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Air Guns A brief history of Beeman and Air Rifle Headquarters: Part Two

A brief history of Beeman and Air Rifle Headquarters: Part Two

Part 1

I’m still on my way to the Pyramyd AIR Cup. I’ll end up in Ohio today and poised to drive to the Cup. I’m had dinner last night with my two boys that I haven’t seen in 30 years. I hope to be back home next Tuesday, August 28. Until then I’m recycling some oldies for you, plus we have a guest blog for you. I will be working each day that I’m there and driving each day that I’m not, so keep your questions to a minimum, please.

Dr. Robert Beeman was a professor of marine biology at San Francisco State University when he and his wife, Toshiko, started their company out of their home in the early 1970s. He selected many of the same European model airguns that were sold by Air Rifle Headquarters, but his marketing was far more aggressive. He also published a catalog, and from the third edition on, the cover was in full color.

second catalog
Both the first and second editions of the Beeman catalog had black and white covers. They are very rare and valued highly among collectors.

Beeman catalogs are very collectible, with the earliest editions, like the rare second edition, going for upwards of $500. This catalog has 84 pages. Later editions topped 100 pages.

catalog page 8
The Beeman catalog was stuffed with useful, non-sales airgun information.

Like Law, Beeman wrote a lot about the sport without promoting specific models. He educated his customer on the advantages of spring guns over traditional pneumatic and gas guns. But he did write one publication that trumped everything Law had ever written. He wrote and edited the first edition of Air Gun Digest. That was how I discovered him. I was living in Germany at the time, in the town of Erlangen, home of the BSF airgun, though I didn’t know that at the time. I bought a copy of Air Gun Digest in our Stars & Stripes bookstore and began a relationship with Dr. Beeman that has lasted to the present day. That was in 1976, and I was due to rotate back to the States in late 1977, so I planned my activities around a visit to Beeman’s San Rafael store.

Airgun Digest
It was a wise move for Robert Beeman to write and edit the first edition of Air Gun Digest, because it got his name out to shooters everywhere.

When I arrived at the store, I purchased my first Feinwerkbau 124. For three years, that rifle was the fairest in the land, until the day the Beeman R1 was announced. It shot 940 f.p.s. in .177, something my 124 couldn’t hope to do in those days. That put a hole in my life that lasted for a decade, until Edith gifted me my first R1 for Christmas in the early 1990s.

All the while, though, I had been getting the Beeman catalogs and at least mentally keeping pace with Beemanology. I watched as some models came into favor and others left the stage. It was those catalogs that kept me interested in airguns. There always seemed to be something new to learn from them. One of those things was how to correctly hold a spring rifle for accuracy.

6th catalog
From the third edition on, all Beeman catalogs had color covers, where Robert Beeman displayed guns from his fine collection. This is the sixth edition. At the top of the cover is a civilian repeating PCP built on the Girandoni principle.

9th catalog
On the cover of the ninth edition of the catalog, Beeman showed a custom-stocked R1, with stock by Gary Goudy. The double-barrelled gun is a .44 double gun apparently made in Austria in the early 1800s.

14th catalog
The guns on the cover weren’t always vintage guns. This 14th edition shows off a gold-plated P1.

My Beeman C1 was the first gun I owned that bore the Beeman name. The 124 lacked the Beeman name, though I personally had picked it up at the San Rafael store. I was unable to get the C1 to group well. In reading the literature, it seemed that a firm hold was recommended for spring guns. One day I decided to hold the rifle very loosely to see just how poorly it grouped under those circumstances. I laid the forearm across my open palm, resting on a sandbag. In every way I held that rifle as loosely as I possibly could. Imagine my surprise when it printed a five-shot group at 10 meters that measured 0.13″ between the centers of the two widest shots! Incredulous, I tried it again with similar results. Presto — the artillery hold was born, though coming up with the name took longer.

I was so encouraged by this discovery that I wrote a report about it and mailed it to Dr. Beeman, but I never got a response. Maybe it got lost in the mail, or maybe it just wasn’t good enough to print. Beeman had a very short run of pamphlets called The Airgun Journal that were periodic, though I’m not sure they were monthly. He published reports of the noted airgun collectors of the day — men like Larry Hannusch and Wes Powers, men I am proud to include among my friends today. In 2000, Robert sent me four of these journals, autographed by him to both Edith and me. I am not sure how many more of these existed, so if anyone knows I’d like to find out.

