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Education / Training Heilprin Columbian Model E BB gun: Part 1

Heilprin Columbian Model E BB gun: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Columbian Model E
The Heilprin Columbian Model E BB gun is one few people have seen.

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Heilprin history
  • Today’s gun
  • Sheet metal fabrication
  • Trigger safety
  • BB caliber?
  • Money in the bank
  • What’s next?

Sometimes BB finds an airgun that few people have seen. Today is one such time. The Heilprin Columbian Model E lever action BB gun was made from 1914 to 1920 and according to the Blue Book of Airguns, maybe 50 or more probably survive. I’m not so sure about that number, but I know I’ve only seen a few at airgun shows. So when this one came up on Gun Broker a few weeks ago, I bid on it an won it. I don’t think there were any other bidders. I think they stayed away because they didn’t know what it is and they didn’t have the library to look it up.

I have seen more of an earlier Model M (1910-1914) at airgun shows. Dr. Dunathan (he wrote the book The American B.B Gun) says the Model M is rarer than the gun I’m reviewing today, but for some reason, there seem to be more of them around.

Both guns are 1000-shot BB repeaters. That’s very high-tech for their timeframe. Even BB repeaters weren’t that common back then.

Columbian M
The 1910 Heilprin Columbian Model M BB gun is the slightly more common one, in my experience.

Heilprin history

William Heilprin of Philadelphia was a businessman who probably was the money behind the guns that Elmer Baily invented. Early Heilprin BB guns are the ones that have the cast iron frame with intricate scrollwork and animal figures cast into the receivers.

Columbian receiver
This Heilprin Columbian Model 1906 BB gun receiver is very recognizable among BB gun collectors.

Today’s gun

The BB gun we are looking at today is small. It’s about the size of a Daisy 105, which is a small youth BB gun. It’s nickel-plated over the entire surface and has a wooden buttstock. It’s 33-1/2-inches long and weighs 2 lbs. 5 oz. The finger lever is quite small and obviously sized for young hands. It’s painful to try to hold the rifle by grabbing through the lever, but iot can be held on the outside. Also, the triggerguard is so small there isn’t much room for a finger.

The gun is made from sheet metal that’s nickel-plated over all the metal. It looks striking today, but in 1914 that was a common finish for a BB gun.

Columbian receiver 1
Left side of the receiver tells the model.

Columbian receiver 2
Right side gives the patent information.

The gun loads through a hole in the barrel, just forward of the receiver. A sliding cover is slid forward to expose the hole for loading, then slid back to keep BBs from falling out. This cover is held in place by friction and appears to be made of spring steel.

Columbian loading hole
Just forward of the receiver on top of the barrel is the loading hole. Slide the cover forward and pour in the BBs. This may be a good place to oil the gun, too.

Sheet metal fabrication

In fact, the entire gun is a study in the history of sheet metal fabrication. If you examine it carefully you see holes that are punched in to fold the metal, stiffening the parts. There are also depressions punched into the metal that obviously hold internal parts in place. There is even one primitive rivet peeking out from the inside, where it must hold something critical in place.

The receiver is made in two half-sections that are stamped, rather than being folded around a mandril in a single piece the way Daisys were. The barrel is folded as a single piece. Where the ends of the barrel come together, the gun is open. Through the receiver halves I can peek at the mechanism inside. In 1913 Daisy perfected a method of welding thin sheet metal so they could make the barrels and compression chamber on their BB guns air-tight, but this gun doesn’t show that. I can see a sheet metal tube inside the two receiver halves that has to serve as the compression chamber, since the outside of the gun cannot be sealed air-tight.

Trigger safety

Above the receiver at the top of the wrist is a sheet metal button that must be depressed for the trigger to work. It’s identical in function to the thumb safety that Sheridan would use in the 1950s, only on this gun I find it much easier to reach. Perhaps that’s because of the small overall size of the gun? I don’t know, but it is an interesting look into the history of airguns.

Columbian trigger safety
There is a trigger safety (arrow) that must be depressed for the trigger to function.

BB caliber?

According to the Blue Book, the Model E is a true BB caliber, which would be 0.173-inches. I have my doubt because of when it was made. Daisy didn’t get into the steel BB business before 1920, and I thought the date was after 1925. That was when the BB size dropped to 0.173-inches. This gun wasn’t made that late. So I’m guessing this is really made for Air Rifle Shot that is lead and measures 0.175-inches. If I get to shoot it we shall see.

Why wouldn’t I get to shoot it? Well, a gun this old may not function like it’s supposed to. I haven’t even cocked it yet, because I’m still trying to figure it out. And I want to oil it, so until I do that — no cocky, no shooty! I called this a Part 1 and there will at least be a part 2, but I can’t guarantee this will be a normal report.

