Bri­tain’s Air­gun Her­itage

John Milewski looks back at the first BSA tele­scopic sights

Airgun World - - Contents -

John Milewski’s his­tory of the air­gun. Part 1, the BSA Ri­fle Tele­scope from 1959

Tele­scopic sight use on air ri­fles is seen as vir­tu­ally manda­tory to­day, and many mod­ern air ri­fles are not even sup­plied with open sights. This has not al­ways been the case, and cur­rent scope en­thu­si­asts owe BSA a debt of grat­i­tude for pi­o­neer­ing the op­tion of tele­scopic sights for air ri­fles.

In 1959, BSA in­tro­duced the break-bar­rel Me­teor, which went on to be­come BSA’s best-ever seller, with sales in the mil­lions. A unique fea­ture of the Me­teor was the op­tion of fit­ting a tele­scopic sight to the ri­fle by means of four raised grooves stamped into the top of the air cylin­der. BSA Air­sporters from 1959 on­ward also pro­vided the same fa­cil­ity through four wide scope grooves ma­chined into the steel cylin­der.

The 15.5mm-wide grooves were wider than to­day’s mounts can ac­com­mo­date, and whilst the ba­sic sights BSA sup­plied came with in­te­gral mounts, more sub­stan­tial scopes could only be used if es­pe­cially wide mounts were ob­tained, such as those pro­vided by Parker Hale. Us­ing more sub­stan­tial mounts did not nec­es­sar­ily help be­cause they could dam­age the frag­ile grooves on the Me­teor if over-tight­ened.

Nat­u­rally, BSA of­fered their own branded scopes to suit their air ri­fles and al­though ba­sic by to­day’s stan­dards, they were seen as quite rev­o­lu­tion­ary in 1959 be­cause fit­ting tele­scopic sights to a pro­duc­tion air ri­fle had not been at­tempted pre­vi­ously.


John Knibbs points out, on page 140 of The Golden Cen­tury, that El­liott Op­ti­cal of Birm­ing­ham made the Mk I sight to specifications laid down by BSA. This com­pany was de­scribed as ‘moul­ders in plas­tics’ in trade di­rec­to­ries, and also made lenses for cam­eras and spec­ta­cles. The sight was made from high-impact poly­styrene and was de­scribed as ‘shock­proof’ in the in­struc­tions, which ac­com­pa­nied each new

sight. Early mod­els were sup­plied with a mag­ni­fi­ca­tion of 2X, whilst later mod­els were 3X power. The tele­scope’s power was marked on the left side of the scope, above the rear mount. A 1960-dated BSA book­let stated that the sight was of 2X power, and by 1962, an up­dated edi­tion of ‘The Air Ri­fle’ book­let de­scribed the mag­ni­fi­ca­tion as 3X power, as did a later 1966 BSA re­tail price list.


For­ward and rear steel fix­ing clamps (mounts) could be placed in one of six po­si­tions on the sight’s in­te­gral plas­tic mount­ing blocks, thereby prov­ing a vari­able level of eye re­lief. The large fix­ing nuts on the right side of the sight could be tight­ened by hand, rather than with one of to­day’s ubiq­ui­tous Allen keys, and two rub­ber buf­fers behind the clamps helped to dampen the shock from the ri­fle’s re­coil. The im­age it­self was not fixed and the cross hairs moved when the sight was ze­roed, re­sult­ing in the aim point po­ten­tially ap­pear­ing at any point within the sight’s im­age and not cen­trally.

The BSA ‘piled arms’ trade­mark was im­pressed into the left side of the cen­tral ad­just­ment sad­dle. Ex­ter­nal knobs were used to zero the sight and did not re­quire cov­ers. The lat­eral knob was marked with an ar­row be­tween L and R, whilst the el­e­va­tion knob was marked U and D, to di­rect shots Up or Down.

An un­dated BSA cir­cu­lar dealer let­ter from late 1965 an­nounced that scope grooves were to be changed to a nar­rower 11.5 mm on the Me­teor, and in due course on the Air­sporter, too. Con­se­quently, two new mod­els of tele­scopic sight were in­tro­duced with nar­rower 11.5 mm fix­ing clamps, which were des­ig­nated the Mk III and Mk IV.

The Mk I was sup­plied in an ob­long box with a green back­ground. An in­struc­tion sheet ac­com­pa­nied each sight, and boxed ex­am­ples can of­ten be found with boxed BSA Me­teor Mk I and early Mk II ri­fles, which still had the wider scope grooves. A BSA dealer cat­a­logue dated 1st March 1966 sug­gested a re­tail price of £2.2.0 for the sight.


The Bri­tish-made, poly­styrene, two-power Mk II tele­scopic sight was in­tended for the low­pow­ered BSA Mer­lin air ri­fle, but BSA also il­lus­trated the sight fit­ted to their .22 Ar­matic semi-auto ri­fle in a 1963 flyer. The sight body was fixed to a mount that could be ad­justed for el­e­va­tion and windage, re­sult­ing in a cen­tred ret­i­cle. The el­e­va­tion screw was lo­cated un­der the sight’s body and to the rear of the mount. A fur­ther screw fixed to the front mount could be ad­justed lat­er­ally from the left side.

Once again, the fix­ing nuts could be fin­ger-tight­ened and there was no re­quire­ment for keys or tools. The Mer­lin was in­tro­duced in 1962 and the sight was in­cluded in a 1966 BSA trade cat­a­logue. It re­mained avail­able un­til pro­duc­tion of the lit­tle Mer­lin ceased in 1968.

The sight was sup­plied in an orange and white box and was ac­com­pa­nied by a folded in­struc­tion sheet. The sug­gested re­tail price in March 1966 was £2.2.0.


Ow­ing to the poor clar­ity of both sights and the non-im­age-mov­ing na­ture of the Mk I sight, ac­cu­racy proved to be some­what lack­ing and I found it dif­fi­cult to ac­quire a de­cent sight pic­ture. Nei­ther sight moved un­der re­coil due to their light weight, and both would have been seen as rev­o­lu­tion­ary when new.

In the sec­ond part of this re­view, we’ll take a look at some of BSA’s other sights from the 1960s and 1970s.

The first BSA Ri­fle Tele­scope was of 2 X power and made of plas­tic!

Above: A tele­scope-sighted BSA Me­teor Mk1 was con­sid­ered state of the art when fit­ted with a BSA Mk1 Tele­scope Sight in 1959.

Below: The BSA Mer­lin air ri­fle was in­tended es­pe­cially for ju­niors and was made be­tween 1964 and 1968. BSA made the Mk 2 Tele­scope es­pe­cially for this air ri­fle.

This boxed BSA Mk II Ri­fle Tele­scope has sur­vived with its orig­i­nal box and in­struc­tions.

The light al­loy mounts did not creep dur­ing test­ing, but ac­cu­racy proved to be elu­sive.

The Mk II Tele­scope mounted on a BSA Mer­lin Mk 2. Just look at that tiny ob­jec­tive lens!

The mounts fit­ted a plas­tic block on the Mk1 scope’s body and pro­vided six al­ter­na­tive mount­ing po­si­tions to al­low for eye re­lief.

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