The Most Collectible Airguns of the
By Robert D. Beeman
Posted on this website 28 August
2002, partially updated 19 August 2004..
Slightly modified from Rare Air, The Most Collectible Airguns of the Twentieth Century by Robert Beeman in the First Editon of the Blue Book of Airguns, 2001. Please see that article to view the large number of illustrations which appeared with the original article. Readers interested in airgun collecting should obtain a copy of The Art of Airgun Collecting by Robert Beeman. It is heavily illustrated and a collectors' item in itself. A few copies of this were still available at posting time, autographed if desired, from the Guns and Literature For Sale section.
When the Blue Book staff first asked me to write this chapter, the subject seemed quite straightforward. It simply would be a discussion of which airguns made in the twentieth century are the most desirable items for collectors. The tough job would be to decide which airguns are the most desirable. Then it became apparent that quite a different view could be applied to the concept of most collectible. The "most desirable" and "most collectible" terms could mean the same thing, but they also could refer to quite different groups of guns. The "most desirable" concept would cover those models which are the most sought after, the most desired of all. The other version of "most collectible" would include the airguns, which most realistically can be found and made into interesting collections. I will attempt to make a good consideration of both concepts.
Certainly the most prized of all airguns are those made in the three or four centuries prior to 1900. Most of those airguns are large bore (about .30" to .75" caliber) and generally were intended as serious hunting guns. They often were produced as cased sets of shooting equipment and many were beautifully engraved and the finest ones were inlaid with gold or silver. One of the most famous of these early airguns was carried by Captain Meriwether Lewis during the exploration of the Pacific Northwest in 1803 to 1806 (Beeman, 2000-2004). Some of these antique airguns were illustrated and discussed in Four Centuries of Airguns (Beeman, 1977). These amazing and wonderful early airguns are now very hard to obtain, very expensive, and generally were made to order so they do not lend themselves to discussion as to which are the most collectible. Therefore, the present article will limit itself to the twentieth century. (For readers interested in the airguns made from 1600 to 1900, the key references are Hoff 1972 and Wolff 1958).
The year 1900 is an arbitrary breaking point, not related to the development of various airguns. We will dip down into the end of the 19th century to pick up models that, like the first model Daisy, really belong to series of airguns developed in the twentieth century. And, although many collectors find great interest in including, or even specializing in, recent airguns, this brief review will stress airguns made in the first half, or first three-fourths, of the 20th century. A general, very useful, very interesting, but rather inaccurate and badly dated, reference on collectible airguns is Smith's Standard Encyclopedia of Gas, Air, & Spring Guns of the World (W.H.B. Smith, 1957). Many of the references, which I will mention in this article, can be found on the worldwide web at www.usairgun.com/books.html and dtfletcher.safeshopper.com . Of course, I feel that the most useful guide to modern and vintage airguns now is the Blue Book of Airguns -you should try to obtain the full series as each issue contains basic and advanced material, not just on values, but a continuing series of text and explanatory material.
For Americans, the big five names in domestic airguns were Daisy, Benjamin, Sheridan, Crosman, and HyScore. If I were pressed to name the most desirable collectors' item of all American airguns, it certainly would be either the First Model Daisy or the 1902 Benjamin (the first model Benjamin). Choosing between them would be tough, the First Model Daisy is the most popular, but the first model Benjamin is the most rare. I would lean towards the Benjamin 1902. The "Grand Slam" of American Airguns would be a specimen of the first model of each of these five makers: 1. Daisy First Model, 1888 a delightful, tiny, muzzle-loading, all-metal, spring piston air rifle with a wire stock. Less than 1000 were made, only a few, of at least two or three variations, are known today. The Holy Grail of Daisy collectors, a specimen recently sold for over $10,000! 2. Benjamin Model 1902 a muzzle-loading pneumatic rifle with its barrel under the body tube. The compression pump is simply a wooden rod, with a gasket on the inner end, which projects from the front end of the gun. The operating instructions are pasted around this pump rod! Unfortunately, I am aware of only three specimens in existence. 3. Sheridan Model A, 1947. Pump pneumatic, .20 caliber. Beautifully built, one of the only airguns ever built without regard to cost. 4. Crosman Model 1923. Pump pneumatic, breach-loading pellet rifle; pump rod at the muzzle. Very well made of hand-machined parts. Extremely rare. 5. HyScore Model 700 "Target" Pistol, 1948 a very ingenious, single shot pistol with a spring piston encircling the barrel rather uncommon.
Many collectors prefer to
specialize in one brand. In America, Daisy clearly leads the pack in popularity
with the models made in Plymouth, Michigan being of greatest interest. An
extensive Daisy collection generally requires a very considerable investment of
time and money but it is the very passion of many airgun collectors. The
American BB Gun A Collector's Guide (Dunathan, 1971) gives the best
picture of American BB guns and remains as one of the very best sources of Daisy
information. Even more than information, Dunathan¹s book gives an absolutely
delightful insight into the role of the BE gun in the emotional life of the
early 20th century American boy. Every airgun collector must have this book.
Unfortunately, this charming book now is badly out of date and rather
incomplete. An illustrated chronology of Daisy guns was given by Fletcher
(1998c). A definitive book on the Daisy models has yet to be written, but
collectors are aware of so many variations of the scores of models that no
hard-core Daisy collector ever feels that he has enough. This has tended to bid
up the prices and reduce availability, but Daisy collecting is still a very
viable sport if you have the stamina and funds. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th
models are, of course, especially desired, but there are a few models that stand
out among all the later versions that perhaps could be labeled as "most
desirable". The leader among these would certainly be the Model 104 double
barrel BB gun. These unusual guns were introduced just as the United States
entered World War II. Whether the change to wartime production priorities, or
the potential liability of these guns closing suddenly during cocking, thus
cutting off a user's fingers, killed this model is not known, but they quickly
disappeared from the market. A plastic stocked, double barrel BB gun made in the
1960's is highly desirable, but not as sought after, except for a version which
is even rarer than the original: hand made salesmen's samples with carved,
checkered walnut stocks only 25 were made, only a handful may exist today.
