Additional images courtesy of Dr. Trevor Adams
John Atkins’ in-depth study of two pumpaction guns from Daisy
No matter how much I write about BB guns and despite my best efforts in the past, the American BB gun still does not seem to stir the interests of all UK airgun collectors, although prices do seem to be on the up. I realise that a large number of UK collectors have neither time, nor space in their collections for them or other ‘little weak shooters’, as they call them, like American ‘parlor’ pistols. Possibly, if some of these collectors had seen a good BB gun like the single-shot Daisy Model 499 performing surprisingly accurately in the right hands, opinions might change.
A demonstration I witnessed by expert marksman, Brian Shipperley, in 1990, of his Daisy ‘Quick Skill’ Model 2299 BB airgun on a 25- yard garden range certainly changed my own opinion. The ‘Quick Skill’ was based on the Daisy Model 99 used for the ‘Rifle Quick Kill’ programme for training troops in the Vietnam war, and intended for accurate instinctive shooting without sights that was taught before the soldier was introduced to aimed fire, which utilises the sights. For civilian sale and use, the name of the BB gun obviously had to be subtly changed in 1968! However, these are leveraction cockers like the old models I looked at last month and now I’m looking at Daisy pump- action cocking models, starting at the beginning with the US patent 1,136,470 of 20.4.15 seen in Figure 1.
The inventor was the gunsmith, Charles F. Lefever, Plymouth, Michigan, assignor to Daisy Mfg. Co. for a spring airgun, which went on to be the Daisy Model 25, the world’s biggest selling airgun. Lefever (known as Fred) was the grandson of the founder of the LeFever Arms Company. He accepted the offer to work for Daisy on the year- long tooling and development for the gun, but said, “I’ll come to Plymouth for a few months to get you started, but that’s all”. He stayed for 41 years.
EIGHT MILLION SOLD
The Daisy Model 25 pump slide- action BB repeater is the biggest selling airgun of all time and is shown cocked in Figure 2. Looking almost exactly like it did in 1913 when the first model was made, it was manufactured for 66 years up until 1979 in nearly 60 variants, with production restarted in 2009, a testimony to the design work of Charles F. Lefever. Although sales figures of up 25 million are commonly given for the Model 25, the number sold according to Cass H. Hough, grandson of the founder of The Plymouth Iron Windmill Co. in his 1976 book, It’s A Daisy, was stated at 8,000,000.
With approximately 45 shots from the spring-fed magazine, older Model 25s seem to have a stronger spring than later variants, giving about 400 fps with excellent accuracy at sensible range. Figure 3 shows the Model 25 Daisy pump gun advertised by Arthur Williams, Weaman Street, Birmingham in UK in The Sporting Goods Review September 15th 1915 for 16 shillings ( 80p). The ‘100 pellets’ capacity quoted was a gross exaggeration.
To explain the term ‘pump gun’, as applied to the two Daisy BB airguns I’m looking at this month, to new readers; it’s a recognised, shorter way of saying ‘pumpaction airgun’ and in the case of these Daisy models it doesn’t mean you pump air into them to store in a reservoir for the shot, or shots, as with some single- stroke, or multiple- stroke pneumatics. The single pumping action is the way of cocking the mainspring, more usually accomplished by breaking or pushing in the barrel, or with a lever with most other spring- piston airguns. The pump action for an airgun appealed to many American shooters used to firearms, like pump- action shotguns and live- round rifles. A pump- action or slide- action firearm is one on which a fore end can be moved forward and backward in order to eject a spent round of ammunition and to chamber a fresh one.
Figure 4 shows another U.S. patent 1,866,561 of 8.11.32 from Charles F. Lefever, Plymouth, Michigan, assignor to Daisy Mfg. Co. with his design for another pump gun – this time a ‘ trombone’ pump airgun initially produced by Daisy for the King line, to compete with Daisy’s popular Model 25 pump action in the mail order catalogues, etc. as the King No. 5.
Confusingly, there were two King No. 5s. One being a 1000- shot, lever- action from around 1908, until the early inter- wars period – and the other, this slide- action, made 1932 to ‘36, that was the King brand version of the Daisy Model 105 Junior Pump Gun (1932- 34); Model 105 Ranger (made for Sears & Roebuck 1932- 34) and the Daisy Model 107 Buck Jones Special made 1934- 42.
The ‘Ranger’ name seemed to have been adopted, following the purchase of American Tool Works/All Metal Products by King/Daisy in 1929. Albeit a quite different 1000- shot lever- action, the Ranger repeater was the Sears name for the final model made by All Metal Products’ ‘Wyandotte’ model in 1928/9, both being based on the earlier 1922 Upton Model 40.
