18th and 19th century air guns,

In the design world nothing is new!

Ball reservoir air gun by Bates


We think of the airgun today as a 20th-century innovation. A spring-powered rifle of pistol launching a tiny .177 or .22 pellet towards a tin can being the want of many a child or young adult from the 1930’s onwards. It is certainly during the last century that we saw the greatest advances in airguns and the prolific spread of them, however, the airgun’s heritage is substantially richer and dates back to the 15th century. It is during the 18th century that truly feasible working air guns were available to the shooting masses. These were expensive things by comparison to standard firearms of the day but they offered many advantages to black powder shooting. The airgun was not affected by rain, the enemy of a flintlock firearm, being recharged with air, you didn’t have to worry about running out of gun powder, they were a lot quieter and did not create a huge cloud of smoke giving your position away. This last fact has a significant military application and the Girandoni air rifle designed around 1779 was adopted by the Austrian military. To the airgun shooter of today, it seems incredible that such guns were thought of as a military weapons.

The airgun of the late 20th and 21st century is the PCP or pre-charged pneumatic. These are thought of as far superior to their spring-powered predecessors, yet nothing is new and the PCP is actually the earliest form of airgun known.

As with PCPs today the airguns of the 18th, 19th century and earlier had a tank that was precharged, normally with a form of bicycle pump.  The air canister was either fitted into the butt of the airgun or held in a canister below the action. The major difference is that the 19th century and earlier airguns shot a significantly larger projectile than the pellets used today and therefore would only have around 20 shots before needing refilling.

Our November 25th Firearms, Shotguns, Airguns, Arms and Militaria auction includes two examples of these interesting guns.

Ball reservoir air gun by Bates

The first is a ball reservoir air gun by Bate of London. It has an 80 bore 36 inch Spanish form sighted barrel with silver name escutcheon, scroll engraved dummy flintlock action, the full stock carved with shell apron and fitted with steel furniture. Apart from the very obvious ball canister hanging from the base of the action, this is a very conventional-looking gun for the times. It has all the elegance of an 18th sporting gun. You would load the projectile, either solid ball or shot down the muzzle in a conventional manner with a ramrod, sadly missing from this example. To make the user feel at home the action is made to look exactly like a flintlock. Cocking the hammer would ready the canister valve to release air, when the shooter squeezed the trigger the hammer would fall forward on the frizzen but internally the action would release a burst of air propelling the shot down the barrel. The Bate is in true sleeper condition and is expected to sell for £1,000 – 1,500

Reservoir air gun by Staudenmayer

The second is by Staudenmayer of London. Gone are the traditional looks with this example and the maker has built the gun in the most modern design for the times. The Staudenmayer has a leather-lined air tank with walnut butt and steel engraved buttplate, much more elegant than the canister found hanging from the Bates. There is still a hammer to cock prior to shooting however gone is the dummy flintlock action. The Staudenmayer has an octagonal 28 inch 40 bore rifled Damascus barrel with platinum lined breech, stamped with numbers 1686 and 25691, fitted with folding leaf sight, and smooth bored shotgun barrel numbered 25807, scroll engraved action bearing makers name, the stock with bronze collar also engraved Staudenmayer London. Unusually, the Staudenmayer is still accompanied by its accessories and bullet mould and is expected to sell for £4,000-5,000.

The November 25th Firearms, Shotguns, Airguns, Arms and Militaria auction will be on view

10am – 4pm on Monday 22nd, Tuesday 23rd, Wednesday 24th November. We ask people interested in viewing this sale in person to still book an appointment and bring ID with them when visiting the saleroom.

Should you have any items you would like to consign to a future auction we would be pleased to hear from you. Please contact Chris Large by email chris.large@wilson55.com or by phone 01270 623878

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