Other most desirable Daisys include the Number 140 Military Model, produced only
in 1941, the first year of America's involvement in World War 2. This model is
especially rare with the original sling and rubber-tipped bayonet because that
bayonet usually was "lost" most probably by the users' mothers. My own
favorite of the many other Daisys is a pair of guns: the 1905 Masonic Initiation
Guns. They fired, not BBs, but water. One fired a jet of water forward; the
other member of the pair, reserved for persons taking the Rough Masonic
Initiation ceremony fired water back into the shooter's eyes. Certainly not a
model for OSHA or political correctness!
Within the Daisy circle, two model groups stand out as being very "collectible", so much so that new collectors realistically can still expect to develop special collections of the many variations of these models at reasonable prices: they are the Red Ryder BB guns, which are described and priced in this price guide, and the Model 25 pump action BB guns. The Red Ryders arguably are the best known airguns in the world a display of Red Ryder variations always draws a large number of remarks like "I used to have one like that when I was a kid". While Red Ryder BB guns were produced in enormous numbers, reportedly with a peak of one million made in 1949, there are enough less common, and even rare, variations to make collecting them very interesting indeed.
The Markham/King BB guns are, to a large degree, as discussed so well by Dunathan, a part of the Daisy story. From 1886 to 1916 they were Daisy's main competition. From 1916, to the end of the King models in 1940, Markham/King was part of the Daisy Company. There are a large number of Markham and King models, and they are now highly collectible, but certainly the most interesting is the all wood BB guns of Markham¹s earliest production: the 1888 Chicago. It is rare. However, with its all-wood body, hardwarestore style cocking hinge and red stained stock, searching for it is well worth the effort.
The First Edition of the Blue
Book of Airguns introduced Blue Book's first value listing for vintage Benjamin
airguns. This largely is the result of the recent greatly increased popularity
of Benjamins among airgun collectors. And we are especially fortunate to now
have an excellent guide to the Benjamin models in The St. Louis and Benjamin
Air Rifle Companies, 1999, D.T. Fletcher - Publisher, ISBN-1-929813-04-X (dtfletcher.safeshopper.com).
Even more fortunate, a revision of this key work should appear rather soon.
George E. Benjamin (second son of Walter Benjamin, founder of the Benjamin
company) wrote an interesting article about the Benjamin and other American
airgun companies (Benjamin, 1982).
One of the key challenges is finding Benjamin specimens with the original finish. So many users, and even some unknowing collectors, felt that they could greatly improve the looks of their pet guns by polishing them until the brass shone unfortunately that brass is beneath the original black finishes so dear to knowledgeable collectors. "Making it shine" just may kill 75% of the value of such a gun!
While the Benjamin Model 1902 is this brand¹s Holy Grail, many specimens of the early "pump rod at the muzzle" models are still fairly available. The models B and C and Automatic (Model 600) rifles are extremely desirable and still turn up at gun shows and auctions.
The collecting of Benjamins is still one of most affordable and rewarding areas of airgun collecting. The first decade of the 21st century is the window of opportunity for building a satisfying collection. Such a collection certainly will show excellent appreciation of value as the most desirable models become less available. Repeating models always cost a few dollars more, back in days when a few dollars meant a lot. So now all repeaters, but especially pistols, are much less common and rapidly are increasing in desirability. Be willing to pay a premium whenever you can find Benjamins with original bright nickel finish and seek out guns in the much less common .22" caliber.
Although I generally shy away from current models, an exception would seem to be found in the polished brass Model 87 "Centennial" model with the special 00xxxx-sequence serial number. The H17 pistol with bright nickel finish and the HB20 (.20" caliber!) black finish pistol also would seem to be especially collectible. Study the Benjamin model list in this guide and the descriptive information in Fletcher¹s Benjamin book; versions made during the transition period of Crosman ownership with the Wisconsin address should also be increasingly collectible.
For Sheridan collectors, the
Model A generally is considered THE basic item. However, as soon as you have
that first model, the most desirable item is the much less common Model B. Both
of these models are the foundation of any Sheridan collection. Although the list
of Sheridan models may seem rather limited, there are enough variations and
other Sheridan items to make this brand a quite challenging area. The fact that
only a limited number of collectors have taken this brand seriously as a
collecting area means that availability, pricing, and value appreciation should
be especially good during this next decade. Left-hand versions are especially
rare and some Sheridan collectors are willing to pay large premiums for them. A
single example of a left-handed gun would satisfy most collectors.
As with the recent Benjamin special models, there is good reason to seek out specimens of the very collectible C9PB rifle (find one with the medallion inset into the stock) and H20PB pistol. Both were special runs with highly polished brass (PB) finishes, produced only in 1998. In the year 2020, and probably before, collectors should be clamoring for small numbers of available specimens of these handsome guns. In the meantime, you can enjoy their unusual beauty. If a dealer still has one of these under-appreciated guns in stock, you may be able to manage a closeout price.
In addition to this guide, basic information on Sheridan models is available in Know Your Sheridan Rifles & Pistols (Elbe, 1992).
The second most popular brand
for American airgun collectors is Crosman. Spanning over three-quarters of a
century, the number of Crosman models and variations is topped only by Daisy.
