by B.B. Pelletier

From time to time, I tell you about great buys. Sometimes, these are one-time opportunities, only. Today’s gun is one of those, but apparently the opportunity is still available for awhile.

Daisy made their first BB gun when they were still the Iron Windmill Company of Plymouth, Michigan. The actual date of first production was 1888, but when Daisy bought the Markham company, another BB gun manufacturer that was both their neighbor in Plymouth and their competitor, they backed the date of their BB-gun manufacturing to 1886, the year when Markham first made their wooden BB gun. And 1886 has been the date Daisy has claimed as their beginning for well over half a century.

The first gun they made was a wire-stocked, single-shot that was loaded at the muzzle. It took BB-sized birdshot, which is nominally 0.180″ in diameter. That was the same lead shot used by the Markham gun, so they had commonality, which was necessary in those early years. Customers could buy a large bag of birdshot for their guns at any gun store or hardware store; before long, Daisy began selling shot in smaller quantities, as well. It wasn’t until after the beginning of the 20th century that Daisy reduced the size of the shot to 0.175″ to save on lead and to increase the velocity. The name “Air Rifle Shot” was coined for that smaller shot.

Later still, they further reduced the size of their shot to 0.171″-0.173″ and began making it out of steel, which was both faster and cheaper to produce. Of course, that move would have increased the velocity again, but Daisy reduced the thickness of their mainspring wire and held velocity at the same level. The name air rifle shot stuck to the new steel BBs, which is how it comes down to us today. Steel BBs also rebounded with force, unlike lead, which was how “You’ll shoot your eye out” began.

The very first gun Daisy produced was marked Manufactured by the Iron Windmill Company and is called an Iron Windmill gun by collectors today. It has a cast-iron frame that was very fragile. It is an extremely rare BB gun with, perhaps, fewer than 20 known to exist. I’m waffling on the number because there are several major collectors who do not publicize the fact that they own an Iron Windmill gun. There’s no solid price information, but a complete example would probably sell for something more than $10,000 today, if one were to become available. Since the Iron Windmill gun looks the same as the more-common (but still scarce) Daisy wire-stocked first model, it’s all but unknown to the general public. A Daisy wire-stock first model brings about $3,500 and sometimes less today. I could have bought a nice one for $2,800-$3,000 at last year’s Roanoke airgun expo. Ten years ago, you could buy one for $1,500, so prices are going up.

I won’t go into all the variations of the first model gun, but the Blue Book of Airguns lists five. Only the very first one has a cast-iron frame. After that, the frames were made from cast bronze, which proved more durable.

Several years ago, Daisy decided to make a commemorative issue of the wire-stocked first model BB gun. They call it a replica, so I guess it is, but like the second-generation Colt blackpowder revolvers, I always thought when a company re-issued a model it once sold, it was still considered a legitimate model.

They decided to limit production to 1,000 guns and all were serial-numbered. To buy one, you had to be a member of the “Friends of the Daisy Museum.” Many people, including me, joined just to get in line for a gun.

The sale price of this commemorative is $300, plus $12 shipping to any U.S. address. We waited for over two years for the project to bear fruit, and the day before yesterday my gun arrived. I am the 517th member of the Friends of the Daisy Museum, so my gun is number 517 of 1,000.

The gun comes in a period-correct pasteboard (not cardboard) box. Daisy went out of their way to make everything in the package look correct for the period. Best of all, the frame is cast bronze and the wire stock lacks the crossbar that was added to the stock to make it more rigid. It is marked Daisy, Mfd. by Iron Windmill Company, Plymouth Mich, Pat. Apd. For, which makes it a copy of the early wire-stocked first model, but not the one with the cast-iron frame.

This is the pasteboard box the gun comes in. Everything is period.

Open the box and this is what you see. The packing material is real excelsior. There’s no owner’s manual. The hang tag reminds you of the dangers of a gun with no safety provisions.

Some modern touches
This gun has only a couple differences from the original gun, the most important of which is that it is made to use today’s steel BBs instead of the lead 0.180″ BB shot of the original gun. That makes it more user-friendly for those who want to take the occasional shot. And I do mean occasional, because with a cast-bronze frame, this is not a gun to shoot often. Besides, cocking wears the nickel finish, and you don’t want that.

Aside from that, the only other significant difference is the presence of a small magnet at the base of the barrel to hold the BB in place. In the original gun, a tapered breech accomplished the same thing. And the breech plug that was cast lead in the original is a machined brass part in the new gun.

They assemble the parts with silver-solder, where lead solder was used on the originals. Silver solder is stronger, so this gun has a better chance of surviving the coming decades.

I bet you all wonder what it’s like to hold and shoot one of these oldies, so I’m going to walk you through it. For starters, the all-metal gun weighs 2 lbs., 2.6 oz., so it feels very light. The overall length is 30.5 inches, so it’s positively tiny. The length of pull is 12.5 inches–a comfortable length for both youth and adults, alike. The barrel and spring tube are brass. The four separate frame parts are cast bronze and the wire stock, sear, trigger mainspring and piston are all steel.

Here’s the gun by itself. I needed the carpet background to contrast with a 100 percent nickelplated gun.

New meets old. The new Daisy gun above an original from the Daisy museum. Daisy photo.

This closeup shows two things. First, there’s no reinforcing bar to stiffen the frame where the wire stock attaches. And second, the cocking overlever stands proud of the receiver tube. After this photo was taken, I gently squeezed the lever down several times until it now stands just a quarter-inch above the spring tube at the front, which is the Daisy spec.

The serial number is stamped under the barrel. The box is similarly marked.

The entire gun is plated with nickel. Even the cast-bronze frame parts are nickel-plated with no attempt at polishing the rough sand-casting marks. The receiver tube/barrel and wire stock are polished to a high shine, with evidence of hand work everywhere. For only $300, you can hold something like your great-great grandfather may have held as a child.

It’s hard to read because the letters are formed on a rough sand casting.

Made in America
Randy Brown of Daisy told me this gun is 100 percent made in the U.S.A. That’s surprising in this day and age, when labor costs so much. Even the bronze castings were done in this country and the guns are assembled in Rogers, Arkansas.

Rear sight is cast into the overlever.

Fronts sight is a simple post.

The factory cutaway shows sear engagement. Daisy photo

I will combine Parts 2 and 3 (velocity and accuracy), because I’m not going to shoot this gun that much.

Now for some good news. These guns will still be available for a very short time! Daisy has made them available to the public on their website. A few hundred guns are up for grabs.

My thanks to the Daisy Manufacturing Company, and especially to Randy Brown, for his help with this report.