All the Fun of the Fifth
Additional photographs by Eberhard Groba, D. M. Creighton and the late Arthur Pickford
In my ‘Garden Gunning Past and Future’ articles of October and November last year, I contrasted the large gardens, that many householders were lucky enough to own in the past, with the communal areas predicted for the future, when houses would no longer boast individual gardens due to lack of space caused by overpopulation and overcrowding. Large private gardens and estates in the earlier years of the last century often had a garden shooting range with a suitably safe backstop for powerful air rifles - and even for revolver practice in the days when such handguns were permissible for sporting use.
Garden guns, like my short range No. 3 (9mm) Webley bolt-action shown in
Figure 1, are handy for ratting within barns, without causing too much damage to structures. They were also specifically advertised for protecting large gardens and orchards from bird pests - where the larger .410” might cause more damage to fruit trees. Air rifles, and air pistols - like the Webley ‘Junior’ and the ‘Parker Patent Precision’ geared wheel-cocking pistol shown in my photograph, were also advertised for this purpose, but now the orchard pests are themselves protected and can peck all the fruit they like, without fear of retribution and giving them something back is how it should be. Our destruction of miles of hedging has lost so many homes for birds of the woodland edge, that utilised the hedges and copses until wildlife was crowded out by intensive farming methods. Herbicides may also endanger bird populations by reducing their habitat and also killing off earthworms
that they and mammals feed on. There is evidence that birds are being harmed by pesticide use from long accumulation in tissues, although the types of fungicides now used in farming are apparently only slightly toxic to the mammals and birds themselves.
The cost of netting an orchard is prohibitive to most growers, so as orchard pests can’t be shot anymore, why not let off a few loud fireworks to scare them off? Noisemakers are allowed, but a problem with both visual and scare tactics is that birds become accustomed to them over time.
Although I started writing this November article in the middle of the English cherry season (short as it now is), I’m aware that by the time it’s published, the firework season will be approaching with this issue and therefore I will again include a few background fireworks from the Pickford, Hutton Collections and my own. The fireworks are mostly pre-1960, and the earliest are 1949. In my estimation, there are far more vintage firework collectors in the UK than there are vintage airgun collectors, and to my certain knowledge, many who collect both - and it’s for them and the older readers who inform me that they enjoy seeing and remembering some of these nostalgic paper fossils that I include them in my November photograph Figure 2.
The nickelled Dolla air pistol at the top of the photograph is 1930s; whilst central is the ‘MGR’ cast iron air pistol from around the turn of the last century, under the Daisy ‘20th Century’ 5th Variant, sheet metal frame, single-shot airgun - both being advertised in the c.1908 advertisement featured this month. This ‘20th Century’ model Daisy airgun is after the turn of the last century, but the MGR air pistol in the middle could be earlier. The black ‘Diana Air Pistol’ is mid 1920s - as is the Webster’s ‘Dare Devil Dinkum’ pistol lower right. The lower three pistols all cock the same, using the detachable tool to pull the piston rod out of the heel of the butt which is then unhooked before loading and firing, although they all load very differently, using the screw-out breech pin, tilting barrel, or bolt-loading methods.
Within doors, in the long picture galleries that country houses boasted, winter target shooting was known to take place with both gallery guns, pistols and airguns and no doubt a few paintings lining the side walls got accidentally punctured due to pellet rebounds. The destruction of a third of British country houses in the 20th- century – 1,000 since WW2 – was caused by social conditions after wars, death and death duties, recklessness, increased taxes, and many other financial and political reasons, including lack of purpose when power shifted to councils. Young heirs lost in the Great War and people not wishing to go ‘into service’ or farming all affected the future of the great country houses. Demolished estates
often made way for the urban sprawl of ugly office blocks, housing estates and the bypasses of modern life. The only good thing for airgunners is that some of these old estates have so far escaped development, so short term shooting permissions can occasionally be obtained if you know the right people and can convince them that you and your air rifle can be of use to both keep down pests and deter intruders. With an estate (albeit a derelict one) to protect, one could enjoy delusions of grandeur, feeling like the Lord of the Manor must have once felt when patrolling the grounds with his gun in some Edwardian autumn.