Fred Lefever’s 60- shot slide- action was possibly a response to C. Loomis’s 1931 and 1932 US patents for the Remington 50- shot geared slide- action Model 26 airgun sold from late 1928 for four years that I mentioned in the January 2019 issue of Air Gunner. Lefever’s November 8 1932 patent application covering the Daisy Models 105 Junior Pump Gun and 107 Buck Jones had been filed October 14, 1929 - so the Crawford Loomis patents for the pumpaction Remington preceded it, both being filed in 1928.
In his patent, Fred explains that compression of the spring in his improved pump gun was accomplished by the movement of a handle parallel to the barrel, and usually there is interposed between the handle and the spring compressing plunger, a lever mechanism for increasing the power on the spring and such mechanism complicates their construction and increases production costs. With the present invention, he had dispensed with this intervening lever mechanism and actuated the plunger by the direct push of the handle.
To lessen the labour of compression, he had substituted for the usual heavy gauge spring, a relatively light spring. He stated that he had ‘reduced the frictional resistance to the movement of the plunger so that substantially the same degree of air compression is attained’. I think ‘substantially’ is the questionable word because there’s no mechanical advantage with this straight pull ‘trombone’ cocking method, and to use a mainspring to give the excellent power of the earlier Lefever elbow- pump Model 25 would have meant it would have been too difficult for boys to cock. In reality, I suspect that the Model 105 Junior/Ranger Pump Gun and Model 107 Buck Jones using this straight pull method seldom, if ever, achieved more than 300 fps, even when new. About 240/260 feet per second is about the norm for a Buck Jones in good order.
AN AIRGUN FOR A DOLLAR!
The new 1933 Daisy line advertised with relative prices in The American Boy –Youth’s Companion before the appearance of the Buck Jones pump gun, is reproduced as Figure 5. In it, Buzz Barton tells readers how he got Daisy to reduce the price of the famous old Model 25 Pump Gun from 5 dollars to $ 3.95 and shows the new Junior Pump Gun at $ 2.95 down to the famous Daisy single- shot for one buck. By sheer coincidence, as I typed this, an email from New Zealand came in from Trevor Adams to say, ‘It is simply amazing what could be
made for only one dollar - and still leave a bit of profit for everyone.
An example of Daisy’s brilliant 1934 advertising reprinted here as Figure 6, shows the arrival of the ‘Buck Jones Special’ model, and how they were involving readers by asking them to pit one model up against the other. The newer Buck Jones trombone- pump action won the nationwide competition, although if I’d been around then, I would have voted for the lever- action ‘Super Buzz Barton No. 103’, which did eventually prove to be the biggest seller. To remove the Buck Jones 107 shot tube, to rod out any stuck ammo, the tube is turned left around a quarter turn and jiggled a little whilst pulling, and it comes right out and this also applies to the No. 105 Junior Pump/Ranger and the King No. 5 slide- action model. Both sides of the receiver of the Buck Jones had fancy engraving with the name engraved on the left side.
The No. 107 Buck Jones Special 3rd variation 1934- 42 with floating compass dial from Trevor Adams’ collection appears as Figure 7. This type of compass was fitted to later models of the Buck Jones set in the natural finish hardwood stock besides a sundial brand (see Figure 8). The insertion of a spent matchstick fitted into the drilled hole would act as a gnomon, to cast a shadow onto the dial and allow intrepid young explorers to find out the time, as well as their way home for lunch. A closeup view of the rotating compass wheel without needle of the later Buck Jones is shown as Figure 9. Compasses fitted to earlier guns were of the floating needle type with the rest stationary. It’s hard to date these guns, because compasses could be replacements of the later type.
An original hang tag for the No. 107 Buck Jones Special Daisy showing: ‘The Happy Daisy Boy’ is pictured in Figures 10 and 11. The reverse of the tie- on swing tag informed that the compass was not included in the guarantee, but could be replaced at reasonable cost. No doubt these compasses came in for some rough treatment from careless boys! Made ‘out of house’ by U.S. Gauge Co., New York, both types of compass fitted carried the name ‘DAISY’ above the central target design.
The advertisement in Figure 12 points out the special features of the Buck Jones slide- action pump gun, keyed to a good illustration of the gun along with a lower price of only $ 2.69. Universal Motion Pictures cowboy actor, Buck Jones, was a bigger star than Buzz Barton, making eight features a year, but he still found time to help publicise Daisy’s Buck Jones pump gun as shown in Figure 13. A much later, Stoeger 1939 advertisement for the No. 107 Daisy Buck Jones Special forms Figure 14.
As with most airguns, some Buck Jones examples are harder to find than others. The rarest are guns utilising left- over, 1933 No. 105 Junior Pump Gun frames that have been overstamped ‘107’. As the frames already had been stamped ‘Junior Pump Gun’, these few guns then carried the ‘No. 107 Junior Pump Gun’ marking, although actually were early ‘Buck Jones’ models.
