Home Blog  
Education / Training Cantarini air pistols

Cantarini air pistols

by Tom Gaylord

B.B. is giving me a chance to tell you about some neat collectible pistols today.

Before we begin, Pyramyd AIR has asked me to alert you to a new shipment of Air Arms guns. Watch the website this weekend and early next week for a host of new guns to appear!

It’s been a long time since I got to have any fun with collectible airguns, so today’s the day. Allow me to introduce you to a matched pair of high-grade precharged pneumatic air pistols!

First, a bit of history
In the late 1700s, experimenters around the world were trying to push the state of the art for firearms, and one dream on everyone’s mind was to make a repeating rifle. Since the powder charge was loose in those days, repeaters didn’t make much sense, plus the fact that black powder, which was just called gunpowder at the time, is an explosive, unlike modern gunpowder. Any stray powder didn’t just burn, it burned at the rate of about 11,000 feet per second, which makes it a low-grade explosive. Obviously having powder loose in a gun made for great danger.

One experimenter who was attempting to make a repeater was Italian Bartolomeo Girandoni. He had to end his experiments, though, when one of his rifles exploded and killed his son. Girandoni switched to experimenting with high-pressure air, and in 1780 he was awarded a contract to supply the Austrian army with his new design of a repeating air rifle…a 22-shot .47 caliber breechloading rifle. Over the next two decades, he supplied them with 1,000 to 1,500 rifles, hand pumps, large gang pumps and parts.

The world was in awe of an air rifle that could empty its magazine in under one minute. The awe quickly turned to flattery as private gunsmiths all over Europe began copying Girandoni’s design and began producing sporting rifles of their own. If you are interested, you can see one such rifle on the DVD Antique Big Bore Airguns.

Here is a video you can’t get from The History Channel.

The Girandoni copy was made by Joseph Shembor

Imagine how rare and wonderful these sporting copies of the Girandoni military rifle must have been at the time. Air rifles were scarcely known, and yet these were repeaters! Imagine how much rarer a pistol version of the same gun would have been. Well, such guns do exist. I have seen and held them. Larry Hannusch owns a matched pair of repeating air pistols built along the Girandoni pattern by a maker who signed his name as Cantarini of Vienna. He displayed them at the Little Rock Airgun Expo several years ago, and he allowed anyone who was interested to photograph them.

A cased pair of Cantarini pneumatic pistols with all their equipment is impressive.

Though the pistols are considered a matched pair, they do have subtle differences. Both are heavily covered with gold inlay and gold-plated brass fixtures.

Larry was put in touch with the owner through an internet lead from my wife, Edith. They met, and he bought them on the spot. They were complete but both were missing the leather covering for their butt flasks, so he had a master leatherworker recover them in black Moroccan leather, like the originals. He assembled the kind of tools they would have had, plus a vintage hand pump, and had the entire collection cased in the French style in red velvet.

These pistols function in the Girandoni pattern, which means they feed balls by gravity from a steel tube on the right side of the receiver. A spring-loaded shuttle slides to the right to pick up the next ball, then back to the left to align the ball with the bore. The air runs from the front of the air reservoir in the butt to directly behind the ball. (AirForce revived this valve design in their rifles). It is most efficient because the air doesn’t have to make any turns on its way out the bore. In the Cantarini pistols, each magazine holds 10 balls, and the pistol probably had enough air for one magazine.

This photo shows the sliding shuttle for loading and the magazine tube on the right side of the receiver. Look at all that high-relief engraving!

These pistols are .40 caliber and rifled with a polygroove pattern. Each barrel is 7″ long, and the overall length is 13″. They’re numbered to match their removable butts (for filling with air) because this was before the time of interchangeable parts (ca. 1815). Being civilian models, these pistols have a decocking feature that the Girandoni rifle does not have. They can be uncocked without firing, while the Girandoni must be fired if it is cocked.

How’s this for deep rifling? It’s typical for this period.

The level of engraving and materials indicates these two were made for either a wealty person or nobility, if not for royalty. They don’t seem to have a royal crest, but whoever they were made for was definitely a wealthy man.