Money in the bank

A BB gun as rare as this is an investment. There are a limited number of serious collectors in the world, but it’s a safe bet there are more of them than there are examples of this gun. So I should be able to recover the money I spent when I finish with it — if I want to. This gun is so unique I am thinking of making it a wall-hanger conversation piece for my house.

That’s the thing with unusual airguns like this one. They are desirable for a number of different reasons, and your money is usually very safe. Buy them right like I did and you can even make money. You might not be familiar with a gun like this, but if I said you could buy an Air Venturi Bronco that’s like new in the box for $50 or an excellent FWB 124 deluxe for $200, would you do it? You would make money on those deals, almost guaranteed!

What’s next?

I will try to get this gun operating for a complete test. If I can’t, the next report will be a short one that describes what I tried and what I plan to do with the gun.

23 thoughts on “Heilprin Columbian Model E BB gun: Part 1”

  1. B.B.,

    I’ve seen photos of the cast iron Columbians, but I doubt I’ve ever been aware of stamped steel ones. The plating is beautiful. And I love the simplicity of the loading port. Why is it that so many airguns of today are much more difficult to load than so many airguns of the distant past?


      • R.R.,

        I thought we can blame lawyers for a) ugly warning paragraphs on airguns, b) safeties on air revolvers, and automatic safeties on single shot airguns. C’mon, has a user-friendly loading port ever “put yer eye out, kid”? ;^) (No, I’m not a lawyer, but I wouldn’t mind having one’s income. :^)


        • Michael,

          Ah, but you might cut yourself on the edge of the metal loading port cover. 😉

          Actually, although the cover is a cheap piece of plastic, the loading port on the latest versions of the Red Ryder are fairly good sized if I recall correctly. The one on my Daisy 99 seems to be of similar size as this one. It is not really that user friendly.

          • B.B.,

            I quoted you (well, retold one of your experiences, giving you credit, of couerse) at my family’s Thanksgiving table. A relative of mine wiorked for many years for Baldwin Musical Instruments. He started there while they were still a company basking in a well-deserved image as one of the premier piano makers in the world, especially among jazz pianists. But over a decade or so the company slid into management/ownership changes that put an emphasis on one thing only: the short-term bottom line. Quality went from first-rate to junk in 10-15 years. The company was essentially destroyed.

            I responded by retelling your characterization of far too many executives in once iconic air gun companies who knew business management but knew absolutely nothing about airguns or airgunners. I shared your example of the routine way of trying to attract female airgunners — “Make a version of it in pink. Girls like pink.” He asked me if I knew the year when Daisy went from wood furniture to plastic furniture on their air guns. I confessed I did not know. I did give Daisy some qualified credit, however. I mentioned that they now have classic model bb guns with wood stocks,even if they are made in China. :^(

            Mostly we discussed how the single most precious asset (other than its employees) of a manufacturer is its brand. If the brand has credibility, that is everything. But it is also extremely fragile. Once a brand gets a bad smell, it is unlikely it can restore its former image.

            Can anyone imagine Sears, once the most iconic name in American retail, making people associate its brand with quality, reliability, and excellent customer service? Craftsman hand tools were the last gasp of respectability, but now? Some years back Sears did the unthinkable, they ended their lifetime, transferable, no-questions-asked, full replacement warrantee. Take a 20 year old Craftsman screwdriver with a broken tip to a Sears Hardware store, and as I understand it, they will provide as much customer service as a dollar store.


              • B.B.,

                Yeah, I know you’re right.

                On the entirely positive side, I did get one relative at least mildly interested in air guns with that conversation. I have a sister-in-law who can’t get pistol range time in. When I told her about all of the blowback CO2 replica pistols out there, and that she could easily and cheaply set up a range in her basement, she perked up.

                And my brother-in-law seemed to the like the concept of each shot costing roughly two cents for a BB, a puff of CO2, and a fraction of a drop of Pellgunoil. I don’t know how much one 9mm round plus gas to and from a range plus an indoor range fee comes down to, but I’ll bet it’s a lot more than a couple hundred BBs and a four CO2 Powerlets in the basement.

                I just hope she remembers how to spell pyramydair.com, LOL. There was an awful lot of beer, wine and Kentucky bourbon flowing. When the weather turns cold in the Great Lakes states, we know how to warm up!


  2. Very nice find. It was nice to refer to the Blue Book for further history, variations and approx. values. Over 3 pages. Interesting that they sold for $1.00 ~ $3.50 waaaay back in the day. The M version states about 3x the value. Both have good value,… even in the “20%” state. Hope she shoots.