Collectors who enjoy shooting their guns consider Crosman as even more
desirable. More Crosman airguns offer the advantage of power that is suitable
for field use. The leading authority on Crosman airguns, Dean Fletcher,
considerably expands the idea of "most collectible" and offers some excellent
suggestions. He states (personal communication) that:
1) To be collectible, in this sense, there should be lots of varieties of the model. The more variations the better. With the number of variations there usually comes an interesting history to the model.
2) The model should be relatively common and easy to find. It¹s simply no
fun collecting what you can¹t find or afford.
3) There should be high potential for increase in value.
4) Each gun generally should be a "shooter"
With these ideas as a background, his choices for the most collectable Crosman models are:
Pistol: 150/157 single shot CO2 pistol
1) For the number of varieties, no other Crosman model compares. There are
Sears (2), Ted Williams, Montgomery Ward, Canadian and even a Mexican
variation. There are the two piece vs. the one-piece models. The cherry-on-top is
the Chrome plated 150C Medalist. There are at least 18 distinct variations of the model 150/157.
2) The 150 is easy to find. In fact, it is so easy to find that the tag of collectablity
pretty much is reserved for near mint examples in the original box.
3) Values for mint-in-the-box (MIB) examples of the 150 are only going to go up. In the year 2000, a nice, typical model150 in the box probably was worth $125 - $150. Only a few years ago, Fletcher reported that he was passing up Model 150¹s MIB that were priced "too high" at $75. Not today.
4) The Ted Williams version 150 is Fletcher¹s favorite single shot CO2
Rifle: Model 101/102 including CG models (the CG rifles are shooting gallery versions with a CO2 tank that projects below the gun during shooting):
1) Nobody knows the number of variations of the 101. The history of the gun
is second to none.
2) Even today, great examples of early models can be found.
A circa 1926 model 101 complete with box (poor condition) recently was bought
at auction for a little over $300. The real problem with the Models 101 and 102 is
finding good clean examples. These guns were shot. It is a lucky-find when
an 101, especially a pre-WW 2 model, is found in good condition.
3) Values have really solidified about the years 1999 and 2000. Many people are beginning to appreciate a really nice 101.
4) In Fletcher's opinion, the Crosman Model101 is still one of the best field guns ever made.
I tend to agree with Dean's ideas except for the thought that it is no fun to hunt for the very hard-to-find specimens. Many collectors feel that such hunts are the most exciting parts of the game and there is that feeling of finding hidden treasure when one unearths a particularly desirable specimen at a bargain price. My super rare Crosman 1923 rifle, the first of the Crosmans, came from a car collector who wanted to "get rid of the BB gun" that he found under the seat of a vintage Cord roadster that he was restoring. He wanted twenty dollars for the gun and was glad to be rid of it!
Many collectors would opt for searching for a broad range of airguns instead of a highly concentrated group. For them the Model 1923 Crosman is a prize that they really don't expect to find, but for which they always will be watching (watch out for specimens cobbled up from old parts and non-original receivers!). Among the other Crosman models some of the very most desirable include the models which came right after the Model 1923: the first and second Model 1924 Lever Model rifles. The second version of the 1924 Lever Model introduced the pump style that is still found on most pump-up airguns. The pre-1927 Crosman rifles are especially desirable because of their blued steel barrels (probably made by Remington Arms Co.). Later rifles have painted bronze barrels made by Crosman.
There are many other very desirable Crosmans. Among the favorites of myself, and many other collectors, are the short-lived (1949), wonderfully-solid, well-built Town and Country Models 107 and 108, the delightful, and much sought-after Crosman "45 Auto Repeater" Model 451 built like a Colt .45 Government Auto firearm, but which actually is a gas operated revolver, the revolutionary Model 600 Semi-Automatic pistol, and the Plink-O-Matic Model 677 semi-auto BB pistol. Spice and visitor interest is added by some of the more unusual Crosman guns: the Model 380 Rocket Spear Sea Gun for use underwater, the Crosman Jet-Line pistols that shoot carbon dioxide cylinders (they doesn't shoot from cylinders; they actually project the cylinders themselves as projectiles to jet along in big electrical conduits to aid in pulling electrical wiring), and the Cap-Chur guns that are used to project tranquilizer darts into animals ranging from mad dogs to elephants and even human criminals.
The main keys to understanding the Crosman airguns are the excellent books researched, written, and published by Dean Fletcher (1998a, 1998b, 1996a, 1996b): 75 Years of Crosman Airguns, The Crosman Arms Model "160" Pellgun, The Crosman Arms Handbooks, and The Crosman Rifle 1923-1950. Additional, earlier information was presented by Jon B. Oakleaf, the first major collector of Crosman airguns, in Oakleaf (1979, 1980). Very interesting, but less accurate, information is available in Smith¹s Standard Encyclopedia of Gas, Air, & Spring Guns of the World (W.H.B. Smith, 1953). A beautiful, color review of Crosmans was presented by Ulrich Eichstädt and Dean Fletcher (1999) in Visier, Das internationale Waffen-Magazin. The text is in German, but, as I used to tell my university students when they would complain about my giving assignments in foreign language journals: "the pictures are in English!". The best guide to models and values is in the Blue Book of Airguns - produced with the close assistance and support of Dean Fletcher himself.