I think it’s good to look at airguns like these from time to time, if only to remind ourselves that everything was not invented in the last 10 years.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

29 thoughts on “Cantarini air pistols”

  1. Tom,

    Thank you – they are beautiful. Can you explain polygroove rifling? I just have to ask – are they still operational? It would be sad if they could only be looked at.

    Springer John

  2. Sorry, off topic as usual, but I have a question. I have a AA Pro Sport on order and I’m trying to decide on a scope for it. From my experience with my HW97 I think I have two options:

    1. Purchase a short scope (12.5 inches or less) to avoid interferring with the loading port altogether


    2. Purchase any scope but make sure I match it up with high-profile mounts to allow plenty of room for the fingers when loading pellets.

    Should I limit the objective size to say 44 to help minimize problems or shouldn’t that be an issue?


  3. Springer John,

    Poly = many. In this case, it means an early form of microgroove rifling, though you can see that those grooves are anything but shallow. However, compared to contemporary rifling, they are shallow.


  4. BB wanted to share this information

    Cooper T (Chauncey Toombs) passed away.

    Chauncey Toombs Jr will be keeping the Cooper T website up and running.

    He has his fathers inventory, so Cooper T products will be avail for the time being.

    his temporary email address is teresa8875@embarq.com

  5. DED,

    What’s “better” is entirely up to you. The AR6 has a first shot at slightly greater power, but then the power drops off.

    The Condor gets about 20 shots at the same relative power level.

    The Condor is slightly more accurate, plus you can change calibers, barrel lengths and power levels (with the MicroMeter tank, the CO2 tank and the standard tank).

    The Condor has more places to mount accessories.

    The AR6 is a 6-shot repeater and the Condor is a single shot. The Condor is about a pound lighter.


  6. bb,

    umm, i actually cant find a report on the original s-16s, but you didnt like the co2 one, so i guess ill go with the talon ss and condor as my first pcp’s. unless of course, you like the sumatra or career 707 better?


  7. I don’t think my previous post made it…

    Thanks for the info Tom.

    It’s great to see the history in air gunning. I’m still surprised that there’s a military application for air power – which implies that these are lethal force caliber weapons, correct?

    It would be interesting to have a blog on larger than rabbit game hunting with air.

  8. Hello BB (love this blog BTW!), A little off topic, but i could not find anyone with experience with these guns. I want to purchase either the sumatra or the career 707 lever action guns(from pyramidair of course they have excellent service!), My question is this. the sumatra has an “open to the elements” loading cylinder for loading/cycling whereas the career has an enclosed magazine for loading/cycling the next pellet, where i like to hunt is somtimes far away from my vehicle and if i hunt on a cloudy day and it starts to rain, its a ways back to the vehicle(non regular vehicle accesible but maybe an atv) so does the career have an advantage over the sumatra concerning possible water or other elments such as dirt getting into the mechanism and possibly ruining it? Or should I not be worried too much about rain(y) condition with either rifle? My next question is this, i know that pcp’s liked to be stored with air, but for a higher shot count these rifles sometimes like pressures over 3000psi, so i could see my self leaving the rifle with that much pressure in it, not for long periods, but i may find my self leaving it charged to whatever the gun likes whether it would be 3200-3400 psi, for maybe up to a week or so, just so that the rifle would be “ready”(not loaded just charged)so i would not have to charge the rifle when all of a sudden a skunk appears in the middle of the night on my back porch(as this has happened more than once). I have heard reports that these rifles, the career and sumatra will “blow” their seals when stored for more than a day or so at 3000 or above psi. Should i worry about storing these rifles at or slightly above 3000psi for up to a week or so? Any help/info would be appreciated thanks.

  9. BB –
    Thanks for the info on Quackenbush. Gee, he’s in my area code too. Should I start saving now?? It looked like he’s not taking any orders though, but that was circa 2005.
    Have a good weekend

  10. chev,

    Both the Career and the Sumatra are equally exposed to the elements. The Career has a long open slot on the side of the magazine.

