Back to the 1950s part 2

Air Gunner - - Airgun Collection - Pho­tos by Danny Garvin and John Atkins by John Atkins

Last month, I was re­liv­ing my youth­ful air- gun­ning ex­ploits high up on the North Downs, by re­vis­it­ing boy­hood haunts dur­ing an en­joy­able Down­lands walk with Sam, a large dog be­long­ing to a friend. There’s noth­ing like ac­tu­ally go­ing back to an area to trig­ger mem­o­ries of good times spent there be­cause fa­mil­iar land­marks bring it all flood­ing back.

Some favourite airgun shoot­ing ar­eas seemed un­changed, al­most as if frozen in time, but other hill­sides were far more wooded than I re­mem­bered over half a cen­tury ago. Boys in my ‘gang’ vir­tu­ally lived on the North Downs and would take turns to ride Harry Fen­ton’s old BSA C11 mo­tor cy­cle through pud­dles along the track in front of the hills. We were all very un­der­age, so had to push it from its hid­ing place (mid­dle of a bush in the lo­cal church­yard), to the pri­vate track that is now a mo­tor­way skirt­ing the town.

Whilst the Na­tional Trust owns some beauty spots, much of the chalk grass­land and wood­land on the Downs is open-ac­cess, but that doesn’t mean you can take an airgun there! Over half a cen­tury ago, we got away with it, gen­uinely be­liev­ing our 10/- (50p) gun li­cences cov­ered us, and no one took any no­tice of lads car­ry­ing air­guns any­way, on what we wrongly thought was ‘com­mon ground’. All this is firmly in the past. For the ben­e­fit of any new young read­ers, any at­tempt at shoot­ing on the Downs nowa­days would in­cur very heavy penal­ties, as stressed in last month’s ar­ti­cle.

Dur­ing the walk, when rem­i­nisc­ing about the air­guns owned in the 1950s – ei­ther by friends or me – I wrote my thoughts down, and the re­sult­ing note­book jot­tings formed the ba­sis of last month’s ar­ti­cle. At that time, the un­der­lever/guard cock­ing ‘Abas Ma­jor’ and the hinged- grip cock­ing ‘ Thun­der­bolt Ju­nior’ air pis­tols - prob­a­bly both dat­ing from c.1949 - as shown in

were al­ready be­com­ing ob­so­lete and were un­seen in shops, or in use dur­ing my 1950’s boy­hood.

This month, I’m go­ing to look at a few more air­guns from the 1950s that were never en­coun­tered then, none be­ing owned within my cir­cle of friends, or by me. Some I knew about, like the ‘ Daisy’ owned by a boy at school, and then there was the rather rusty brown ‘Ac­voke’ air pis­tol I spot­ted in the win­dow of the ‘ Help­ing Hand Agency ’ - a sec­ond-hand shop op­po­site the town’s art school that I used to at­tend on Satur­day morn­ings. Not re­al­is­ing it was a grip cocker, I puz­zled for years on how it worked. Oth­ers, I had no clue about un­til years later, when I dis­cov­ered them fea­tured in Les Wes­ley’s ‘Air­Guns and Air-Pis­tols’ book in my lo­cal li­brary.

The same sit­u­a­tion ap­plied to pel­lets. I only knew about the brands sold in my lo­cal shops, and places I went on hol­i­day, so I thought that was all there were. Pel­let sales were prob­a­bly re­gion­alised to some ex­tent and boys in other ar­eas were see­ing a dif­fer­ent as­sort­ment than I was. It struck me, dur­ing my walk on the Downs, that whilst own­ing the larger We­b­ley pis­tols, no boys I

knew in the ‘50s, ac­tu­ally owned a ‘Ju­nior’ air pis­tol, but we all as­pired to, hav­ing seen them in shops. Com­pared with push-in-bar­rel cock­ing types, they were al­ways ex­pen­sive, so maybe richer kids than us had the We­b­ley Ju­niors ( Fig­ure 2) whilst we had Harrington Gats and Diana No. 2 pis­tols.