Some airgun collectors will be surprised to see HyScore listed as one of the Big Five of American airgun makers. This partially is because airguns of their production did not appear on the market until 1948. These unique air pistols were designed after British air pistols with a spring piston which encircles the barrel. This really great Luger-style design was created by Andrew Lawrence (Lawrence, 1969) and marketed by his brother, Steve Laszlo. The American-made, and British-made, HyScore pistols are deserving of much more attention that they have had until now. The Blue Book of Airguns has finally given collectors a quite clear picture of this wonderful group of American air pistols. Collectors are well advised to search for specimens right now before this new book causes availability to drop and prices to move upward. Of course, your collection must start with the first model, the Model 700 "Target" pistol. Then move on to the several other models and variations. There are wonderful chrome plated specimens of the Model 800 with handsome white grips, and one must see the amazing and unique "bumper-car" mechanism of the repeater versions to believe, and appreciate, them. The prizes of the American-made HyScore air pistols are the short 6-shot repeater Model 804 "Sportster" pistols with their most unusual, short, screw-in, interchangeable barrels made for only two years, 1954 and 1955. The most desirable American made version is the chrome plated Model 804C Sportster with all three barrels (BB, .177", and .22"). Rarer, and even more desirable, are the New HyScore Sporters, made by the Phoenix Arms Co., a British firm which arose from the ashes of its former self, purchased the HyScore trademark and some of the original factory equipment, and then disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared. HyScore collectors may also wish to add airgun models made for HyScore by overseas makers, most notably Mayer and Grammelspacher (Diana) of Germany, but also from Hammerli, BSF, and even Fabrique Nationale of Belgium.
Dunathan¹s book refers to the
wide range of "tinplates", as most of the early BB guns are known, as a
"Profusion of Alsos". His discussions and illustrations of these guns are
invaluable as well as extremely interesting. The now astonishingly low values
given by Dunathan in 1971 are dramatic proof of the excellent investment value
of these guns! Some collectors like to add examples of these many brands as
supplements to their special brand collections. Others avoid the major brands
and try to build collections based on these "also" brands. Perhaps most
collectors of American tinplates simply seek to obtain representative specimens
from as many as possible of the major and "also" brands. Any one of these
approaches produces particularly interesting collections.
Over 20 companies produced BB guns in America. The period of greatest development and importance was from about 1890 to 1910. Later in the century we find additional companies in several other countries entering the manufacturing race for this large youth market. Because of the relatively few models produced under any one of these "also" brands, there are very few collectors who specialize in just one or two of these old names. The historical and developmental importance of these lesser-known brands should not be under estimated. Many produced designs or patents which were later incorporated or purchased by other airgun companies, most notably Daisy. The early 20th century was a period of cutthroat competition in the BB gun business. The big frog in the pond was Daisy; they were extremely aggressive in engulfing and obliterating the lesser companies (Hough, 1976).
Every collector of the minor brand tinplates would produce somewhat different lists of which models of these guns are the most desirable. The present price guide does not list values for these brands, but we are working on that for future editions.
Certainly one of the most
impressive lines of the "also" brand BB guns were the massive, well-built
Columbians (Heilprins). They were over double the weight of competing BB guns; their
massiveness and sturdy construction evidently stimulated many boys to pay twice
the price of other brands! The frames are heavy cast iron with ornate reliefs of
floral patterns, squirrels, heavy checkering, and cast in dates. (Pre-1900 dates
are especially desirable). Later models made
of heavy sheet metal, with a very interesting automatic safety, also were very
substantial guns and are highly desirable. I must admit that, a century
later, these super solid, heavy BB guns especially impress me. They are among my very
The second heaviest of the early BB guns, and the ones with the very longest Winchester-style cocking levers, were the Cycloid and New Rapid BB guns. These spectacular guns were all metal, heavily coated with bright nickel plating from one end to the other. As I look at my specimens, I can just imagine the impact that that much glitter must have had on a young boy when he saw one of these guns under the Christmas tree or as the birthday gift-wrap was ripped off!
Even more important was the impact that it would have had on his neighborhood peers.
Several other BB guns with cast iron frames are highly desirable. These include the Atlas, Globe, Magic, and others. Another of the author's favorite brands is Matchless. These trim, handsome, heavy BB guns continued to use cast iron frames after others had changed to folded sheet metal and they were the only repeaters of their time. The fact that they were very expensive, retailing at $1.75, probably is one of the main reasons why they are so rare today.
Remington entered the BB gun market with the excellent pump action Model 26 Repeating Air Rifle in mid-1928. High production costs, the Great Depression, and the fact that the better known Daisy 25 pump action repeating air rifle was selling for 50 cents less evidently pushed this gun off the market by 1930. Only 20,000 Remington Model 26 were ever produced. As a rare gun, and as one of the only BB guns ever produced by a major firearms maker, it must be considered as highly desirable.
Sterling, Upton, and All Metal Products BB guns were produced by a related series of companies from about 1891 to 1929. Several are desirable collectors' items; I agree with the idea that most collectors would feel that the most desirable one is the big Sterling 1000 shot Lever Action Repeater, manufactured from about 1912 to 1929. Its nickel plating, the walnut stock with a deep crescent butt, and the long sweeping lines of its octagonal barrel make it a classic.
Henry Marcus Quackenbush
introduced the first of his airguns, the "Target Air Pistol" in 1872 and the
Model No. 1 "Improved Air Rifle" in 1876. Although the firm produced airguns
until 1929 (with sales from inventory or of guns assembled from stock parts as
late as 1943), I have not listed it as one of the major American airgun
companies of this century because its primary development and such a large part
of its sales occurred in the 19th century. Arguably, the Quackenbush "Target Air
Pistol" and Model No. O air rifle could be added to the Grand Slam list. Again,
here is a line of airguns which has not been properly appreciated by airgun
collectors. I think a large part of this problem was due to a lack of
information about the Quackenbush guns and confusion about the identification of
models. This should be radically changed by the production of still another
outstanding airgun reference: Quackenbush Guns, 266 large pages of
excellent text and illustrations, by John Groenewold (2000)and the now excellent
guide to the Quakenbush models in the Blue Book of Airguns. And again, here is
an opportunity to gather some very interesting and very well built American
airguns before the growing interest drives prices up dramatically.
