by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

Benjamin 700
Benjamin 700 repeating BB gun.
This report covers:

  • The Benjamin Automatic
  • Model 700
  • Repeater
  • How many pump strokes?
  • My encounter
  • The gun
  • Takedown
  • Accuracy
  • Price
  • Ammo
  • Getting it fixed
  • Summary

And now for something brand new, because it is so old that most of you will never have heard of it. We have to go back to 1930 for this one! And those were exciting times at the Benjamin Air Rifle Company in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Benjamin Automatic

Early that year Benjamin launched the model 600 they called the Benjamin Automatic. It was a smoothbore 25-shot BB repeater that fired as fast as the trigger was pulled. Well, that was the story. I’ve never tested one so I can’t say anything about one for certain, but my general knowledge of multi-pumps of the day tells me you can expect a handful of shots before it’s time to top off the gun by pumping again. I’m saying don’t expect to rattle off 25 shots at one go.

The Blue Book of Airguns says a 600 in 95 percent condition is worth about $250, but 20 years ago I saw one that was in 80 percent condition going for $600. I think the Blue Book has this one undervalued.

Model 700

The same year Benjamin came out with the model 700. It is a 25-shot bolt-action BB repeater. The tubular magazine holds up to 25 air rifle shot (more on this in a moment) that are fed into the breech one at a time by the action of the bolt. Fire and then work the bolt again for a second shot.

Benjamin 700 magazine
Slide the magazine follower forward against spring pressure until it fits in the notch (large arrow). Load up to 25 BBs into the hole (small arrow). The knob on the left is not the bolt; it’s the magazine follower handle.

Repeater

The initial literature was specific about the number of shots you could expect. They said four or five successive shots before it was time to pump some more. So — 25 shots in the magazine, but 4 or 5 per fill. That’s an interesting concept and one that is sure to confuse some people.

By 1934 Benjamin literature was telling buyers the model 600 also got 4 or 5 shots per fill. The initial literature made no reference to the number you could expect — just the number the magazine held.

How many pump strokes?

A 1937 ad says the 700 is pumped 10 to 12 strokes for 4 or 5 shots, then topped off with 1 or 2 strokes after each shot to maintain the power. They don’t mention how many strokes to pump after 4 or 5 shots, but I would think 8 to 10.

My encounter

I first saw today’s test airgun at the 2018 Texas airgun show. It was on a table for $100, which I thought was a great price. I had heard of the 700, but this is the first one I had ever seen. I have seen about a half-dozen 600s in my life and they are considered pretty rare, which tells me the model 700 is also scarce. This one was priced to sell, so I told myself that if I sold any guns I would pick it up. But a reader beat me to it.

A couple hours into the show one of our readers whose name escapes me brought the 700 over to my table and told me he bought it. He did so just it wouldn’t get away. He wanted me to have it and said I could pay him when I had the money. He had paid $95, so I got what I believe is a very nice bargain. I hadn’t sold any airguns yet, but I had sold plenty of Godfather t-shirts and BB-gun books, so I was able to settle up on the spot. I’m glad he did this, because I don’t know if I really would have pulled the trigger on my own.

There was no doubt in my mind that the gun did not work at the time of sale. An 80-year-old pneumatic airgun that has 1930s technology has long since retired from the workforce. But I thought Rick Willnecker could put it right. Boy, was I surprised to learn that he doesn’t work on these models or even make the parts for them! Let me describe the gun for you first and then I will finish the story of repair.

The gun

The model 700 is 34-3/4-inches long overall, with a smoothbore barrel that’s 18-1.4 inches long. The pull is 13 inches and the weight of this one is 3 pounds 5 ounces. The stock is walnut, which was common in those days. Walnut is a fast-growing hardwood and Missouri is loaded with stands of American walnut trees.

The large metal parts are brass and plated with nickel that was very common in those days. The model 600 Automatic was then finished with a dark shiny black finish that we have called black nickel for decades, but I don’t think that’s what it was. The 700 was finished the same way. This gun now has 50 percent of the silver nickel remaining with none of it in good shape, and a little of the black under the stock.

The Blue Book says there are two versions of the 700, with the earlier one having the model number on the left side of the receiver. Mine has that, so it is early. Later guns had that information on the receiver end cap.

Benjamin 700 left
My gun has the model number on the left side of the receiver. There is that pesky “Benjamin Franklin” that fools so many into thinking it’s the company name! The quotes mean it’s a tongue-in-cheek play on the company name.