As a gang of boys, we thought we were knowl­edge­able on the en­tire range of smaller Diana air­guns and were fa­mil­iar with the Models 1, 15, 16, 22, 23 and the fair­ground favourite, Model 25; al­though the mys­tery of why the then cur­rent Ger­man­made (Orig­i­nal) and Bri­tish-made (Mil­bro) Dianas - ap­peared iden­ti­cal, yet orig­i­nated from dif­fer­ent coun­tries and bore dif­fer­ent names was a mys­tery to us. How sur­prised we’d have been to see the two light­weight Diana sidelever- cock­ers in Fig­ure 3. Lud­wig Mayer’s Ger­man Pat. no. 808205 of 25th June 1949 cov­ered th­ese 1950’s ju­ve­nile sidelever- cock­ers. Top: Mayer & Gram­melspacher Diana Model No. 0 dual cork-and pel­let-/dart fir­ing airgun, with the heav­ier Model No. 10 stamped 6-50 (June 1950) airgun ap­pear­ing be­low.

For­bid­den by the Al­lies to pro­duce firearms or air­guns af­ter the Sec­ond World War, un­til the pro­duc­tion ban was lifted in 1950, any early No. 0 sidelevers pos­si­bly pro­duced prior to this, in late ’49, M& G very likely ‘got away’ with it, due to the cork­fir­ing as­pect, with­out break­ing reg­u­la­tions in the oc­cu­pa­tion zones. Whilst the No. 0 is more cork gun than pel­let or dart firer, the No. 10 with its con­ven­tional shot tube seems more pel­let gun than cork firer to me.

The Diana Models 0 and 10 may not have been sold in this coun­try, al­though the op­er­at­ing in­struc­tions for the cheaper Model 0 airgun/cork firer are all type­set in English, as shown when I doc­u­mented the Model 0 in de­tail in Air Gun­ner, April 2003. At the time, I said I’d cover the heav­ier Model 10 in this col­umn ‘soon’. I hadn’t for­got­ten this, but had hoped to find a bet­ter ex­am­ple to show and some­how, 14 years slipped by… Rare in this coun­try, no bet­ter ex­am­ple has ma­te­ri­alised for me, so I’m show­ing my rather bat­tered ex­am­ple, mi­nus rear sight, that John McCrossen spot­ted in a boot fair. I said I’d like it, and John went back, only to find it had been sold. So he tracked down the buyer and wrested it from him for me!

The main dif­fer­ences in the No. 0 shown top of Fig­ure 4, and No.10 ( be­low) are in the front ends. The Model 0 has an­gled in­dents, which act as a screw fit­ting on the spi­ral press­ings on the pel­let tube. Th­ese form a sim­ple fast ‘ thread’ for the quick re­moval or in­ser­tion of the twist on/off tube for load­ing ball, dart or slug. With­out the tube, it fires corks. Diana em­pha­sised that the gun must be cocked first, be­fore at­tach­ing the tube be­cause the pres­ence of the loaded tube would pre­vent the nec­es­sary air from be­ing ‘sucked back’ into the cylin­der – pre­sum­ably to avoid a vac­uum be­ing caused.

The heav­ier Model 10 has a more con­ven­tional ar­range­ment, with the fore­sight on the front of the false bar­rel, giv­ing a longer sight base. The shot tube, with knurled muz­zle cap, un­screws from here, like a Diana Ju­nior Model I. It’s then with­drawn from the sur­round­ing front end, as seen lower Fig­ure 5, and breech loaded as nor­mal with guns of this type.

Re­us­able count­less times, the Bri­tish Mil­bro Plas­tic Pel­lets for in­door use or prac­tice were pop­u­lar from early 1952, as I men­tioned last month, and would have been ideal for use in th­ese low-pow­ered Ger­man sidelevers. The am­mu­ni­tion com­part­ments of this 1959 Bri­tish Diana No. 2 Pis­tol Dis­play Pack, shown in Fig­ure 6, con­tained a 100 packet of Mil­bro Plas­tic Pel­lets, along with Mil­bro Darts and 100 waisted Cale­do­nian pel­lets. The ear­li­est packet (cen­tre front) had only ‘ MIL­BRO’ on the la­bel with ‘-Diana’ added later. Loose Plas­tic Pel­lets can pos­si­bly be made out on the cor­ner of the Mil­bro tar­get card.

Hav­ing gath­ered th­ese thoughts about 1950s guns I never saw at the time, I de­scended to lower ground. As Sam’s owner had said, af­ter al­low­ing him a good run, he’d re­turn on hear­ing his name called. Al­though only a spot in the dis­tance, he re­turned di­rectly on hear­ing my shout, run­ning up ex­pec­tantly be­cause, as an added in­cen­tive, I’d waved a rustling bag of Baker’s ‘All­sorts’ in the air. He’d al­ready had a cou­ple of treats from the bag be­fore I let him loose. I poured out wa­ter from the bot­tle into his bowl that I’d bought, and whilst he was eat­ing the max­i­mum num­ber of treats rec­om­mended for a very large dog and lap­ping up his wa­ter, I clipped the lead back on for the walk home with­out him protest­ing. I be­lieve the well-trained dog has known me long enough to re­turn to me with­out the bribery, but there’s no harm in giv­ing him an in­cen­tive!