The Quackenbush airguns deserve great attention for their historical significance, as well as in their own right. The Quackenbush No. 5 combination airgun/rimfire firearm was the basis for the huge range and production of "Gem" air rifles in Europe. In turn, Quackenbush patents were the basis for the great success of the Mayer and Grammelspacher Company (Diana and RWS) of Rastatt, Germany.
Quackenbush collectors, as well as general airgun collectors, should be on the lookout for the highly desirable Haviland & Gunn¹s air rifles, the predecessors of the Quackenbush air rifles. The Haviland & Gunn air rifles with wire skeleton stocks are especially valuable (See Smith, 1978 and Wolff, 1958) and the little, but enormously important (from a historical standpoint) Haviland and Gunn air pistol is one of the all time great collectors' items.
Air shotguns, and air shot
canes, were popular prior to 1900 but most of these were custom built by
gunsmiths. Only a very few air shotguns have been manufactured and thus they are
very desirable to collectors. Apparently little is known about what is probably
the most desirable of all air shotguns: the Vincent .410 Air Shotgun. A Vincent
Air Shotgun is shown on page 86 of the Smith encyclopedia (captioned as the
"1924 Model Crosman compressed-air rifle"!). The Vincent Air Shotgun has an even
rarer, even more desirable, relative the Vincent Air Rifle. Better known is
the .41" caliber Paul Air Shotgun, a big, bulky gun illustrated in Wolff (1958)
and well discussed by Ron Stadt (1984). This gun has been so sought after by
collectors that modern airgunsmith Dennis Quackenbush (a distant relative of
Henry M. Quackenbush) has made a few excellent, firing reproductions. Patent
drawing and descriptions of the Paul and Vincent airguns are available in Parks,
1992, 1994. The Plainsman .280" air shotgun is another rare item which owes its
desirability as a collectors' item to its failure as a marketing and functional
The air shotgun most likely to be found by collectors is the Crosman Trapmaster Model 1100 CO2 shotgun. The most desirable form of this .380" caliber shotgun is the complete skeet shooting kit with gun, aerial targets, reloading supplies, target trap, and trap stand. Many of the Crosman .380" guns have been adapted for greater performance (Hannusch, 1982, 1983) and also converted to .38" slug guns. Value of these guns depends on the quality of the work and the planned use of the gun. Generally, modified guns are greatly reduced in value from original specimens.
Air shotgun enthusiasts surely will want to round out their collections with specimens of the simple, but very powerful, and much sought-after Yewha Triple B "Dynamite" .25" caliber pneumatic shotgun from the 1970s, the recently produced Philippine CO2 guns, the currently produced, rather crude, but awesome 28 gauge Farco Air Shotgun, and the quickly discontinued Daisy "Critter Gitter" CO2 pistol. Some of the Philippine guns are great display items with their rifled inserts for different caliber pellets and their ability to take tranquilizer darts, frog spears, arrows, etc. One of the makers of these guns presented us with some beautifully made, brass "torpedoes" to be charged with high explosives, reportedly for use on animals such as water buffalo! Some Philippine air longarms even sport a spinning reel, to retrieve fired spears and arrows, as well as "Barbarella" style stocks and elaborate surface decorations! Outstanding, and very scarce, air shotguns also come from Argentina under the Shark label.
A few minor brand American
air pistols stand out as "most desirable". The star, certainly one of the most
desirable, and perhaps the most sought after of all American air pistols, is the
Brown Pneumatic Pistol. Featured in mid-century Stoeger's catalogs, these guns
are almost never seen at gun shows or auctions. The Browns are beautifully
built, beautifully blued, large but very graceful, wonders of design. They are
charged by means of an internal plunger that compresses air into the storage
chamber on both the inward and outward strokes! One of the great achievements of
American airgun collecting is to have a Brown pistol of each of the two barrel
lengths in their original boxes with the original blueprinted instructions.
The Jaguar is the smallest air pistol in America, perhaps in the world. These little CO2 pistols resemble one of the tiny .25 ACP semi-automatic firearm pistols. Made in both black and chrome finishes, the ultimate arrangement is to have both the standard black pistol and the deluxe chrome-plated one in its red-flocked presentation box.
The Winzel is another highly desirable CO2 pistol that occasionally is seen at gun shows or airgun sales. Rather bulky and odd in action, and victim of a failed cylinder recharging plan, it is rather easy to see why it was not a marketing success - and thus became a collector's dream. The original gas cylinders are even more rare than the guns themselves. The prize is one in the original factory box with an original cylinder!
The first modern CO2 pistol to be commercially manufactured was the single shot, Luger look-alike, Schimel GP-22, made in Southern California. It is a desirable collection item, but not rare. A pneumatic version, the AP-22, although shown in early Stoeger catalog pages, has yet to be seen by the author (Beeman, 1983b). Perhaps it was never manufactured. The Schimels had a very unusual, very complex valve arrangement apparently not found in any other airgun. In the gun world, complex construction usually means undependable action and the Schimel was no exception. This intriguing gun soon passed from the market. HyHunter, an energetic American gun promoter, marketing guns made on the Schimel tools, brought out a repeater version labeled as the American Luger. The American Luger CO2 pistol was almost immediately removed from the market because of trademark problems with the Luger name. American Luger gas pistols are extremely desirable collector items but are almost never seen for sale. A later version reportedly was marketed for only a few months as the Carbo-Jet (Smith, 1971); however there apparently are no known specimens - it may have never existed! A pair set of a Schimel and an American Luger, in original factory boxes with original tins of pellets, is a very desirable, but difficult, collecting goal.