Air Gun journal
The Airgun Journal was a periodic Beeman publication. I don’t know how long it lasted.

In 1993, Robert and Toshiko Beeman sold their company and trademarks to SR Industries, who took over the daily operations of the company. They soon moved Beeman Precision Airguns to Huntington Beach to coexist with their other airgun brand, Marksman.

The inventory was revised in a large way when SR took over. Guns like the HW 55 went away and weren’t replaced by anything. The catalog got thinner and thinner and less and less instructive. The message turned to straight sales as models from Spain and other countries were introduced into the line. Finally, the catalogs stopped altogether and were replaced by smaller pamphlets of just the new products.

25th catalog
This is the last big Beeman catalog published. It came out four years after the SR Industries buyout. It has almost no instructional information, just sales copy about the guns. After this, the company started issuing update flyers of new products, only.

In 2009 the Beeman company was sold again to Industry Brand of Shanghai, China (also known as Shanghai Industrial Company). Already an airgun manufacturer of major proportions, they wanted the Beeman name to serve as a selling outlet for Chinese airguns in the U.S. They made arrangements with Pyramyd AIR to continue to import, distribute, service and sell the high-end Beeman guns, including the R-series rifles and the P-series pistols.

R-series? P-series?

Well you must have figured it out by now. The “R” stands for rifle and the “P” for pistols. The R1 was the first R-series air rifle created. It’s that simple.

How many R-series guns are there? Here are the guns bearing the R-series markings:

  • R1 (1981 to present)
  • R5 (a .20 caliber version of the FWB 124, of which only four experimental guns were made) (1981)
  • R6 (1995-2001)
  • R7 (1983 to present)
  • R8 (1983-1997)
  • R9 (1995 to present)
  • R10 (1986-1995)
  • R11(1995 to present)
  • RX (includes RX1 and RX2) gas-spring guns (1990 to present — all models)

The numbers R2, R3 and R4 were never used.

Plenty more history

There is so much more I could tell you. For example, in 1994 Robert Beeman wrote a chapter on the development of the R1 for my book. The world learned that it was the first air rifle designed on a CAD system. I have met the engineer who did the design work to model the R1. He attends the Little Rock Airgun Expo every year, and we’ve talked about the R1 development several times.

What many folks don’t know is that Beeman wanted to turn the HW77 into a magnum rifle, but the gun Weihrauch developed wound up weighing over 11 pounds and was impractical. I gave you some insight into this problem in the two-part report titled Steel Dreams. From that report, you should be able to see how difficult it is to increase the power of a spring rifle. You don’t just add a stronger spring!

I’ll end it here. This has been a very cursory history of both the Beeman and Air Rifle Headquarters companies, as seen primarily through their catalogs.

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.

24 thoughts on “A brief history of Beeman and Air Rifle Headquarters: Part Two”

  1. BB,
    That’s great stuff! It makes for a wonderful history lesson.
    I never knew that there were hopes to turn the HW77 into a magnum springer; I just went back are re-read your report titled Steel Dreams…that costly dream makes a great cautionary tale for those who think: “Yeah, I’ll just take everything on a powerful springer and scale it up in size, and watch the power climb!”…not.

    “There is so much more I could tell you.”
    Yes, I’m sure there is; perhaps, at a future time when you have more time, you could write about that in another report, something like ‘Great Tales from the Past.” I’d like to read that one. 😉
    Blessings and safe travel to you and Ian,

    • Dave,

      I’ll need to get the chronograph out when I get a chance, but I seem to recall my .177 HW77 putting out about 17 or 18 ft-lbs, so I guess a .22 HW77 would be pushing close to 20 ft-lbs. Or what is the power threshold for an air rifle to be considered a magnum?

      • Bob,
        I once saw an airgun blog where someone said (with regard to springer air rifles):
        “Anything more than 16 FPE is magnum.
        12-16 is high powered; 8-11 is medium powered; 7 and under is low power.”
        To me, I would say your HW77 is in the magnum range. 🙂
        My old Field Target rifle, my HW97, was averaging 870 fps with 7.9-grain premiers for 13.26 ft-lbs.
        While not overly powerful, it was capable of knocking down all the targets on a course…not in my hands, but in the hands of someone who could shoot really well. 😉
        Blessings to you,

  2. B.B.,

    I hope your dinner with your two boys went well.
    Safe continued travels to Ohio and the Pyramid Adventures In Recreation Event goes exceptionally for you.