Whilst work­ing on one of my older ‘ black guard’ Fender Tele­cast­ers, world-renowned guitar maker Andy Crock­ett, un­ex­pect­edly vol­un­teered the in­for­ma­tion that his brother had owned a Falke air ri­fle when they were boys. I wanted to know all about it, of course, but all Andy could tell me, was the usual, ‘ It was very pow­er­ful’ rem­i­nis­cence, but boy­hood rec­ol­lec­tions of air­guns of­ten credit their power aas higher than they prob­a­bly re­ally were. With no ac­cu­rate mea­sur­ing de­vices avail­able then, the shoot­ing power, pen­e­tra­tion and range of air­guns grows in the mind of the own­ers down the years, and of­ten be­comes leg­endary.

I sent old Falke cat­a­logue copies, show­ing the range, to Andy’s guitar work­shops, but on see­ing him again later when pick­ing up my old Tele., it seemed they had failed to jog any mem­o­ries about the model, or it’s present where­abouts. So, al­though I was un­able to de­ter­mine the model once owned by Andy’s brother, it was in­ter­est­ing to know that Falke ri­fles were around in UK in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Apart from in Ger­man and Dutch cat­a­logues, I’ve seen no old ad­ver­tis­ing for the Falke range here. I asked col­lec­tor Danny Garvin – who knows more about Falke models than I prob­a­bly ever will – if he had, but he doesn’t re­call ever see­ing any UK ad­ver­tis­ing of Falkes, ei­ther. I’m in­debted to Danny for the use of his pho­to­graph of a fine 1950’s Falke Model 33 air pis­tol from Al­bert Föhren­bach GmbH of Hanover, Ger­many in

Fig­ure 7. Whilst the Haenel pis­tols came in stout card­board car­tons, many other Ger­man pis­tol boxes are of quite frag­ile card, so it’s good to see a Falke Model 33 still con­tained in its sur­viv­ing orig­i­nal thin­ner car­ton.

Fig­ure 8 shows two fur­ther Falke Model 33 ex­am­ples from my own col­lec­tion. Top: Cocked by the un­der­lever. The safety works on the trig­ger and sear and, un­like an Abas Ma­jor, there’s no safety ratchet on the pis­ton it­self, so if the lever is ac­ci­den­tally re­leased be­fore the sear en­gages the pis­ton dur­ing cock­ing, it will fly back to in­jure the fingers. Lower: An­other ex­am­ple with paler stock. Nei­ther car­ries a se­rial num­ber. Mark­ings are ‘ FALKE Mod. 33 DBP’ on cylin­der top and ‘ MADE IN GER­MANY’ under the bar­rel with KAL. 4.5 m/m gez. (ri­fled) atop the bar­rel.

The Falke 33 was a well-made air pis­tol with ad­e­quate power (m.v. is 340 f.p.s with RWS Match pel­lets) for six-yard tar­get shoot­ing and be­yond, with well blued, all­steel mech­a­nism mounted on a stained and var­nished hard­wood stock – be­lieved beech, al­though wal­nut was avail­able on re­quest. It’s three- quar­ter stocked; the fore- end is longer than most con­ven­tional bar­rel­cock­ing pis­tols of this type, ex­tend­ing fur­ther for­ward to hide the cock­ing link­age neatly, and the cam that opens and closes the breech. Over­all length is 11¾ inches with a 5¼ inch, tip-up bar­rel ri­fled with 12- grooves and cal­i­bre 4.5m or .177 inch. Fore­sight is a ta­pered blade and the rear­sight is a fully ad­justable V-notch.