Shooters are fascinated by machine guns and the great thing about air machine guns is that they are perfectly legal to own in most parts of the United States. There are several models made for carnivals and public shooting galleries by Feltman (Parks, 1992). The greatest interests in this area for collectors are the rare MacGlashan air machine guns and Edison General Electric air machine guns developed for training WW2 aerial gunners. Jess Galan (1977) gives a good working description of one of the MacGlashans. There is increasing interest in the Feltman and MacGlashan carnival air machine guns. Good specimens are now under-appreciated, but will soon be very hard to find, even at elevated prices!
It is very satisfying to the
author to note that some collectors are realizing that this is the time to start
collecting Beeman airguns. The interest mainly is in the vintage quality models sold prior to
1993 when Robert and Toshiko Beeman sold their business. The basic items, of
course, would be the models which the Beemans designed and introduced to the
airgun world: the Beeman R1 magnum air rifle and the Beeman P1 air pistol. (For
the history of these models see Gaylord, 1995 and Bridgewater, 1993). The most
collectible versions of the R1 and P1 are the 20-year commemorative models. In
regular versions, the most desirable are the .25" caliber R1 Laser rifles and
the .20" caliber P1 pistols with an original Beeman P1 Shoulder Stock and/or
Beeman "Combat" grips.
Most Beeman/Feinwerkbau Models 124 and 127 magnum "Sporter" air rifles were factory stamped with Beeman¹s Santa Rosa address; only a very few were factory stamped with Beeman¹s original San Anselmo address these obviously are the most desirable. A very few Beeman models were made in quantities of only two or three and up to twenty or so specimens. These certainly are highly desirable, but the likelihood of specimens becoming available to most collectors is quite low. Included in this list of rare premium items are the Beeman GameKeeper PCP rifle, Beeman Adder and Wolverine super magnum air pistols (featured in Beeman catalog edition 17), Beeman/Harper Air Canes, and the commemorative and .20" caliber Beeman 250 rifle in .20"caliber. The GameKeeper, a beautifully made, unusually handsome gun that began the hugely successful parade of buddy bottle pneumatic rifles, is the real prize. Ironically, some of the most sought after rare Beeman models (especially the Model 200 and the Models 250 mentioned above) are those models made by Mayer and Grammelspacher (Diana). Ironic, because these were the least favorite models of the Beemans themselves and thus the least promoted (See Rare Beeman Guns, Beeman, 1983). After putting it off for several years, I finally produced what I feel is a really good guide to the Beeman airguns in the Fourth Edition of the Blue Book of Airguns.
It would seem that most
American airgun collectors are missing out on one of the largest and most
interesting groups of airguns: brands from outside of the United States. The
present article cannot hit all of the high points of just American brands and
can only draw attention to the wonderful world of airguns outside of America.
The key references are the Blue Book of Airguns series, The Collectors' Guide to Air Rifles (Hiller,
1985), The Collectors' Guide to Air Pistols (1982), The Airgun
Book (Walter, 1984), and Air-Guns and Air-Pistols (Wesley and Cardew,
1979). The values quoted in even the latest issues of Hiller's books give a clue
as to why some Americans are vigorously searching for European airguns: the
prices paid in the United States for many of the listed guns generally are much
higher, often up to triple and more, than those listed values! Photo
reproductions of many important articles and catalogs of European airguns are
available from Air Tech Publications, 138 Wooster St., New York, N.Y.
10012-3180. (Unfortunately, these reprints do not cite the original papers!).
The leading overseas periodicals featuring airguns are Airgun World, Airgunner,
and Visier, das internationale Waffen Magazin.
The world's biggest airgun maker is Mayer and Grammelspacher (Dianawerk) in Rastatt, Germany. As with America's Daisy, collectors of Diana airguns can spend a lifetime seeking all the models and variations. Again, as with Daisy, some of the most desirable items are the first models. These are small, but very solid, cast iron, spring-piston, air pistols marked MGR. Some collectors are not aware that these letters stand for Mayer und Grammelspacher in Rastatt.
Several other major overseas airgun makers have produced airguns, which are now highly desirable as collectors' items. Many of these makers are featured in this Blue Book Guide but most of the vintage models are not yet listed. Some of the top makers, with vintage models, include Haenel, Weihrauch, Feinwerkbau, Walther, BSF, Em-Ge, Erma, and Anschütz of Germany; Hämmerli of Switzerland/Germany; BSA and Webley of England; and Sharp, Howa, and Herinken of Japan. Americans are fortunate to not even understand how the rarity of some vintage airguns overseas was greatly increased by bombings, wartime firestorms, repeated occupations, and compulsory gun destructions.
The Weihrauch airguns are of particularly high quality. One of the HW (Hermann Weihrauch) guns which has become eagerly sought by both American and European collectors is the HW Barracuda (Barakuda), a massive, air rifle which supplements its spring piston power by diesel explosion of internal injections of ether! Perhaps one of the most desirable HW airguns is their first production model, the HW 50V - which was produced as a smoothbore before Germans were again allowed to have rifled guns. The rarest HW airgun is the HWZ top-lever repeater; only one is known!
The B.S.F (Bayerische Sportswaffenfabrik) air rifles are not especially noteworthy, except for the Model S54. You will know, as soon as you pick up this gun, that it is one of the most rock-solid, most desirable underlever air rifles ever made! Weihrauch bought out BSF and integrated their models into new economy lines in the late 1980s.