For years we’ve seen indications of the shapes of things to come. One was the encouragement of communal firework displays where non-participating crowds stand, no longer trusted to light their own fireworks at this time of the year, staring vacantly skywards, chorusing suitable noises of appreciation - rather than the fun of actively collecting fireworks, organising a safe display in their own gardens and building a bonfire and guy. I’ve lived all my life in a house in a large, horseshoeshaped road where ‘World War Three’ breaks out every Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve in the big gardens because the residents still enjoy putting on their own displays to outdo the neighbours in friendly fashion, and I hope that lasts forever. Early the following days, I go out ‘picking up sticks’, as the road is littered with large wooden rocket sticks, making useful plant supports!
The only firework ‘accident’ I’ve witnessed, happened at one of the so-called communal displays when a large spent rocket landed on the head of a lady standing next to me - who was shaken, but more or less unharmed. I’d not been happy from the outset at the direction in which the rockets were being aimed and launched, when combined with the wind direction. So, I’ll stick to attending only privately organised garden displays in future. Guy Fawkes’ old school St. Peter’s, York – whilst permitting fireworks – still rightly feel it’s awfully bad form to burn an old boy. His fellow Gunpowder Plot conspirators John (Jack) Wright and his brother Christopher (Kit) Wright also went to the same school. Both Jack and Kit were skilled swordsmen, with Jack Wright reputedly being the finest swordsman in England - and in the days when so many wore swords, this amounted to quite a reputation. The brothers died as a result of trying to resist arrest, following the foiled plot - even their potent swords being of little use against
firearms. Unlike Jack Wright, Guy was never a principal plotter - just the explosives man, really. Whilst opinions still vary greatly on Guido Fawkes - as to whether he was a terrorist assassin or a brave mercenary fighting a cause - many might agree with the humourist who suggested that Guy was the only man ever to enter parliament with honest intentions.
Two unknown collectables
The c.1908 German catalogue page reproduced in Figure 3 was spotted by Eberhard Groba in October 2012 among some advertised 1905-10 catalogues and he immediately recognised the importance of one page to collectors - as a couple of interesting items appear. Advertised on the same page is the 1890s German MGR 1901 UK Patent piston-in-the-grip pistol but never seen before, is the nickelled wire shoulder stock fixed to the back of an open-fronted, slideon butt sleeve to attach it to the MGR pistol to enable it to be shot from the shoulder for added support and, possibly, added accuracy. I wonder if any of these shoulder stocks survive? If divorced from the pistol, it would be quite a mystery object for a while, but would probably soon be discarded.
Least likely to have survived to this day, the little Tell break-action seen near the middle of the German catalogue page that would have been the forerunner of the Tell No. 10 airgun. In all versions, the Tell boy’s gun would have been a copy of the Mayer & Grammelspacher original Junior Model 1. Below it is the American Daisy 20th Century tin-plate and the Daisy Bennett 500 shot repeater, which now seems quite rare. Below, among the ammo, traditional German pointed slugs are advertised in 4, 4.5, 5.5, 6 and 6.5mm. I wonder how many youths with usual calibre 4.5mm (.177”) airguns bought 4mm in error and watched them drop clean through the barrel.
The second item of interest on the c.1908 catalogue page is the unknown version air pistol shown at the top - which seems to a forerunner of the ‘Novelty Patent’ air pistol from F. Langenhan - later sold here by Gavin Clyde Bell of Glasgow as the ‘Twite’ (middle of Figure 4) - who named it after a then common, tiny brown bird of
the finch family seen in the South Pennines - and elsewhere; sometimes mistaken for the closely-related linnet. The call of this now rare, seed eating twite is named after its distinctive ‘twit’ call. Sold as the ‘Mako’ air pistol in Germany in the later 1920s, this style of pistol is cocked by pushing in the barrel to compress the spring, withdrawing it and usually breaking it down for loading.
