Young Joe expressed high praise for local gunsmiths: “The very best of the rifles, fortunately, were made here in York.”
Joe Kindig III is another in a long list of historians whose shoulders subsequent generations of local researchers stand on today. Young Joe joins Kathryn Jordan, Henry James Young, Landon Charles Reisinger, Charles H. Glatfelter, Al Rose, Lila Fourhman-Shaull, Justine Landis, Betty Brown, Wm. Lee Smallwood and Fred Weiser, among many others, on this list of late contributors.
Current and future generations of local historians and researchers can learn much from the reserved Young Joe.
A close colleague, Philip Zimmerman, said of Kindig in Maine Digest: “He was curious, open to new information and well read.”
He was talking about books that he was reading when visited two weeks before his death.
“He was well read in history and decorative arts and was an avid consumer of fiction,” Zimmerman said.
And Peter Tillou, a friend, noted years ago that Joe was generous with his time.
“One of the nicest things about Joe is that if he respects you and sees your passion, he is generous with his knowledge,” he said. “One of my great joys over the years has been his willingness to spend time.”
Perhaps Young Joe’s most lasting legacy comes from his work in the preservation of the Golden Plough Tavern/Gates House in 1963.
This came at a time when the York City Market, Children’s Home of York, York Collegiate Institute and many other historic buildings were being demolished.
The successful saving of the Billmeyer House on East Market Street in the mid-1970s is sometimes credited with jump-starting the modern historic preservation movement in York County. That might be the case as a sustained preservation movement with intention.
But Kindig’s significant involvement in saving the circa-1741 Golden Plough Tavern came a dozen years earlier.
Mummert, of the History Center, responded to questions about Joe Kindig III’s preservation work, life and influence:
Q. How was Joe Kindig III involved with the Gates and Plough complex?
A. In his 2014 History Center presentation, Joe Kindig III shared his 1960 experience sitting at the Market Street and Pershing Avenue stop light when the sunlight hit the building at such an angle that he noted the nail pattern in the clapboard siding. Additionally, the sharp angle of the pent roof also caught his attention. Both inspired him to further inspect the building, which at that time was slated for demolition along with a number of buildings on that corner. Joe’s observations and subsequent advocacy and efforts propelled a community effort to restore the Golden Plough Tavern and the General Horatio Gates House.
With the significant assistance from the Redevelopment Authority of York, the Junior League, the tourism bureau and others, a nonprofit entity, Historic York County, was established to raise the needed funds and oversee the revitalization. Joe led this effort utilizing his background in historic architecture by contracting with G. Edwin Brumbaugh, a highly regarded restoration architect, who had recently led efforts to restore the Ephrata Cloister. The project received considerable praise as a unique combination of historic preservation and urban revitalization.
Under the guidance of Mr. Kindig and Mr. Brumbaugh the iconic Gates and Plough buildings serve as a reminder of York’s frontier experience while a new nation was forming. These structures hosted delegates to the Second Continental Congress and the Marquis de Lafayette during the darkest days of the American Revolution. Joe’s keen eye, knowledge of architectural history and his involvement ensured the buildings and their compelling stories would be available to residents and visitors alike.
Q. What significant contributions did Joe Kindig III and his forebears make to the York County History Center in York and beyond.
A. Joe Kindig and a core group of dedicated volunteers steadfastly endeavored to ensure the history of York County was available for future generations to learn. Beyond the restoration of the Gates & Plough buildings, the Bobb (anglicized from Bupp) Log house was moved from the corner of College and Pershing avenues to the present location along Pershing Avenue. This particular property was viewed as a ‘hands on’ house for weaving, a way to connect young children to historic crafts.
Many of the significant decorative arts artifacts displayed and housed within the York County History Center were collected with the assistance of Mr. Kindig’s experienced eye. He and others – such as Mimi Brimfield, Ingrid Graham, Nancy McFall, Byron LeCates, Russell and Eleanor Gohn, Walter Loucks, Mary Skold and Mary S. Keesey – worked to establish relationships within the community to ensure that fine York County craftsmanship would be preserved and shared.
To convey the region’s broad history, they sought collections that represented a variety of artistic styles and industries. Today, these collections form the basis for over 90,000 artifacts in the History Center’s collection, the largest three-dimensional collection in South Central Pennsylvania’s private nonprofit historical societies.
This group published books – such as the “Philadelphia Chair 1685-1785,” “Masterpieces of the American Long Rifle – The Joe Kindig, Jr. Collection,” and “Architecture of York County” – brought in noted speakers on a regular basis and established a robust routine of important exhibits that contributed to the historical knowledge of certain artifacts. In their time, this dedicated group of people created an organization that enjoyed an esteemed and extensive reputation far beyond York County.
Joe served for over 20 years with the Historical Society of York County in various capacities including board member, committee chair and exhibit designer. His work with the organization and the region was recognized in 1981 with the Pennsylvania Distinguished Citizen Award from the governor.
Q. What else should York County know about Joe Kindig III?
A. Joe’s exceptional work was recognized in 2008 with the ADA (Antiques Dealers’ Association of America) Award of Merit for outstanding contributions to the field of American fine and decorative arts as well as the buying and selling of antiques. This is the highest honor one can achieve in the antiques field, which culminated a lifetime of collecting and continuous learning.
He served in World War II after attending York Collegiate Institute, afterward matriculating from Amherst College.
Even with his extensive background at the highest levels in the antiques world, working with major collecting institutions and families such as the DuPonts, Joe was sincerely genuine, affable and engaging. He was generous with his time and talent sharing his knowledge in earnest through programs designed to impart knowledge rather than impress.
His passion for historic architecture continued in later years through lectures and presentations at the Historic Hellam Preserve and the Wright’s Ferry Mansion.

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