The pump is a pushrod that comes out of the front of the gun, under the muzzle — hence the nickname front-pumper. The model 300 single shot BB gun that came out at the same time had the same pump mechanism that Benjamin called a plunger back then.


The pump rod comes out the front of the gun.

Takedown

The 700 takes down and was sold that way. Takedown rifles were very popular at this time. They are still popular, but it’s much more difficult to take a broken-down rifle on a train or a bus today than it was in 1930. The 700 has a single captive stock screw that holds the barreled action in the stock. The stock inletting is very tight, so the one screw is all that’s required.

Benjamin 700 apart
Gun comes apart with one screw.

Accuracy

Benjamin claimed an accuracy of 2-inches at 15 to 20 yards. I doubt that very much, because I have owned many of their BB pistols for which they make similar claims and they couldn’t do it. But we shall see.

Price

In 1930 the model 600 Automatic retailed for $10. This 700 repeater sold for $7.50 and the 300 single shot was priced at $5. While the stock market had just fallen, the economy was still stable in 1930, but the Great Depression was coming soon.

Both the 600 and 700 were advertised as having hair triggers. That was just a marketing ploy. The 700 trigger is a simple direct sear type that breaks at a reasonable weight for the 1930s. By 1937 the hair trigger claim was dropped and they were saying 3 to 4 lbs. which I think is a reasonable figure. We will find out in Part 2.

The 700 production ended in 1939. It was replaced by the model 710 that came out in 1940 and lasted until 1947. The thing that’s interesting about both guns, as well as the 600 Automatic, is that they are purposely made to shoot more than one shot per fill. If you only want to shoot one shot, just put in 4 or 5 pump strokes, according to the manual.

Ammo

Here is where things get a little strange. The Benjamin sales/promotional pamphlet, BB Magic, stresses the importance of using STEEL air rifle ammo (BBs) in these 3 guns. They say not to use lead because the spring-loaded magazine follower can deform the soft lead balls. However the same brochure goes on to say that air rifle ammunition is 0.175-inches in diameter and “real” BBs are 0.180-inches. Yes, the BBs of the 1890s were 0.180-inches and were also pure lead, but Daisy changed all that around 1905 when they reduced the size of the BB to 0.175-inches. They called it Air Rifle Shot from that time on. In the mid-1920s Daisy switched from lead shot to steel (you’ll shoot your eye out) and the size decreased again to around 0.171-inches. I have never seen steel BBs that are 0.175-inches, so I’m not sure what Benjamin is referring to.

I have in my collection a tube of Remington Air Rifle Shot from the 1930s. These BBs measure 0.175-inches on the nose. I also have a 1940’s-era can of Benjamin Air Rifle shot, but unfortunately it is in .22 caliber. Benjamin went on to make this same sort of BB repeater in .22 caliber, as well, and they made them until 1985. That’s fodder for several other reports that we won’t get into today.

Benjamin 700 Rem shot
This full tube of Remington Air Rifle Shot contains lead BBs from the 1920s. They are sized 0.175-inches in diameter.

Benjamin 700 Benj shot
I have this tin in my collection. Too bad it’s full of .22 balls!

I don’t know if Benjamin ever made steel Air Rifle Shot (BBs) that were 0.175-inches in diameter. They go to great lengths to explain them, though, so I assume they did. I will try both lead Air Rifle Shot and the largest steel BBs I have in the gun for testing.

Getting it fixed

Rick Willnecker told me he refers jobs on all old Benjamins to Harry Smith in Sunset, Louisiana. I called Mr. Smith, who owns a gun store, and he told me to send him the gun. On a gun this old he can’t say if he can repair it until he sees it.

I sent the gun and in less than two weeks it was back, and fixed. Mr. Smith had to make some tools to make the parts he had to have for the job, and the bill with shipping came to $168. I think that’s cheap, given what he had to do. But you may notice that I paid more to have it fixed than to buy it. That’s a common thing when the guns get this old and rare.

Here is Harry Smith’s contact information:
Harry J. Smith
385 Hwy. 182
Sunset LA 70584
337-662-3610

Coincidently, there was another 700 at Harry’s at the same time. I’m glad because it helped spread out the load. Harry told me he hasn’t seen a 700 in a long time and he hoped it would be like the 710s that he has seen. At any rate the gun is back and working, so you are about to see a test of a very rare airgun!

Summary

We are starting a look at a rare old American airgun that comes from a simpler time. This series will be as interesting to me as to the rest of you, because this is an airgun I have only heard about, but never seen.