Little Bit: Diana No. 0–Were they kidding or what?
by B.B. Pelletier
I just returned from the Pyramyd Air moving sale and have a few days before I fly out to New York for a week of filming more episodes for The American Airgunner. The moving sale was nothing short of spectacular! Lots of people came out, tons of stuff was sold and John Goff of Crosman flipped a whole bunch of burgers. Things moved so fast, my head was spinning.
I’ve tapped into a past issue of the Airgun Letter to bring you the Diana No. 0 [zero] rifle, which I have dubbed “Little Bit.” I hope you enjoy reading about this fabulous little gun as much as I enjoyed owning it.
It’s little, it’s light and a six-year-old can cock it. What is it? Well, according to the original paperwork, this tinplate smoothbore sidelever is a Diana Cork-Airgun Number 0. The date stamp on the back of the wooden butt says 9, 50–which is the German manufacture date of September 1950. That makes this little treasure just over 59 years old [of course, when I wrote this in 1996, I said it was 46 years old].
The Diana 0 is a tiny toy-size airgun. It looks harmless, but this little tinplate shoots as powerfully as a full-size Daisy!
The paperwork that came with it says (in German) that the gun was manufactured under license number 77, issued August 9, 1949. It says that it’s primarily a cork-firing gun that can also shoot 4.5mm pellets or round balls from three to five meters (9.5 to 16.4 feet) when the extension barrel is installed. There is a 4-1/4″ screw-in sleeve that houses a smoothbore seamless brass barrel to adapt the gun to the smaller ammunition. One could unscrew the extension and load from the rear for each shot, I suppose, but I find it much more convenient to load through the muzzle and drive the shot home with an ultra-thin ramrod. Beeman Perfect Rounds are a snug fit in the bore, but they provide the most accuracy and muzzle energy.
The gun measures just 30″ long, although it appears much smaller. It weighs–Are you ready?–just under 1.5 lbs.! Yet, even with its Lilliputian size, the Diana Zero is a tiny tiger, throwing steel BBs an average of 213 f.p.s. The large .177 lead balls go just as fast, plus they smack with enough force to pass completely through a thick cardboard barrier. Granted, this is no Philippine monkey gun, but it packs a lot of power into a very small package.
Besides the gun, which is in near-perfect condition, and the original instructions, there’s also one of the original three corks that came with the set. How do I know it’s original? Simple–the gentleman from whom I got this little gem was the original owner! He remembers purchasing it for the equivalent of $2 or $3 in a department store in Mexico City in 1954. He bought it for his daughter, but she apparently grew out of BB guns (Can you imagine?), and he wanted to see it go to someone who would appreciate it as he once had.
The strange thing about this story is that I had just seen a slightly different version of this gun, the Diana model 10, at the 1996 Baldwinsville Airgun Show. Until Baldwinsville, I was unaware of a sidelever Diana tinplate. I knew about the model 1 breakbarrel and even the half-tinplate/half-serious model 20 underlever that Dennis Hiller makes so much of in his book, Air Rifles; but Richard Schmidt’s model 10 was the first miniature sidecocker I’d ever laid eyes on.
A week after Baldwinsville, the owner of our subject gun called, and we struck up a conversation that led to my acquiring it. Until it arrived a few days later, I assumed it was really a model 10, and he was simply misreading the model number off the barrel. Now I know better. This IS a different gun; although it’s no stretch to imagine that the Zero eventually morphed into the model 10.
The only marks on the gun are these on the metal and the production date stamped into the butt. The later Diana model 10 had the model number stamped into the metal.
Upon close examination of the paperwork and the gun, you can readily discern that this is an early production item. In fact, except for the Diana name and the words “Pat. ang.” (patent pending), there are no markings anywhere on the metal parts. It’s from the instruction pamphlet, which has two detailed halftone photos of the gun, that the model number is established.
The instructions suggest that corks are for indoors. In that mode, the gun is considered completely safe for children. The backyard or garden is the place to shoot balls or pellets when the extension barrel is installed. Shooting in the street or in the public places is strictly forbidden by the police.
The barrel extension must be screwed in to fire BBs and pellets. Without it, this is a cork gun.
The sidelever incorporates an anti-beartrap safety device, so little fingers can’t be pinched if the trigger is inadvertently pulled while the lever linkage is exposed. To fire, the lever must be snug against the stock. That’s not too impressive in a modern airgun; but in a child’s post-war tinplate from the 1950s, it’s nothing short of incredible! Heck—I KNOW I had a double-barreled cork shooter that would close the barrels smartly by a pull of the trigger.
Sidelever airguns aren’t that common, but the Diana Zero is one made of folded metal. It’s easy enough for a child to cock, plus it has an anti-beartrap device to protect little fingers.
And the mainspring is light enough that small children can easily cock it. The wonder is that it shoots as hard as it does.
The instructions tell you to cock the gun first, in order to let air pass freely into the compression cylinder in front of the piston. If a ball or cork were in the barrel, there would be no way for air to get past it as the piston is withdrawn. Well, that’s the theory. The truth is that this gun is made of folded metal and there are PLENTY of ways for air to get into the compression chamber!
Accuracy is relative. It tends to group its shots inside the same compass quadrant as the barrel orientation. Point it west, and the ball will head toward the setting sun somewhere between the north and south poles. Maybe it groups tighter with corks, but I haven’t tried them (and I doubt I ever will).
I have been unable to locate any advertising literature on either the Zero or the model 10 Diana guns (there was also a model 10 target pistol from the ’70s, but that’s a completely different airgun). They surely don’t show up in the common airgun literature. Perhaps, because it also fires corks, this is more of a toy gun, and I have very little resource material for them. I don’t know–IS there a popgun/cork gun reference?
I think this gun belongs to the airgun community because of its credible performance with lead BBs, but I doubt there will be much written about it. Does anyone have a 1951 Frankonia Jagd catalog in their collection? Were they even in business then?
Just through inquiries, I turned up another Diana Zero in New Jersey (not for sale), so it isn’t a one-off fluke. Still, I think it may be a good bit more scarce than many of the more well-documented, rare Dianas, such as the pre-war Peerless models.
Why write about such a trivial gun? It’s simple. If you’re a Diana collector, the Zero belongs in the set, as does the model 10. Even though you may never find one, they’re a part of the post-war product line. There’s always the chance you might encounter one at a toy show or flea market some day. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what it is? We’re all aware how spotty and incomplete airgun literature is, so here are a couple more paragraphs of the story.