Strange airguns! Some advanced collecting thoughts
by B.B. Pelletier
I will be out of the office today through next Wednesday, so please help the new readers with their questions, if you can. Thanks.
Up to this point, I’ve stayed with the relatively common airguns, deviating only a little to show you guns like the Johnson, the Sharpshooter and the Skanaker. Today, I want to go a little farther out and discuss what else is in the wide, wonderful world.
This breakbarrel looks a lot like a pre-war Diana, but it’s not!
Pretend you’re at a gun show and you spot what looks like a pre-war Diana model 27 laying on a table. (If you’d like to know what a Pre-war Diana 27 looks like, get a copy of the Blue Book of Airguns, Fifth Edition right away.) You saunter over and ask permission to pick it up, and the dealer tells you his father brought it back from Korea in the 1950s. Then, you notice the characters stamped into the butt. This ain’t no Diana, brother! It’s probably a copy of the Diana made in Japan. It appears well-made, but let’s not be too hasty. Let’s give it a good once-over. And, for gosh sakes, control yourself! The dealer is watching you!
You look at the butt and notice a circular piece of wood held by two wood screws. No doubt, it covers the hole where there is access to the bolt that holds the butt to the rear of the receiver. That’s how the Brits and Germans would have done it, and whoever made this gun is obviously copying them very closely. It’s a nice touch – the dealer thinks so, too. He has dollar signs floating across his eyeballs, because he’s never seen an air rifle made this well. You, on the other hand, know this is very common work, and it’s only impressive if compared to the airguns of today.
That wooden plate covers the buttstock retaining bolt access hole. No big deal but very nice work.
Then you spin the gun around to look at the left side of the buttstock. This is the only place on the gun that has writing; it’s a cartouche of some kind with oriental characters. At this point you comment, “Oh! Made in Japan,” in the most derrogatory voice you can muster. Unfortunately, this dealer is only 28 years old and thinks that Japan makes the best stuff in the world, which, during his short lifetime, they have. You inform him that wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1950s, “Made in Japan” was the phrase used for cheap, low-quality goods. He isn’t sure if he believes you, but you are a potential buyer so he refrains from starting an argument – half the time. If he has his heart set on early retirement from the sale of this “one-of-a-kind” airgun, there’s nothing you can do about it.
You can’t read it and neither can the dealer, but these are obviously Oriental characters. They establish the probable origin, lacking any other markings on the gun.
Then you look at the muzzle, and that’s when you prove your point about the lower quality. Though the barrel looks hefty, the muzzle reveals that there is actually a thin brass insert barrel and a threaded cap to hold it in the gun. An examination of the open breech will show this more clearly. The Germans and Brits would have rifled a steel barrel, but the Japanese (or whoever made this gun) used a cheaper method of construction. You show this to the dealer and tell him what it implies. Then you demonstrate some class. You say, “You know, I collect airguns and this is an Oriental copy of a fine German rifle. It isn’t made as well, but I would like to have it in my collection to compare to the real thing. What would you take for it?” Now I could write all kinds of scenarios on what happens next, because it’s never the same twice. But you know how much money you have to spend and, if you took my advice and bought a Blue Book, you know a real Diana 27 in this condition is worth about $100. So, take it from there.
This muzzle tells us a lot. It’s obviously not European, and also it’s an indication of lower quality.
Here’s the deal
Old airguns like this one were made in many countries – India, South Africa, Hungary, Belgium, Argentina and so on. They aren’t common in the U.S., but they are more plentiful than most people think. When they surface, they often get far more attention than they deserve. At a real airgun show, the dealers who own them are quickly educated as to their true worth. At a gun show, where almost nobody knows much about airguns, they can go off the scale. Don’t YOU go off after them! I have seen common Haenel model 28 air pistols priced at $500, just because they are as heavy as the Lugers they copy and their owners think they must be worth it. At an airgun show, the same pistol will bring about $150 if the box is with it!
The point I’m trying to make is this – if you want to collect airguns, get all the reference books you can find and read about what’s out there. Then, when you encounter that strange “BB gun,” you’ll know what it is and whether it’s worth the asking price.
A parting shot
This price thing works both ways, of course. A friend of mine happened across a Quackenbust model 0 Lightning in a Virginia thrift store. The owner of the store was no dummy. He knew that Quackenbush air rifles bring $300 to $500 in the condition this one was in. He priced his at $500, but the model he had is not your common Quacker. A Lightning, of which fewer than 50 are known, is worth $5,000 and up – WAY UP if it has the original movable compression chamber, which this one did! Only six guns are known to have that! Here’s an airgun worth at least $15,000 – and possibly as much as $25,000 – selling for $500! Don’t hurt your hand going for your wallet!
The brass ring! A Quackenbush Lightning bought for only $500 might put a nice car in your garage.