Professor John Griffiths informs me the c.1908 catalogue pistol has much in common with his little ‘Mako’ pistol, a forerunner of the ‘Twite’, which is illustrated on page 168 of his book: The Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols. The mode of action as described in the catalogue is identical to John’s, with the exception that to load his, the barrel is broken whereas the catalogue gun has a barrel protrusion, which allows the barrel to be rotated to expose the breech. It seems most likely that the unknown gun preceded his example, which in turn, preceded the Twite.
I recall Chester Purllant once had a boxed version sold as the ‘Novelty Patent Air Pistol’. An interesting little collection could be made of these models alone, because the type was clearly around far earlier than I’d previously thought. Later ones from Fritz Langenhan are marked as such and possibly the other earlier versions are, too. Figure 5 and 6 show the rear and front ends of two ‘Twite’ types from Eberhard’s collection.
The early 1890s to 1914 production German MGR cylinder-in-the-grip pistol is shown cocked in Figure 7 by withdrawing the piston rod downwards, where it stays (with the cocking key detached) until the pistol is fired. The 1901 UK Patent covers a construction method only and not the mechanical workings.
Figure 8 shows an early Titan air pistol c.1918 I once designated the ‘Mark 3’ to provide a chronological sequence - although this isn’t an official manufacturer’s classification. If you compare it with the ‘Mark 4’ c.1919/20 pistol shown in the Gavin Clyde Bell 1926 catalogue illustration ( Figure 4) - apparently made both rifled or smooth bore, you can see they are very similar but the earlier example in the photograph appears to have a longer smooth bore barrel and very pronounced cast-in ‘barrel bands’ front and rear, the later frame casting having been more streamlined to lose the protruding sides of these supporting lugs for the superimposed barrel. The small, cast-iron chequered grip panels are flat-topped, rather than arched - as in the Clyde engraving - but that could just be artist’s licence. A rear view photograph of the same pistol supplied by a former owner Mr. D. M. Creighton is seen in
Figure 9 with the breech block pivoted to expose the breech for loading either pellet or dart. This ‘Mark 3’, now in my own collection is the only example I know of so far.
In the 1920s and ‘30s, boys’ comics - like Boys’ Magazine - which cost 2d (1p) every Saturday, made a huge thing of Bonfire Night and virtually all of the stories within the 36-page November issues from Allied Newspapers Ltd, of Manchester, contained a firework theme as seen in the photograph
Figure 10 taken by the late airgun and firework enthusiast Arthur Pickford. For instance, the issue on the left is No. 609 - November 4th 1933 and included the ‘Dolla’ air pistol advertisement, seen reproduced as
Figure 11, from Herberts & Co. of London, nestling among the stories that included ‘Bonfire Plotters Beware!’ and ‘The Rocket Robbers!’
A Dolla with the same oval guard and rounded heel to the butt as the advertised air pistol from Eberhard’s fine collection appears as Figure 12, which Eberhard has labelled an Anschütz IGA Model. Various push-in barrel air pistols appeared advertised for 5/- (25p) or more, in other November issues, among other advertisements for 50-shot pea pistols and safety revolvers for blanks. The cover of Issue No. 505 - November 7th 1931 appears on the right of Arthur’s photo complete with illustrations inside showing lads hurling bangers and rip-raps at the feet of other boys hopping in the street, in retribution for their past misdeeds earlier in the yarn. This was fairly legal in the 1930s; it wasn’t until the
Highways Act of 1959 which made it potentially illegal to set off a firework on or near a public highway.
Dolla with wood grip
Whilst we are all very familiar with the ubiquitous cast-iron ‘Dolla’ air pistols, the model in Figures 13 and 14, modified by mounting on a beech stock, was certainly new to me when Eberhard sent photographs of it to John Griffiths and me, informing us that he now had this interesting Dolla-type push-barrel air pistol with a wooden grip. The only markings are ‘DRGM’ on the top of the cylinder. The dimensions are as follows: total length - 305 / 255 mm (cocked), barrel length - 150 mm, calibre 4.5 mm and weight - 0.438 kilograms.
