Lincoln Jeffries/BSA Ladies and Light Models by John Atkins
This month, John Atkins finds something light for the ladies
Spring-piston operated airguns were adopted by both shooting galleries and individual shooters who quickly formed clubs for competitive target shooting in public houses during the 1890s, where the members of sponsored shooting teams shot airguns at paper targets or bell targets. Distance was standardised at not less than 18 feet as a rule, nor more than 24 feet from the face of the target. Clubs shot matches against one another and leagues of clubs were formed. The first clubs were in South Africa, Guernsey and Britain and by the commencement of the First World War the sport had grown very large, and over 4,000 air rifle clubs and associations existed across Great Britain, many of them in Birmingham.
Enterprising gunsmith genius, George Lincoln Jeffries, realised the potential and worked hard to design and patent his new invention of a fixed-barrel, all-in-line, air rifle to take the sport forward with a precision lacking in the imported German models he had previously improved and sold. The October 1905 issue of Arms & Explosives journal, saw his new air rifle produced initially both by himself and BSA being acclaimed - praising Lincoln Jeffries for his first-class product. The next month’s issue informed how Lincoln Jeffries had, in addition to his Ordinary Pattern, introduced a Ladies Model, which was four inches shorter and 1lb. 3oz. lighter. ‘ It is of BSA manufacture and one of the neatest airguns we have ever handled,’ said Arms & Explosives.
Slightly slower off the mark in announcing the new BSA Ordinary Pattern was The Sporting Good Review. Their November 1905 issue commentated on the remarkable progress in British airgun manufacture, thanks mainly (thinks TSGR) to the Lane’s ‘ Musketeer’ breakthrough. It included illustrated reviews of the new BSA underlever; the Millita Club and the No. 3 bore (.250” calibre) Cox Britannia from C. G. Bonehill. It was also stated that the Canadian agent in Birmingham, a Mr. Ball, was reportedly very keen on the Britannia air rifle, which he shoots on his own 47-yard garden range. ‘Others in the Birmingham area are following suit, including ladies’.
It seems that in late 1905, both Lincoln Jeffries/BSA and Bonehill were keen on linking use of their airguns to females, seeing the opportunity of
selling air rifles of manageable weight and length for the use of lady shooters; although, frankly, the Britannia rifle, whilst portable and short was too heavy for many. Moreover, the Ladies or Light Model LJ/BSA met the requirements of youths, lads’ brigades, schools etc., and like the Ordinary Pattern, could be supplied with either straight-hand or pistol-hand stocks.
LINCOLN AIR RIFLE TRAINER
Seen resting against a cobnut tree in the small wood in my garden in Figure 1 is a Lincoln example with cylinder stampings: ‘ H. The Lincoln Air Rifle’ Patent. 8761/04’, adapted for training use with ramp foresight, Territorial Rifle backsight (shown raised) and service rifle butt. Serial no. 10439, it’s of Standard size pattern and from the fifth batch of Lincolns made in May 1908.
The Territorial rearsight c.1911 fitted to the Lincoln air rifle is detailed in Figure 2, shown folded down. With usual territorial ‘ U’-shape sighting notch and platinum inlaid centre line, the slide has been professionally reduced for air rifle range use. The left-hand milled head is rotated to transverse the wind- gauge slide, whilst the right-hand head locks the slide at any elevation on the leaf.
I was delighted when my rifle’s photograph appeared featuring in BSA expert John Knibbs’ advertising long ago, leading collectors to ask me what it was. I didn’t really know. I bought it locally from a newspaper advertisement in the mid-1970s so I can only guess that it served in some Cadet or Volunteer Corps, lad’s brigade or school. The ramp and other parts all display the same amount of patination and corrosion as the rest of the rifle, suggesting a very old conversion, probably pre-Great War. The filled area in the Service rifle
stock shown in Figure 3
indicates that a very tall rearsight for long-range, back position matchshooting might have been once fitted there, so it clearly didn’t start life on the Lincoln air rifle. A piece of timber has been let in neatly, semidovetailed at the front and pegged, but dowel rod repairs will always be visible due to the end grain taking in more stain or dirt than surrounding areas.
