A blast from the past

Roe Norman from Tower Guns in Somerset explains how he recently acquired a special collection of airguns that appear frozen in time.

Diana Model 1s don’t get much better than this – check out the near-perfect bluing on this octogenarian air pistol

“I’ve got a few guns that belonged to my dad I’d like to sell if you are interested,” is something I’ve heard many times since I became a Registered Firearms Dealer. Normally it results in some rusty relic appearing through the door, or something with a nail being used to keep the action closed!

But this time it was a bit different. The gentleman arrived and presented to me his dad’s obviously cherished and well cared for collection of pistols and rifles that he would have purchased up to 80 years ago. They appeared to have been rarely shot, but frequently oiled.

The bluing on the pressed metal of the Diana Model 1 pistol gleamed in the sunlight. The BSA stamp in the stock of the Cadet was so crisp it was hard to believe it had been shouldered more than a dozen times.

And it didn’t stop there. A packet of Marksman pellets costing four shillings and nine pence still had the Sellotape seal. They may have remained unopened as they were .22 and all five guns in front of me were .177. But there were three tins of Webley .177 Special Pellets as well.

Two were empty, but one was still full. Even these pellets seemed to have been frozen in time. There was none of the lead deterioration I’d seen in other pellets that have been kept at the back of the cupboard for a few years.

Finally out came the targets these guns had been used to shoot at. There were two packs of Original card targets marked at two shillings and sixpence for 25 targets and a pack of 25 Milbro card targets, whose design doesn’t seem to have changed to this day. Although the Milbro were multi-coloured you could only score a maximum of six on them, compared with a 10 on the Originals!

Two of the pistols, a Diana Model 1 and a Webley Junior, were pre-1939, the pair of BSA Cadet rifles were manufactured in 1946-47 and there was a post-war Diana Model 2 Improved pistol, all in .177 and all in incredible condition for their age.

Diana Model 1

The first pistol was a Diana Model 1, and as already mentioned the bluing was still deep and covered 100% of the pressed metal construction. The image of the goddess Diana holding a rifle above her head as she discards her bow and arrow was crisp and clear.

There was a small wear mark on the trigger that I noticed seems to be common on other Model 1s that I’ve seen. The look of the pistol reminded me of a pre-war Walther with its straight-down grip. It holds nicely in the hand and the fixed iron sights are crisp and come up to the eye very well.

The pellet is loaded at the breech by tipping the barrel forwards, but the cylinder is located within the grip – quite an unusual design

These pistols unusually have their cylinder in the pistol grip. This gives the pistol a great balance, but it means you need a special tool to pull out the pin from the bottom of the grip, and sadly this wasn’t there.

But I was able to manufacture something to hook around the pin and give me something to pull on. The pin came out smoothly, if slightly awkwardly, and remains that way until the trigger is pulled.

To load the pistol, you simply tilt the barrel forward and seat the pellet in the back of the barrel, then push the barrel back into its original position. While checking the barrel, I noticed something was missing.

It had no rifling. My research so far hasn’t revealed if this was standard, a special order, or a mistake. Even without the rifling, the pistol groups well at six yards and the chronograph showed it pushing an 8.9 grain pellet at 280 feet per second, giving about 1.55 foot pounds.

Diana Model 2 Improved

This is of slightly different construction to the Model 1 and the regular Model 2 as the Improved comes with wooden grips, although they have no chequering. Interestingly, this example is marked ‘made in Great Britain’ and not Germany.

After the war, Millard Bros, known as Milbro, secured all the machinery, tooling and even the Diana name and moved them back to Scotland and started making guns under the Diana name.

This Model 2 Improved was made in September 1956 when Diana guns were being made by Milbro in Scotland

Again the bluing was deep and the Diana logo crisp, but the wooden grips have a few dings.  On the bottom of the grip is stamped ‘9 56’, giving the date of manufacture as September 1956.

This model is a push-barrel; the main barrel protrudes from the pistol until it’s pushed back in with some force to cock it. On cocking, a pin extrudes from the back which is unscrewed to allow a .177 pellet to be inserted and the pin put back. The pistol struggled to produce 1 ft-lb, pushing the pellet out at just 204 fps.

Webley & Scott Junior

The all-metal construction of this pistol had some of the deepest bluing I have ever seen on a gun, and it’s amazing to think it was applied in Birmingham more than 80 years ago. There appears to be no sign of wear, so you have to wonder how frequently it was used.

This Webley Junior can’t have seen much use – there are little signs of wear and its deep bluing is still intact after all these years

This pistol uses the typical vintage Webley barrel-cocking, by first releasing the spring-loaded thumb latch and lifting the barrel. The barrel is then brought forward until you hear a reassuring click, before loading a pellet and returning it back to its closed position. As with the Diana Model 1, this delivered around 1.5 ft-lb of muzzle energy.

BSA Cadets

These came as a pair, and again the condition was superb. There was evidence of some pitting at the rear of the action, but mostly the bluing was intact. The wooden stocks were hardly marked and as noted before even the BSA logo on the stock was crisp. One in particular had lovely tiger marks running through the wood.

The winged B logos on the stock of both BSA Cadets remain crisp and the general condition of the woodwork is near-perfect

The ‘B’ serial number indicates a manufacture date of 1946/47, so being pre-telescopic sight days, there were no grooves or mounts for a scope. The iron sights were clear and the low cheekpiece gives a fantastic sight picture as your cheek welds with the stock.

The Cadet is a typical break-barrel, and both cocked easily with a nice amount of resistance. One rifle produced 3.5 ft-lb (426 fps) and the other 4.5 ft-lb (487 fps) which is typical of rifles of this vintage. I do wonder why the owner had two of these, as neither appear to have been shot much at all.

What To Do Next?

It is rare in this business to come across a gem from the past. To encounter five from the same source is a privilege. My pocket says to move them on to collectors who will appreciate them and add to their collections.

But my heart is saying they are keepers and should stay together under my care. Perhaps one day my daughter might ring up an RFD and ask if they are interested in her dad’s airgun collection? 

Gun, pellets and targets too! What more could an airgun collector ask for? Roe was fortunate in being offered this collection
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