    As far as leaving air in the guns, I have PCPs that have held their charge for eight years, so a week shouldn’t be a problem. My BSA Tech Star held 3300 for two years without loss. The only time to worry is when the PCP goes empty.

    There is no magic to 3,000 psi. It’s 100 psi above 2900 and 100 below 3100. It’s not the end of the world. Walther PCPs hold 4350 psi and they hold just as long as anything else.


  11. Appreciate it BB, good to hear, now I do not have to worry about either rifle being more “exposed” than the other. Also good to know that leaving a full charge in will not hurt the rifle(skunks better watch out! I have found out that they come to feed on the kitty food!), yes i have heard bad things about leaving your pcp’s empty for prolonged storage, I was using the 3000 mark because that seems to be the “standard fill” touted in pcp manuals. Thanks for the info BB.

  12. B.B.
    This is off topic, but……
    I have a Crosman Storm XT. It looks just like the Quest. Is there any real difference between the two?? I have read reviews that suggest the Quest is a spring breaker.

    My Storm has terrible droop making the included scope and mounts useless. The trigger adjusted to a nice very light and smooth pull. Safety is manual, rather than the annoying automatic safety on some rifles. The barrel does not take much pressure to unlatch. The seal needs to wear down some more to get a more positive lock up when closing the barrel.
    Fairly quiet and low on vibration with a mv of mid 800’s with cp 7.9’s. Will break 1000 fps with raptors. Likes the 8.4 exacts best.
    Great starling killer at 25 yds.

    Does this sound like the Quest, or does it sound different? Might consider the .22 Quest if they can be expected to work about the same.

  13. Twotalon, I’m not BB but I do know a bit about the Quest-series guns.

    You are right about it being a Quest. The Chinese – built Quest is a re-issue of the old BAM B18/B19 rifle, and it is largely based on the Gamo Shadow/220/440 design. It is not a clone… many parts do not interchange, but the piston seal does, and the Quest series spring can be used in a Gamo if the Quest tophat is used as well. In fact, there’s quite a few Gamo’s running around with Quest springs and seals in them because Gamo refuses to sell those parts! By and large, the Quest springs seem to give decent service, and like I said, replacements are readily available. Call Crosman for more details.

    The Quest action is used in the Quest, Phantom, G1 Extreme, Sierra Pro, Storm XT, and TAC 1 Extreme. It is not related to the Benjamin Legacy 1000, the Tac 77, or the Remington Genesis… that’s an entirely different action.

    Once the rifle breaks in, you should get around 900fps with CPL’s. If you are not, the factory seal may have been damaged during installation or the spring might be “short”. Either way, it’s easy to fix.

    As for the breach seal – that’s one thing I never liked about this design. It locks up plastic-on-metal, and as the plastic wears in the lock-up position changes.

    On mine, I usually replace the plastic breach seal with a rubber “o” ring that lets the breach close completely. Frequently, this cures a “barrel droop” problem. To find out, gently pry the plastic “o” ring out of the breach and close it up – if the barrel droop is now gone, you know what the problem is. The “o” ring size I use is a #108, (it takes a little stretching to get it in), and I got a bag of 100 for about $2 at Mcmaster.

  14. BB,
    In answer to my last question you mentioned the Roanoke airgun show,
    I do not remember if I said this but I live in New Zealand and Roanoke is a little bit Out of my way (besides this it would be a cold day in hell before my mum forked out the cash for this trip as well as me still being a minor). Are there any airgun shows in the Pacific
    e.g. Australia, Singapore, Malaysia or somewhere close by.

    thank you

  15. Thanks again Vince……
    Just replaced the 0-ring with a spare that would not fit my Talon breech because it was too fat.
    Crisp solid lockup now with very little droop.
    Just have to shoot it now.
    Know the bin number at Ace hardware, and will pick up a few more.

    and B.B. didn’t have to get his hands dirty.