  3. BB,
    Sorry to be off topic but I have reading old blogs during the holiday, and would like to ask about your R1 book. Back in November of last year you stated that you would be releasing an updated version this year. Just wondering if this is still in the works? Thanks. Scott

    • Scott,

      That’s a good question. At the start of 2016 I had every intention of republishing my R1 book. But I had some medical problems this year. I was in the hospital 5 times and had 4 operations that really set me back.

      It may sound fanciful but this blog plus the little additional writing I do takes me 6 days a week. It isn’t just the writing. It’s also the testing, working on the guns and photography that takes my time.

      The R1 book is still on my to-do list.


  4. B.B.,

    This reminds me of the report on the Parris Kadet 500 BB gun. You never did a velocity or accuracy report on that you just reported that it was very buzzy.



  5. almost guaranteed!——question mark????? I have purchased a number of those almost guaranteed? I don’t plan to make money or recoup anything? But! Pleasure on those different wall hangers? I have a wall hanger made in 1873 that is in 95% condition and apprised in the thousands! But! Also told only about fifteen buyers in the world! We have all been under the table abit! Hello Otho? Also when the Ridge Runner comments I want read in more detail! Semper fi!

  6. Looks like an artifact from the days of shooting people’s eyes out. We’ve come a long way. Even on my rifle team, hearing protection was limited to what looked like swimming earplugs, and no eye protection was required. The coach did not wear any hearing protection, claiming that his hearing was shot anyway.

    Had an interesting development over the holidays. In a true breakdown of willpower, I ordered some throwing knives that I didn’t really need. But they are fabulous. They’ve made me rethink some fundamental ideas. I don’t know about this business about the nut behind the trigger as the only important factor. I am sticking with these knives way better than the others. And it reminds me of a blog poster from some time ago, rejoicing in the groups that he could should with the USFT air target rifle. I’m also wondering about this idea of fearing the man with one gun. Even if that’s true, how can you find the one right gun without trying a number? And then what do you with other ones (other than sell them). Plus, I think there is some value in comparing the experience of different guns. I’m actually not a huge fan of the theory about doing difficult things first to make the rest easy such as learning to shoot with iron sights first. I prefer the simplicity of progressive training. But I’ve found the value of starting hard with my new knives. They are light enough to control but have enough inertia to stick and I am harvesting the struggles with my other ones.


    • Matt61
      I don’t know how you do this all the time. I just had a small conversation with someone about fearing the man with one gun.

      The Maximus is kicking my butt right now. Not in a bad way. But in a good way. It has pretty well put the other guns I have owned to shame. Maybe I got the one and only most special Maximus in the world. I know how it shoots. I learned real quick how to use it at different distances and I’m talking some long distances.

      If every gun I got could shoot like it does I would be a happy camper. Or think I was in a dream. But yes trying different guns help you see the difference in how guns perform. But when you get one that knocks your socks off you will know it. It won’t be like any other you shot. It will let you know it’s special. It’s like part of you and you part of it. You know how it works and it works that way so naturally.

      That’s a part of how you know when you have a one man gun. It works without trying.

    • Matt61,

      Respecting your trial and error and your dedication,.. I would be interested to know what knives you ended up with. I would be interested to see you try some barn spikes. Cut the head off and sharpen both ends. They can be quite large,…. in the 8″ to 12″ range.

  7. BB, etc—–My long awaited Diana Mauser 98K arrived 2 hours ago. I am considering returning it. I will let BB describe its good points ( it does have them) when he tests one. I will tell you what I consider to be its flaws. 1)— Do not cock this rifle without installing a non slip butt pad. Or at least use self stick stair and skate board sand paper. This rifle requires a great deal of effort to cock, and it slipped off my leg and almost injured me ! The butt plate is too slippery and smooth for safety ( in my opinion ). 2)– This rifle is too powerfull, for it,s intended purpose. An RWS 30 powerplant would be what this rifle should have. I shoot English longbows, up to 60 lbs draw weight. Cocking this rifle is hard for me to do, for an extended shooting session. 3)— This rifle is very muzzle heavy, and does not balance like a Mauser firearm. 4)—This rifle is hard to load, the rear sight overhangs the barrel breech. I am glad that I picked .22 caliber. I would not like to try and load .177 pellets. (4— Pellets that fall into the action are hard to remove. Wait till you have to invert a heavy rifle with it, loading lever extended to shake the pellet loose ! This will be harder if you scope this rifle. 5)—-To release the anti-beartrap mech. ,you have to press the release button TWICE ! Add that to releasing the automatic safety and you will see that it slows you down and is a real pain in the neck. Yes, it is accurate and I like the trigger, but I will let BB tell you about it in his report. ——Ed

  8. I recently found one of these. I used to be associated with Ithaca Gun Co. and my dad would buy anything at garage sales for me (love him but some where just junk). I have fired this and is just amazed. My questions is really what is it worth?

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