Dowels should be sunk below the surface with a suitable size punch while the glue is wet, and later filled with spackle, coloured with suitable pigment, and after abrading, further disguised by painting in to match surrounding grain, with a tiny brush and acrylic paint before polishing. Supported filler as this, will usually stay level with the surface and not sink. If you have a hundred little woodworm holes to fill with cocktail sticks and matches by this professional method, it’s not a job for an impatient man! The top Lincoln in Figure 4 is fitted with the 1906 adjustable breech plug and marked ‘ L. THE LINCOLN” AIR RIFLE PATENT.’ Yet, the other is marked: ‘ H THE LINCOLN AIR RIFLE. PATENT. 8761/04’, which further disproves the theory that ‘ H’, could stand for ‘ Heavy’ Model because both are 39” long Light models that once resided in Chester Purllant’s collection. I’m indebted to fellow collector, Mick Watts, for the facsimile photograph of an old-time shooter – possibly an American – and all his trophies won with his beloved BSA. See Figure 5. Mick knows nothing further about this man, but he was clearly a very proficient match shooter. This image, plus another original photo that I hope to feature later, were both purchased from the USA a few years ago by Mick, on the Internet. We don’t know if the man is large or small in build, to give clues to the scale and proportion of his rifle in relation to him, but the cylinder appears too short for a Standard Pattern, so it could be an early Lincoln Jeffries Ladies Model because the pistol grip seems to extend further downward than later models. Mick agrees it’s of Light or Medium Weight Pattern, and spotted that it’s fitted with a neat aperture sight folded down into the trigger block, rather than the woodwork. Whilst collectors often seek the Giant and Boy’s model size BSA underlevers, I don’t ever recall anyone specifically requesting the Ladies/Light models in advertisements, but they are great shooters and also useful for men of advancing years - like me! For prolonged target sessions, I seem to reach more for my Light Patterns than my heavier Standard or Giant size BSAs nowadays.
Mick Watts also kindly supplied photos of this 1909 International Air Rifle Competition medal, bronze with panels, etc. nicely picked out in white and coloured enamels to highlight lettering and coats of arms seen in Figure 6. I’ve searched through the sporting magazines for 1909, to discover in The Sporting Goods Review October 1909 there’s an entry: ‘Air rifle shooting said to be increasingly popular in South Africa. The larger models are popular for ‘game shooting’. NARA (National Air Rifle Association) has helped organise a postal shoot against South African clubs. Britain won.’
It’s interesting that it was a postal shoot, but the cost of bringing a team over would have been a slow and expensive business in those days. Of course, TSGR couldn’t
resist adding, ‘ Britain won’ in their typical jingoistic way – the magazine having an almost fanatic, over-the-top extreme patriotism, believing we were the best and all others were inferior … as most did in those days! (Little wonder many other countries still resent this attitude).
The reverse of the United Kingdom v. South Africa medal shown as Figure 7 proves competitor H. Ashton must have been a prodigious shot, scoring 96 out of 100. From a ‘ South African Brother’ is a friendly message. Highlighting the lettering of the back with a blue ground is a nice touch too. Let’s now move from South Africa across to West Africa.
EXACTLY ONE CENTURY AGO
The technical and trade journal Arms and Explosives included a vast amount of airgun interest during its many years of publication from October 1892 until December 1920 when it was discontinued. It was rarely humorous, but exactly 100 years ago, in the December 1917 issue, it was reported that BSA had received a letter from the Gold Coast, West Africa (now Ghana) addressed to: ‘ The BSA Air Rifle, Improved Model D, The Birmingham Small Arms Co. England, The Sole Manufacturer’….
Clearly, the sender had religiously copied, word for word, the cylinder markings found on his BSA Improved Model D, rather than establish the correct address at Armoury Road at that time. But the excellent postal service made sure that his letter safely reached BSA 100 years ago. Figure 8 attempts to pick up the cylinder markings on BSA ‘ Improved Model D’, .22 Standard Heavy Weight Sporting Pattern serial number 40238 made in 1911. Depending on which part of the country you come from, these long cylinder 45½-inch BSA models were colloquially known as ‘ Long Toms’, ‘ King Dicks’ or ‘Giants’ in the past.
The total length of the Ordinary Pattern with the usual 14¼-inch butt was about 43¾ inches, whereas the Ladies/Light Pattern with the normally supplied 13¼-inch stock was 39¼ inches. The 19¼-inch barrel of the Ordinary model was reduced to 17 inches for the Ladies/Light Pattern, whilst the cylinder length was also reduced from 8½ inches to just over 7 inches with associated components also reduced accordingly. Oddly, the ‘effective range’ of both was given as up to 50 yards initially. Cost for either Ordinary or Light Pattern was the same 50/- (£ 2.50) for pistol-hand stock and 45/- (£ 2.25) for straight-hand.
This meant female shooters ( Figure 9) could handle the Ladies/Light models far better than the Ordinary Pattern rifles because the centre of gravity forward of the trigger was only four inches, rather than six and a half inches, due to its reduced length. For size comparison, on the left of Figure
10, is a BSA Improved Model D Standard Pattern serial no. S68827 (1914) with six Light Pattern rifles alongside: serial nos. 54878 (May 1912); 58764 (June / Nov. 1912 when only one Light Pattern was apparently issued); L27021 (c.1926); L32583 with peep sight raised (1927/8); L33441 (1928) and A1767 (1937).