  16. Tr5apshooter,

    I don’t know of any airgun shows outside the U.S., except for one in Canada. The way they get started is by several enthusiasts getting together to trade and sell airguns. When the group gets too large for a house, you have an airgun show. With the internet, it should be even easier to start a show.


  17. Hi BB,

    I hope you can help me. I would like to purchase 3 PPK mags (/product/walther-ppk-s-magazines-3-clips-15-bbs-clip?a=130).

    The costs is $13 but the shipping to New Zealand, where I live, is $53.75!!!!!

    I regularly purchase items from the USA and this shipping cost is huge considering the mags are so small and light!

    Is this shipping rate normal?



  18. Lewis and Clark carried one of these air rifles on their expedition. They often used it when camping with native indians to impress them of the white man’s technology.

Leave a Comment

Buy With Confidence

  • Free Shipping

    Get FREE shipping on qualifying orders! Any order $150+ with a shipping address in the contiguous US will receive the option for free ground shipping on items sold & shipped by Pyramyd AIR during checkout. Certain restrictions apply.

    Free shipping may not be combined with a coupon unless stated otherwise.

    View Shipping Info

  • Shipping Time Frame

    We work hard to get all orders placed by 12 pm EST out the door within 24 hours on weekdays because we know how excited you are to receive your order. Weekends and holiday shipping times will vary.

    During busy holidays, we step our efforts to ship all orders as fast as possible, but you may experience an additional 1-2 day delay before your order ships. This may also happen if you change your order during processing.

    View Shipping Times

  • Shipping Restrictions

    It's important to know that due to state and local laws, there are certain restrictions for various products. It's up to you to research and comply with the laws in your state, county, and city. If you live in a state or city where air guns are treated as firearms you may be able to take advantage of our FFL special program.

    U.S. federal law requires that all airsoft guns are sold with a 1/4-inch blaze orange muzzle or an orange flash hider to avoid the guns being mistaken for firearms.

    View Shipping Restrictions

  • Expert Service and Repair

    Get the most out of your equipment when you work with the expert technicians at Pyramyd AIR. With over 25 years of combined experience, we offer a range of comprehensive in-house services tailored to kickstart your next adventure.

    If you're picking up a new air gun, our team can test and tune the equipment before it leaves the warehouse. We can even set up an optic or other equipment so you can get out shooting without the hassle. For bowhunters, our certified master bow technicians provide services such as assembly, optics zeroing, and full equipment setup, which can maximize the potential of your purchase.

    By leveraging our expertise and precision, we ensure that your equipment is finely tuned to meet your specific needs and get you ready for your outdoor pursuits. So look out for our services when shopping for something new, and let our experts help you get the most from your outdoor adventures.

    View Service Info

  • Warranty Info

    Shop and purchase with confidence knowing that all of our air guns (except airsoft) are protected by a minimum 1-year manufacturer's warranty from the date of purchase unless otherwise noted on the product page.

    A warranty is provided by each manufacturer to ensure that your product is free of defect in both materials and workmanship.

    View Warranty Details

  • Exchanges / Refunds

    Didn't get what you wanted or have a problem? We understand that sometimes things aren't right and our team is serious about resolving these issues quickly. We can often help you fix small to medium issues over the phone or email.

    If you need to return an item please read our return policy.

    Learn About Returns

Get FREE shipping on qualifying orders! Any order $150+ with a shipping address in the contiguous US will receive the option for free ground shipping on items sold & shipped by Pyramyd AIR during checkout. Certain restrictions apply.

Free shipping may not be combined with a coupon unless stated otherwise.

View Shipping Info

Text JOIN to 91256 and get $10 OFF Your Next $50+ Order!

* By providing your number above, you agree to receive recurring autodialed marketing text msgs (e.g. cart reminders) to the mobile number used at opt-in from Pyramyd AIR on 91256. Reply with birthday MM/DD/YYYY to verify legal age of 18+ in order to receive texts. Consent is not a condition of purchase. Msg frequency may vary. Msg & data rates may apply. Reply HELP for help and STOP to cancel. See Terms and Conditions & Privacy Policy.