All the Fun of the Fifth

Air Gunner - - Airgun Collection - by John Atkins

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.

Twen­ti­eth-cen­tury items

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]


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