Among the most desirable of all vintage European air rifles are the unusually heavy, power adjustable Britannia and the Improved Britannia. The Improved Britannia sports one of the most amazing, most awkward cocking arrangements ever produced some improvement! (See illustrations in Hiller, 1985).
Carbon dioxide guns were almost unknown in Europe until recently. The absolute leaders were the Swiss Hämmerli CO2 rifles and pistols. The fact that gas powered guns were classified as firearms in England, and some other countries, may explain the absence of the outstanding Hämmerli Master and Single CO2 match pistols from the Hiller guides. Especially uncommon, and highly desirable, are the Hämmerli Sparkler and Rapid repeating CO2 pistols, but the rarest of all the Hämmerli CO2 guns are their wonderful Junior, Match, and Cadet CO2 rifles. These rifles simply are unknown to most American collectors. A model summary of Hämmerli CO2 guns is given by Walter (1981) in The Airgun Book.
Military style airguns in Europe, like the military style Daisy airguns, are especially valued, and may be especially rare. The Diana, Haenel, and Mars military air rifles look much like the army rifles of the period. Unlike the Daisy BB guns, some of these military trainers, like the massive Czechoslovakian VZ 35 bolt action air rifle, may sport full-size, very real bayonets! A small number of military air rifles, known as the Hakim, built by Anschütz for the Egyptian military forces, recently found their way to the United States. They are menacingly marked with a skull and crossbones logo stamped into the receiver. The BSA Military Pattern air rifle is one of the very rarest members of the large and very collectible line of BSA airguns (Knibbs, 1986). Webley's beautifully over-built, so-called Service Air Rifle Model Mark II (preferably in a fitted case with three different caliber, quick-change barrels) is, along with the tiny Webley Mark 1 air rifle, one of the most expensive Webley collectibles. The rarest of genuine military airguns probably is the TyROL copy of the US M1 carbine. From Korea come a wonderful, but hard to find, series of military look-alikes, fashioned as M1 carbines, Garands, etc.
Smith (1957) has a wonderful description, and many illustrations, of an extremely clever, spring piston device designed by Hämmerli to convert regulation bolt-action military rifles of the WW2 period into air powered trainers. Apparently the Hammerli Air-Gun Trainer was not very well accepted by military authorities and most of the planned versions were never produced. These "insert guns" have become very rare and desirable collector¹s items. When Mrs. Beeman and I were conferring with Herr Hediger, the late director of the Hämmerli factory in Lenzburg, Switzerland, he showed us the unissued supply of these guns in an old section of their storerooms and was kind enough to give us a new-in-the-box specimen for the Beeman Airgun Museum. Only a few months later, the Swiss plant burned to the ground with complete destruction of the contents!
Several vintage European air pistols are among the most solid, most precisely machined, and most sought after of the world¹s vintage air pistols. Some of the most valuable ones include the Acvoke, Abas-Major, Warriors, Titans, Lincolns, and a British air pistol which is so massive that one can imagine just imagine it in the hand of a blustering old British colonel the Westley-Richards "Highest Possible". An equally massive, but more cumbersome pistol, with a huge crank handle on its side, is the very rare Parker-Hale. On the other extreme, is the delightful, palm-sized Baby Tell II pistol perhaps the smallest, working spring piston air pistol ever manufactured. The strange, bid Tell I air pistol is even more sought after. And the Firefly air pistol, from England, is one of the most unusual, having a charging plunger made of wood. The wonderful Webley air pistols are a whole collecting field onto themselves and the extremely rare British Certus air pistol is often considered as the holy grail of British air pistols.
Some very collectible airguns have come from rather unexpected directions. The Excellent brand of pneumatic rifles from Sweden are quite uncommon in America, while the Excellent air pistols are almost unknown. From Argentina comes Shark air rifles with a complex air spring mechanism that apparently pre-dates the air spring mechanism (sometimes inappropriately referred to as a "gas ram") which has made England¹s Theoben air rifles world famous.
Airgun projectiles are a whole field on to themselves, most appealing as a supplement to the airguns which fire them, and to collectors who want to take a different tack or do not wish to invest the funds needed for an airgun collection. The collection of airgun projectiles needs whole separate articles on the subject. It is mentioned here so that collectors will keep their eyes open for these interesting airgun products in addition to the guns themselves. Airgun projectiles range from micro-BBs, several styles of BBs, pellets of all descriptions (Diabolos, sabots, slugs, plastic, hard metal core, BB-pellet combinations, exploding, etc.) to spears and arrows and even those buffalo-killing torpedoes. They are packaged in almost every conceivable manner and may bear beautiful labels. Some have been given very politically incorrect names: Red Indian, Black Boy, Cat Slugs, etc.
Some collectors, most notably
Dean Fletcher and Doug Law, have, realized that airgun literature is a
valuable field in itself and subject to much less competition than collecting
the guns. Simple advertising flyers, manuals, newsletters, and catalogs, of
little value at the time of their origin, become valuable and historically
important as time goes by.