The practice of photo- etching cylinders started in mid-1914 and continued after World War 1.
Figure 11 shows cylinder etching surviving surprisingly well since c.1928 on my BSA Light Model L33441. The markings are fugitive and easily lost due to handling and lack of care to preserve them. I use microcrystalline wax on cylinders of the few air pistols and rifles I have with the surviving electrolytic writing.
GAMAGES GUN DEPARTMENT
I always wanted to visit Gamages Department Store in central London as a boy at Christmas time but never did and it’s all too late now they are closed! Thanks to David & Charles (Holdings) Ltd. for permission to reproduce Gamages and Benetfinks stores’ advertisement from ‘Gamages Christmas Bazaar Catalogue 1913 with some pages from the 1911 General Catalogue’ as Figure 12. All the non-military pattern BSAs illustrated with bayonet, or improved bayonet- end underlevers, are printed from old blocks being utilised, because by this time they should be fitted with side-button release ends as seen on the Military Pattern Long shown here. The Standard Pattern metal block is clearly fractured mid- cylinder, probably due to printing process pressures.
Unfortunately, the David & Charles reprint does not specify if the relevant page comes originally from the 1911 or 1913 catalogues, and there are insufficient clues in the advertisement for me to me able to say which. However, I suspect that anyone sending for a box of ‘Adder’ brand pellets, would have received a ‘ BSA’ marked box by either of those dates. Suppliers of the A.W.G. (A.W. Gamage) branded .177 Slugs would most likely have been Lane’s of London.
Presumably, one of the two stores had at least one or two Short Military Pattern models available for sale, or it would be pointless advertising it because there is no ‘Available only to Special Order’ mention here designed to solicit sufficient orders from customers to ‘ test the waters’ for BSA to supply them. At a massive £ 6 against £ 4 for the Long Pattern, the number of takers would have been very limited indeed. There
was then still a certain amount of initial hostility toward the ‘ Short’ service firearm that the air rifle was meant to simulate, until it later proved itself beyond doubt during two world wars, remaining in service for over 50 years.
The arrival of the bolt-action SMLE ( No. 1) Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield .303 in 1902/3 wasn’t an instantly popular one with all used to the longer 1895 models, and there was some damaging criticism. The lack of enthusiasm was particularly voiced among Bisley experts trialling and testing it in 1903/4 as a marksman’s rifle, or as a sporting rifle, and who seemed to forget the service rifle was intended for use in warfare and not exclusively for them, and the overwhelming majority of the troops had little skill as long-range marksmen! Reading some of these old reports, I’m dumbfounded by their arrogance; the rifle should have been regarded not as a target rifle, but as a weapon for the armament of troops.
In May 1909 it was announced in The Sporting Goods Review that BSA were introducing a new air rifle in .22 calibre – for the first time. The magazine said it would be ‘suitable for shooting small birds, etc. Sure to be popular’. In the January, 1910 issue, it was reported that BSA were putting a new air rifle on the market, the ‘Junior’, described as being ideal for 10-15 year old boys. ‘ It has a 11¼-inch stock and weighs 5¼ lbs., ¼ lb. less than the normal pattern’. By this, I think they meant the Light Pattern.
A BSA Junior Pattern Improved Mod. D at only 34 inches long, serial no. 30242 dating from 1910 is shown top of Figure 13 above two BSA Light Pattern Improved Mod. D 39¼ inches long, s. nos. 54878 and 58764, both 1912. Later, inter-wars Light models appearing 4th and 5th rifles down are: BSA No. 1 Light Pattern No.1 s. no. L27021 c.1926 and ‘A’ Series s. no. A1767 1937.
Lincoln Jeffries’ ‘ Improved Bisley Model’ air pistol and ‘ Match’ Pellets are shown in Figure
14, alongside an unused surviving Improved BSA Air Rifle 10m target card dated 24-11-09 in lower left corner. Judging by wording on this card – found in the cardboard box of a blued Westley Richards’ ‘ Highest Possible’ air pistol I have – the .25 bore BSA Improved Model D had been mainly discontinued because only .177 and .22 rifles and suitable Adder Pellets to fit are now mentioned.
SOURCES: ‘Arms and Explosives’ and ‘ The Sporting Goods Review’ - issue dates as mentioned in text; ‘ Lincoln Jeffries & BSA Air Rifles’ 2012 by John Knibbs, ‘ The Golden Century’ History of the Commercial Gun Production of BSA by John Knibbs 2002.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: My thanks to Mick Watts and Chester Purllant for photographs; to John Knibbs for his invaluable BSA history books and to David & Charles (Holdings) Ltd.