Eberhard’s photographs show this nickelled ‘Dolla’ type, but rather than the usual castiron gripframe, it features a substantial one-piece beech butt with fore-end. It has better sights with a bead foresight and must be the closest thing to a ‘Target Model Dolla’ - undoubtedly being far more comfortable to aim and fire. It all looks right and appears to be from F. Langenhan - as the butt is very reminiscent of the ‘duelling’ pistol type ‘FLZ’1/‘Millita’/ ‘MAL’/ ‘Clyde’ pistols which were larger, conventional break-barrel types.
Thanks to Eberhard Groba, John Griffiths, D. M. Creighton and the late Arthur Pickford for input and photographs.
FIGURE 7 Figure 7: Mayer & Grammelspacher’s ‘ MGR’ Air Pistol with cylinder-in- the- grip, shown cocked by pulling the piston rod downwards by either a fixed ‘T’-handle - or use of a detachable tool - as with this example
Figure 8: Rare Titan ‘ Mark 3’ c.1918. Note the very pronounced cast-in ‘barrel bands’ - later removed for the ‘ Mark 4’ version FIGURE 8
FIGURE 10 Figure 10: Despite the lavish editorial and free publicity given to fireworks in these ‘Boys’ Magazines, they contain no supporting advertisements from the firework makers, yet plenty of airgun advertisements. [Photograph by Arthur Pickford]
Figure 9: A rear view photograph of the same early Titan ‘ Mark 3’ pistol with the breech block pivoted to expose the breech for loading either pellet or dart. [Photograph by former owner, Mr. D. M. Creighton] FIGURE 9
Figure 4: From Gavin Clyde Bell catalogue 1926. Top: Titan ‘Mark 4’. Centre: Twite selling at 6/6d (32 1/2p) post free, reduced from 8/6d (42 1/2) in their previous 1925 list, possibly indicating poor sales FIGURE 4
FIGURE 3 Figure 3: The unknown air pistol shown at the top seems to be a forerunner of the ‘ Novelty Patent’ air pistol from F. Langenhan. Also new to me, is the wire shoulder stock attachment to enable the MGR pistol to be shot from the shoulder....
FIGURE 6 Figure 6: Barrels of different examples of the FLZ ‘ Novelty Patent’ style pistols. [Photograph courtesy of Eberhard Groba]
FIGURE 5 Figure 5: ‘Twite’/‘ Novelty’ type air pistols, blued and nickelled. [Photograph courtesy of Eberhard Groba]
Figure 2: Centre: ‘ MGR’ cast iron air pistol from around the turn of the last century, under the Daisy ‘20th Century’ 5th Variant, sheet metal frame, single shot airgun - both being advertised in the c.1908 advertisement in Figure 3 FIGURE 2
Figure 1: The Webley ‘Junior’ and the ‘ Parker Patent Precision’ crank wound air pistols were advertised as handy for protecting orchards from bird pests - as was Webley No. 3 bore (9mm) boltaction Garden Gun FIGURE 1
Figure 12: Similar to the advertised Dolla with a rounded heel to the butt, this example is from Eberhard’s fine collection, which he has classified as an Anschütz Model IGA. [Photograph courtesy of Eberhard Groba] FIGURE 12
Figure 11: ‘ Dolla’ air pistol advertised in the Grand Guy Fawkes number of Boys’ Magazine, November 4 1933. Cost was 5 shillings (25p) the equivalent of the American Dollar at the time when there were four dollars to the pound FIGURE 11
FIGURE 13 Figures 13/ 14: Nickelled ‘ Dolla’ type - but rather than the usual cast-iron gripframe, it features a substantial one-piece beech butt with fore-end. [Photograph courtesy of Eberhard Groba]