Significant sums, sometimes in the three digits, have passed for the first edition of Airgun Digest, original hard-bound versions of Smith's encyclopedia, original museum printings of Wolff¹s Airguns, Dunathan¹s BB gun book, and first editions of Wesley's airgun book. Early editions of Hiller's airgun guidebooks are now valued as collectors¹ items themselves. A mint copy of the first edition of Beeman's Precision Airgun Guide (catalog) recently sold for $500 only 500 were ever printed and there may be only a dozen or so which remain in existence most with postal markings and considerable wear. Trying to assemble a complete set of the Beeman catalogs is a challenging, and increasingly expensive, effort. Even rarer are the Beeman Airgun Journals (less than 500 were printed!) and A.R.M. the "Air Rifle Monthly" which had extremely limited distribution, never did come out monthly, and then disappeared. The Airgun News & Report magazine never made it to critical mass of circulation and now is one of the more evasive items of airgun literature. Old issues, especially from the 1970s and l980s, of England's leading gun magazine, Guns Review, had a very valuable "Airgun Scene" section. Rifle magazine also had an airgun column. It's A Daisy, a fascinating, and revealing, inside story of the Daisy Company, written by Cass Hough with fellow Daisy top executive Jack Powers, became one of the few paperbacks to sell for over fifty dollars. Original 1986 Beeman reprints of my first airgun collecting article: The Art of Collecting Airguns may be still available at reasonable prices from www.Beeman.com , www.Beemans.net , and www.usairgun.com/books.html. Stoeger's Shooters Bibles and Gun Digests allow you to follow the marketing history of American airguns. Old copies may sometimes be obtained for very low prices at gun shows, garage sales, etc.
A final note: The 1969 Lawrence paper from Stanford University on the development of the HyScore pistol is indeed rare. At this time the only known copy is that which Steve Laszlo gave to us before leaving for Hawaii, where he passed away.
Beeman, Robert D. 1983a. For the Record, Rare
Beeman Guns. The Airgun Journal 4(1): 2-6.
Beeman, Robert D. 1983b. Was the Schimel AP-22 Ever Made? Airgun Journal 4(1):2.
Beeman, Robert D. 1977. Four Centuries of Airguns, pp. 14-26. The Basics of Airgun Collecting. Pp. 218-235 (Later reprinted together as The Art of Airgun Collecting by Beeman Precision Arms in 1986, 23 pp.)
Beeman, Robert D. 2000. Proceeding On to the Lewis & Clark Airgun. Airgun Revue #6: 13-33.
Bridgewater, Bill. 1993. Dr. Robert Beeman selected to receive lifetime achievement award. Alliance Voice 9(1):5-14.
Benjamin, George. 1982. America¹s Airgun Makers. The Airgun Journal 3(1)1-7.
Dunathan, Arni T. 1971. The American BB Gun: A Collector¹s Guide. 154 pp. A.S. Barnes and Co., Cranbury, New Jersey.
Eichstädt, Von Ulrich and Dean T. Fletcher. 1999. Eine Unbekannte Größe. Visier,Feb. 99: 52-57.
Elbe, Ronald E. 1992. Know Your Sheridan Rifles & Pistols. 79 pp. Blacksmith Corp.
Fletcher, Dean. 1996a, 1996b, 1998a, 1998b. The Crosman Arms Handbooks, 259 pp.; and The Crosman Rifle 1923-1950, 265 pp., The Crosman Arms Model "160" Pellgun, 144 pp., 75 Years of Crosman Airguns, 223 pp. Published by D.T. Fletcher, 6720 NE Rodney Ave, Portland, Oregon 97211.
Fletcher, Dean. 1998c. The Chronology of Daisy Air Guns 1900 1981 & Daisy Toy and Metal Squirt Guns. 18 pp. Published by D.T. Fletcher.
Fletcher, Dean. 1999. The St. Louis and Benjamin Air Rifle Companies, 305 pp. D.T. Fletcher Publisher.
Galan, Jess. 1978. The BB Approach to World War Deuce Saved Money in Training. Pp. 54-57. In: Air Gun Digest. 256 pp. DBI Books, Northfield, Illinois.
Gaylord, Tom. 1995. The Beeman R1. 174 pp.GAPP, Inc., 4614 Woodland Road, Ellicott City, MD 21042-6329.
Hiller, Dennis E. 1985. The Collectors¹ Guide to Air Rifles, Enlarged Third Edition. 276 pp. Published by Dennis Hiller.
Hiller, Dennis E. 1982. The Collector¹s Guide to Air Pistols, Revised
Second Edition. 187 pp. Published by Dennis Hiller.
Hoff, Arne. 1972. Air Guns and Other Pneumatic Arms. 99 pp. Barrie and Jenkins, London.
Hough, Cass S. 1976. It¹s A Daisy! 336 pp. Daisy Division, Victor Comptometer Corp., Rogers, Arkansas.
Knibbs, John. 1986. B.S.A. and Lincoln Jefferies Air Rifles. 160 pp. Published by John Knibbs Publications, Birmingham.
Lawrence, Andrew. 1969. Development of the Hy-Score Air Pistol. Engineering Case Library No. 134. Department of Mechanical Engineering. Leland Stanford Jr. University.
Oakleaf, Jon B. 1979. Vintage Crosmans. The Airgun Journal 1(1): 1-3.
Oakleaf, Jon B. 1980. Vintage Crosmans II. The Airgun Journal 1(2): 1-7.
Parks, Michael R. 1992, 1994. Pneumatic Arms & Oddities, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. 245 and 211 pp. Southwest Sports, 1710 Longhill Road, Benton, Arkansas 72015.
Smith, W.H.G. 1957. Smith¹s Standard Encyclopedia of Gas, Air, and Spring Guns of the World. 279 pp. Arms and Armour Press, London and Melbourne
Stadt, Ron. 1984. An American Original William Paul¹s Air Shotgun. Airgun Journal 4(2): 4-5.
Walter, John. 1981. The Airgun Book. 146 pp. Arms and Armour Press, London.
Walter, John. 1984. The Airgun Book, 3rd Edition. 176 pp. Arms and Armour Press, London.
Wesley, L. and G.V. Cardew. 1979, Air-Guns and Air-Pistols. 208 pp. Cassell, London.
Wolff, Eldon G. 1958. Air Guns. Milwaukee Public Museum Publications in History 1, 198 pp., Milwaukee, Wisconsin.