A surviving example of the Buck Rogers 25th Century Disintegrator toy pistol, a ‘noisemaker’, rather than a BB gun, with ‘electronic compression chamber viewplate’ at the top is seen in Figure 15. Press the energy release lever (i.e. trigger!) of this fully automatic (no cocking) pistol - BOY! What a ZAP! - and what a flash in your ‘electronic compression translucent viewplate’! So the advertisement copy ran for this gleaming, copper- finished pistol appearing a year after the Buck Rogers Rocket Pistol that had been introduced on February 26th 1934, both toy pistols selling for 50 cents each. Initially, some Daisy salesmen were reluctant to take out toy pistols rather than the usual BB airguns, but soon they were back clamouring for more because the space pistol sold out faster than it could be produced!
As we’ve seen, another ‘Buck’ - Buck Jones, agreed to use his name on the ‘Buck Jones Special’ trombone- action BB airgun. It was thanks to these ‘Buzz Barton’ and ‘Buck Jones’ 1930s promotional airgun models endorsed by the two popular cowboy actors, along with a spaceman
with his ‘Buck Rogers Rocket Pistol’, that Daisy – in the depths of a depression – had one of the biggest years in its history, sales almost doubling what they were a year before, (1933 sales: $ 530,984), with nearly two million pieces of merchandise being produced and shipped from the Daisy plant in Plymouth, Michigan in 1934 with sales of $1,010,583.
Tragically, Buck Jones, the cowboy film star died in the catastrophic Cocoanut Grove nightclub/restaurant fire in 1942 along with nearly 500 others. In his great book The American B.B Gun, Arni Dunathan records that he safely escaped, but reentered the fire in an attempt to save others – a hero on and off the silver screen in the eyes of his many fans. I’ve never been able to establish if his re- entering the building was actually true, but I suspect not. After a very careful study of all the facts it seems he was found barely alive close to the table he had been seated at and died soon afterwards in hospital, but not wishing to take anything away from the man, I’ll leave his heroic escape and re- entry as a possibility, rather than as a definite fact.
Throughout the 1930s, cowboys were the order of the day and Daisy did well with both Buzz Barton and Buck Jones, but there was always the risk that if any whiffs of scandal or public censure of either of these celebrities, or in fact, any live character, then Daisy would be tarred with the same brush. Cass Hough explains in his book that this was always at the back of his mind. Therefore, it was only natural that an adventure strip hero, ‘Red Ryder’ running in hundreds of newspapers countrywide seemed a safe bet for Daisy to try to tie- in with.
On October 6th, 1939 Daisy signed a contract with the originators and owners of Red Ryder and prolific cowboy artist and author, Fred Harman, to use Red Ryder, his famous character as the name for a new BB gun which turned out to be a most profitable and rewarding association for all concerned. With their No. 111 Model 40 Red Ryder, Daisy worked hard to make it resemble a ‘western carbine’ as can be seen in Figure 16 that features four Red Ryder models from Trevor Adams’ Collection, dating from 1941/1946/1952 and 1956.
The American B.B Gun: A Collector’s Guide 1971 by Arni T. Dunathan; It’s A Daisy, 1976 by Cass S. Hough; and The Blue Book of Airguns Tenth Edition 2012 by Dr. Robert Beeman & John B. Allen.
My thanks again to Dr. Trevor Adams for his input and images.
Figure 1: US patent 1,136,470 of 20.4.15. Charles F. Lefever, Plymouth, Michigan, assignor to Daisy Mfg. Co. for a spring airgun, which went on to be the Daisy Model 25 – the world’s biggest selling airgunFigure 2: Daisy Model 25. Elbow- slide, pump-action shown cocked. Unlike a lever-action, you can cock it more comfortably from your shoulderFigure 3: The Model 25 Daisy pump gun advertised by Arthur Williams, Weaman Street, Birmingham in UK in ‘The Sporting Goods Review’ September 15th 1915 for 16 shillings (80p). The ‘ 100 pellets’ capacity quoted is an exaggerationFigure 4: U. S. patent 1,866,561 of 8.11.32. Charles F. Lefever, Plymouth, Michigan, assignor to Daisy Mfg. Co. design for a trombone pump airgun initially produced by Daisy for the King line, to compete with Daisy’s popular Model 25 pump action in the mail order catalogues, etc. as the King No. 5Figure 5: The new 1933 Daisy line advertised with relative prices in ‘The American Boy –Youth’s Companion’ before the appearance of the Buck Jones pump gunFigure 6: An example of Daisy’s brilliant 1934 advertising shows the arrival of the ‘Buck Jones Special’ model, and how they were involving readers by asking them to pit one model up against the other. [Courtesy of Dr. Trevor Adams]
FIGURE 8 FIGURE 7