William Mills air rifle

Exquisite early airgun with a Scottish connection.

William Mills Air Rifle

Pre charged pneumatic air rifles, the mainstay of most pellet shooters arsenal today, are some of the most advanced forms of air guns around. They make spring powered airguns old fashioned, yet the PCP air rifle is nothing new, in fact the earliest form of air guns were pre charged pneumatics. The first designs of air gun date to around 1600. The English parliament uncovered a plot  to assassinate Oliver Cromwell in 1655 with an imported European air rifle. By the early 18th century there were several well established designs. A Tyrolean gunsmith, Bartolomeo Girandoni (1729-1799) created the most successful air rifle of the late 18th and early 19th century. This had an air reservoir in the butt of the gun that after 1500 pumps from a tool resembling a bicycle pump, could shoot around 50-80 lead balls at a muzzle velocity of 500 feet per second. Girandoni had visions of his creation being a military weapon and whilst they did see some limited use, the guns remained mainly for the pursuit of hunting and target shooting by the rich and elite. There is a wonderful account of George Prince of Wales encouraging his guests to take part in an indoor shooting contest with an air rifle following a dinner party in Brighton in 1805.  

William Mills Air Rifle

There are very few early air rifles of the 18th and 19th century available on the market today as the cost of making them prevented mass production. We are pleased to include an extremely fine example in our 8th February auction produced by William Mills of 120 High Holborn, London, the address of which the gunsmith occupied between 1822 – 1837.





This 56 bore air rifle was originally the property of The Honourable Colonel Macadam Cathcart.  Frederick Cathcart of Craigangillan (1789 - 1865) was a Colonel in the British army having been born into a family of soldiers. His father was General William Cathcart, the first earl of Cathcart, his younger brother was General Charles Cathcart and his older brother, Lieutenant Sir George Cathcart. Frederick was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary at the court of St Petersburg and Secretary of the British Embassy in Russia (1820) He was also awarded the Russian Order of St. Anne and served as Envoy Extraordinary to the German Confederation of in Frankfurt between 1824 and 1826. Frederick Cathcart married Jean MacAdam and changed his name to McAdam-Cathcart in order to gain title of the McAdam family estate located near Dalmellington. The Mills air rifle is engraved with Macadam Cathcart’s family crests of Cathcart (an arm grasping a moon) Macadam (a stag head).

William Mills Air Rifle

The air rifle has a 30 inch browned octagonal rifled Damascus barrel which is engraved with scrollwork and leaves at the muzzle and breech, the top flat engraved W. Mills Improv'd 120 High Holborn London. The barrel is fitted with blued three-leaf folding rear sight and walnut forend with white metal furniture and ramrod suspended by two pipes. The action, with blued cocking indicator, is engraved with the maker's name and formal scrollwork arrangements. The gun is fitted into its original mahogany case with brass handle engraved with its owner's name and two family crests, it has a blue baize interior and an embossed maker's label to the lid. It is fitted out to include two butt reservoirs for the rifle covered in patterned leather imitating burr wood. The accessories include a spare ramrod, bullet mould and tin of bullets, Damascus pump engraved with maker's name and address, also an octagonal take down key.

The air rifle is to be sold in our 8th February sale with a presale estimate of £3,000 – 4,000.



William Mills Air Rifle


Should you have any items you would like to sell in one of our Firearms, Arms and Militaria sales we would be pleased to hear from you. For more information please contact Chris Large on 01270 623878 or email chris.large@wilson55.com



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