Cu­ri­ously, one English lan­guage cat­a­logue c.1957 that Danny has shown me, lists the Falke 33 as hav­ing an ‘ex­cel­lent sidelever cock­ing mech­a­nism’ but this is merely a trans­la­tion er­ror, as you can see from the pho­tographs. It’s ac­tu­ally a 1953 patented, un­der­lever cocker with a cou­ple of novel fea­tures. To cock the pis­tol, the un­der­lever is re­leased from its spring-loaded catch at the base of the butt, The non-slip un­der­lever has very shal­low in­den­ta­tions for the fingers on the sides as you pull the lever for­ward to cock the main­spring. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, a cam on the lever’s up­per end is ro­tated to al­low the tip-up bar­rel’s breech to rise au­to­mat­i­cally by the ac­tion of a small coil spring un­der­neath it. See

When the sear en­gages, the lever can be re­leased and a pel­let breech-loaded. Re­turn­ing the cock­ing lever to the closed

po­si­tion ro­tates the cam and closes the breech firmly, push­ing the leather washer on the face of the bar­rel breech up against the end of the cylin­der to en­sure an air­tight seal. The dou­ble-pull, non-ad­justable trig­ger has a very light pos­i­tive pull- off of about 2lbs, due to the long sear.

A fine group of the heav­ier, ta­pload­ing Falke models is shown cour­tesy of Danny Garvin’s col­lec­tion in Fig­ure 11. In­ter­est­ingly, the Model 80 ri­fle fea­tured elm for the stock, whilst the Model 90 used wal­nut. The Fal­con trade­mark boldly ap­pears on the large, fixed-bar­rel, tap-load­ing Falke models as seen in Fig­ure 12. I re­gret not con­cen­trat­ing on col­lect­ing more of the Falke range ear­lier, but they were al­ways dif­fi­cult to lo­cate.

If we saw Walther LP 53s in gun-shop win­dows, they might not have reg­is­tered with us as air­guns, look­ing more like firearms, so none were rec­ol­lected. An­other air pis­tol not per­son­ally seen at the time was the ex­cel­lent Ger­man ‘Orig­i­nal’ Model 5 break-bar­rel air pis­tol with wooden butt and mid-1958 to early 1960s-style ta­pered bar­rel as seen in Fig­ure 13.

Fig­ure 14 shows the sides, noses and bases of the am­mu­ni­tion of the 1950s used dur­ing my boy­hood. Left: Lane’s ‘Prince’ a cheap, light­weight cup slug for smooth­bores, of­ten mis­shaped and an­gled at the basal edge. Mid­dle group: Lane’s ‘Cat’ Slugs ap­pre­cia­bly longer and heav­ier than the Prince and Right: Lanes ‘Beatall’ dome­heads. A trick of the light makes it look as if the hol­low slug noses have a cen­tral pin­hole, but it’s just thin­ner lead there. Just how well did cup slugs re­ally shoot? They needed to be a good fit in a well­made smooth­bore, but even in ri­fled bar­rels, my old friend, the late Arthur Pick­ford, had sur­pris­ingly good ac­cu­racy re­sults with Lane’s Cat Slugs in his 1970s pel­let test­ing.

A very fac­tual man, his ex­ten­sive pel­let tests were all doc­u­mented in a note­book that he sent me. He knocked two tins down at 30 yards from the bath­room win­dow, with two shots from a BSA Lin­coln Jef­fries Mod. D on Au­gust 5th, 1972, re­sult­ing in slight dents. His con­clu­sion was that the Lane’s Cat Slugs were quite ac­cu­rate, but rather short of hit­ting power – as ex­pected with a light­weight slug. The ri­fling, of course, en­graves the en­tire length of the slug, so fric­tion plays a part, and faster shoot­ing would pos­si­bly have been no­tice­able if he’d had (for com­par­i­son) an iden­ti­cal B.S. A./L. J., but smooth­bored … which, un­sur­pris­ingly, he hadn’t, since none are known to ex­ist.


Like me, many col­lec­tors will have fond mem­o­ries of us­ing Lane’s ‘ Beatall’ brand, waisted pel­lets. Fig­ure 15 shows Lane’s Beatall in 200 and 500 boxes. They are full and pre­vi­ously un­opened. We­b­ley pis­tol ex­pert, Jeff Hy­der, was a res­i­dent of Mor­daunt Road, in tough Har­les­den dur­ing his boy­hood, and whilst rem­i­nisc­ing about a favourite band, ‘Johnny Kidd and The Pi­rates’, he threw in this loosely con­nected story about a packet of Beatall he once bought and lost, so over to Jeff:

