A brief history of Beeman and Air Rifle Headquarters – Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Before I begin, just a heads up that the July podcast has been posted and there’s a new instructional video.

Part 1

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.