    Can’t wait to hear all about it from you and Bravo45.


  3. BB and Ian,

    I wish you safe travels.

    I was saddened to hear that Pyramyd Air is no more. It is my hope that VO does not forget the roots of PA and wander too far from it. Ah well, as us old geezers say, “time marches on”.

    I just wish I could afford Extreme Big Bore.

  4. History is a lot more interesting to me than it was way back when I was in school. I guess it becomes more relevant as we get older and live through some important events. My recent increased interest in guns stems from studying the JFK assassination. One aspect that I became interested in is the ergonomics of shooting from the cramped quarters of the sniper’s nest in the Texas School Book Depository Building. So I built a computer model and a full sized physical model of the sniper’s nest that I can use to explore the possibilities. Keep these type stories coming BB. I like to think that you are continuing the tradition of Dr. Beeman by providing the instructional part that he used to include in his catalogs.

      • I wish I could find the same model Carcano. But collectors apparently snatch them up very quickly. If anyone knows of that model being available, please let me know. There are some similar models still available. I have been tempted to get one. But for now I just simulate with a .22 rifle.

        • Elmer, the Italian Carcano 6.5 while serviceable was not a fast bolt action to cycle compared to an SMLE, Swedish Mauser or any of the straight pull bolt action designs. I’m not sure you can simulate the event without one. I have owned a lot of different military bolt action rifles and none are as slow to cycle as this one.


          • Thanks Deck, yes I agree about the bolt. The main reason for my models is for the ergonomics of the sniper’s nest confines. When I made the computer model I saw potential interferences (with an electrical conduit adjacent to the window and the box on the window sill) for an early shot that missed everything. So, it seemed possible that unexpected interference like that could have cause the shot to miss. I decided to build the physical model so that I could see for myself what shots were possible and/or likely while he was sitting on one of the boxes. The HSCA investigation uncovered evidence of an early missed shot. I have been trying to prove to myself whether or not that is true. If so, there could have been as much as 10 seconds for him to get three shots off. So, at my age and slower reaction times, I wouldn’t be trying to duplicate shooting super fast anyway.

        • Funny to read that – apparently years ago these rifles were not so appreciated. Used to deal with a gun shop in Miami, FL doing business as “Bullseye Guns.” The proprietor, Jerry Resnick, was kind of an irascible type but knew his stuff and was helpful as long as you did not give him any BS. One time FM was in the shop and someone brought in a Carcano for appraisal or repair, don’t remember which. Asked Jerry, “is that a Carcano?” His answer, accompanied by a look of disgust, was “Yeah! Junk!”

          • They are still importing these rifles and selling them as inexpensive hunting rifles, etc. The similar model rifles are not expensive and are easy to find. But the exact model that was used in the assassination has the historical significance factor. So, collectors seem to like them for that aspect. They are reasonably accurate for what they are. Here is what Robert Frazier of the FBI told the Warren Commission regarding some of the testing results of the actual rifle: “Yes, sir–the muzzle energy was calculated on the basis of the average velocity of 2,165 feet per second as 1,676 foot-pounds.” Additionally the bullets are very stable. I have seen test video of one penetrating 36” of solid pine wood without deforming the round nose.

  5. B.B.

    You will always be their father, whether they like it or not….

    If you re the Godfather of Airguns, would Dr. Beeman be the Grandfather?

    Safe travels, are you on the HOG?


  6. BB,

    Great to hear you had a happy reunion with your sons after 30 years! Why such a long wait? I bet you guys had a load of catching up to do. Do your boys have the airgun bug too?

  7. Is that a scoped FWB 65 in the fourth picture? I never knew they had scope rails.

    I also never knew it was such a large air pistol; it dwarfs that gold plated P1, which in turn dwarfs a Colt 1911.

  8. The walnut custom stock on that R1 sure is a beauty. Looks very similar to the stock on the Diana 52 Luxus from a few years ago.

    Even standard Beeman R series air rifles had nicer stocks than their HW counterparts in Europe.

    The R9 stock could be found in Europe on the pricier HW95 Luxus, but I have never seen a HW80 on this side of the pond with an R1 stock.

    I never understood why Weihrauch didn’t offer walnut stock options for any of their air rifles except the HW35E.

    Diana air rifles seem to come with nicer stocks in Europe than in the States though.

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