‘As for Johnny Kidd, he used to play a pin­ball ma­chine in Mary’s Café sit­u­ated in Winchelsea Av­enue, at the junc­tion at the top of my road when I lived in Har­les­den as a kid. The word got around that he was in the café and he would pile up the old three­penny bits needed to play the ma­chine. We kids would go and watch him, more in­ter­ested in if he got a good score than that he played in a band – wins meant him gen­er­ously giv­ing us three three­penny bits so we could buy a 9d bot­tle of Pepsi- Cola. He was al­ways with a group of three or four guys, all around the same age, smok­ing and chat­ting to the lady who ran the café. They were never nasty, or told us to ‘eff off’ and took no in­ter­est in us - apart from giv­ing us the money for the bot­tle of Pepsi, and af­ter drink­ing this we al­ways left the café. ‘I only saw Johnny Kidd two or three times, and the last time I saw him must have been a cou­ple of years later, when I was in­ter­ested in air­guns, in a sports shop, Ac­tons, in Har­les­den High Street, run by an Ir­ish­man who, on the whole, couldn’t give a damn how old you were and sold you pel­lets and prob­a­bly air­guns if you could af­ford them. He was show­ing Johnny a shot­gun. That was the shop where I spent 2/6 on 500 .177” Beatall pel­lets, a small for­tune in those days. I jumped on my bike and the box fell out of my pocket onto the road and promptly got flat­tened by fol­low­ing traf­fic. When I looked be­hind me only to see them get squashed, I could have cried.’

Jeff’s ac­count about drop­ping his pel­lets in the road and them promptly get­ting run over, seems quite funny now, but at the time it was a dis­as­ter for a lad with no money and meant a loss of many hours of fun shoot­ing. All ac­counts seem to re­call Johnny Kidd – whose real name was Fred Heath – as a down-to-earth, much-liked and gen­er­ous guy, al­though he had lit­tle in the early days, and that he did have a bit of a pin­ball and gam­bling ad­dic­tion. I saw his dy­namic live stage act many times, and his num­ber one hit sin­gle, ‘Shakin’ All Over’ re­mains an un­for­get­table clas­sic to this day. He lived, and sadly died on the road, aged 30 in a car ac­ci­dent in 1966.


My thanks to Alan Har­vey for the loan of his Diana Model 0 sidelever; to Danny Garvin for con­tribut­ing pho­tographs and to Jeff Hy­der for his Beatall pel­let rec­ol­lec­tions.

Fig­ure 1: Top: Late, un­der­lever/guard cock­ing ‘Abas Ma­jor’ and the hinged grip cock­ing ‘Thun­der­bolt Ju­nior’. Both prob­a­bly dat­ing from c.1949 were al­ready be­com­ing ob­so­lete and were un­known dur­ing my 1950’s boy­hoodFig­ure 2: We­b­ley & Scott ‘Ju­nior’ Air Pis­tols were al­ways quite ex­pen­sive. Strangely, they were not owned by any of the boys I knew - al­though the larger We­b­ley ‘ Mark I’ and ‘ Se­nior models wereFig­ure 3: Lud­wig Mayer’s Ger­man Pat. no. 808205 of 25th June 1949 cov­ered th­ese 1950’s ju­ve­nile sidelever- cock­ers. Top: M & G Diana Model No. 0 dual cork-and pel­let-/dart-fir­ing airgun, with the heav­ier Model No. 10 stamped 6-50 (June 1950) airgun shown be­lowFig­ure 4: The main dif­fer­ence in the Diana No. 0 (top) and the heav­ier No.10 (be­low) is in the front end. The Model 0 has an­gled in­dents, which act as a screw- fit­ting on the spi­ral press­ings on the pel­let tube, form­ing a ‘ thread’ for the quick re­moval or in­ser­tion of the twist on/off tube for load­ing ball, dart or slugFig­ure 5: The Model 0 fires corks with the shot tube re­moved. The heav­ier Model 10 (be­low) has a more con­ven­tional ar­range­ment, with the fore­sight on the front of the false bar­rel. The shot tube, with knurled muz­zle cap, un­screws for load­ing like a Diana Ju­nior Model 1Fig­ure 6: The am­mu­ni­tion com­part­ments of this 1959 Bri­tish Diana No. 2 Pis­tol Dis­play Pack con­tain a 100 packet of Mil­bro Plas­tic Pel­lets, along with Mil­bro Darts and 100 waisted Cale­do­nian pel­lets. Loose Plas­tic Pel­lets can be made out on the cor­ner of the Mil­bro tar­get cardFig­ure 7: A fine 1950’s Falke Model 33 air pis­tol from Al­bert Föhren­bach GmbH of Hanover, Ger­many, seen in its now rare, orig­i­nal card­board box. [Pho­to­graph cour­tesy of Danny Garvin]

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