If you’ve got an itch to begin a new airgun collection or expand your existing one, what should you do next? Just scratch it, argues Jonathan Young
Your wife says it’s gone too far. Your dog looks at you in dismay when you forget walkies again and head for the shed instead. You’ve been bitten by the collecting bug!
But what do you do next? Where do you go for advice? For many shooters, collecting airguns is a very personal thing. A lot of people just do their own thing and are happy with whatever comes along next.
But what if you want more? In the last issue we touched on the idea of collecting to a theme, such as specific marques, or collecting only springers, or only pistols rather than rifles, but how do you find out about older guns?
A lot less has been published on the subject compared with other hobbies, so period information is very valuable indeed. Airgun magazines arrived in the late 1970s, but before this, airgun articles appeared in some issues of a magazine called Guns Review.
Any related period magazine will contain information which can help the collector to identify or explain any anomalies. Airgun literature is collectible in its own right, but even if it’s sought only for the correct period information, it can be worth its weight in gold.
It’s only natural to ask for advice down the club or on an internet airgun forum, but, after only a few years, people are soon in the dark and start guessing the ‘facts’. Old torn airgun mags found at a car boot sale or bought online will keep you quiet and out of mischief for months as you read and digest all the information.
Even an old advert can sometimes answer an important query. Some collect ‘new’, and the current trend for CO2 BB replica pistols draws a big crowd, with Wild West and wartime themes being hot topics.
However, many collectors rightly or wrongly concentrate only on old guns. Perhaps this is a mistake, because all the new kit of today will eventually become very difficult to find. Time proves this repeatedly. Once, nobody would have dreamed of collecting precharged airguns, but today a nice blued steel Titan can sit very well beside a BSA Airsporter.
As for rare airguns—well, in collecting terms, you can spend as much on a recent airgun that was made for only a short period as you would for an antique. But unless you have deep pockets, avoid rare airguns as you start to build your initial collection with less expensive models.
The age of an airgun can cause confusion to a novice buyer, and as with any other ephemera like old cameras, categorising airguns is useful. To simplify things, let’s say an airgun can be ‘modern’, ‘classic’, ‘vintage’ or ‘antique’, with some smudging allowed between each of these four categories.
General advice has always been that something can be considered an antique if it is more than 100 years old. For example, ball and butt reservoir airguns or walking stick aircanes will fit into this category easily.
They’re difficult to find and will cost big bucks when you do. But also included will be more affordable airguns such as early Gems and Millitas – and also some of the earliest pop-out pistols. And with each year that passes, more and more early airguns enter the antique category.
If an airgun is pre-war – that’s before the Second World War – then anything in this category can be classed as vintage. This can go right back into the antique category, but has a good clear cut-off point with WWII.
Airgun manufacture largely came to a halt in the late 1930s as the war broke out. Broadly speaking, production resumed for many companies after the war, so this date just happens to provide a handy cut-off point.
This is a very broad category for airguns that are not modern, and are definitely old, but not old enough to get Grandad all misty-eyed. After the war, manufacturers altered designs and introduced new modern ideas – for example, early automatic tap Airsporters and the Webley Mk III.
In Germany names like Falke and BSF were heard more often. And while much later 1970s sidelever Webley Trackers or even later 1990s Parker Hale Dragons are more modern in comparison, these are now considered to be classic airguns.
What defines modern? Still being made is an obvious answer, but also something found on the shelf if production has recently stopped. An airgun may disappear off the radar, to be found selling second-hand only.
But for years some of these can languish on gun shop racks, getting even older before being eventually rediscovered, falling quickly into the classic category. Some modern, but older Daystates can now be considered classic airguns – and how many airgunners have rediscovered springers from their own recent youth?
As each year passes, the boundary lines shift in each category, and more airguns age in or out of these definitions.
If you have broad interests, then age is immaterial. My own guideline for collecting is whether any item is simply interesting— irrespective of its age. So a plastic Daisy CO2 pellet repeater can sit comfortably beside a Lincoln Jeffries Air Pistol, while some collectors would snigger at the idea.
As for finding airguns, where to look? Internet chatrooms used to be the place for adding things to your collection. A recent trend that started slowly is an unwillingness to post airguns – defeating the whole purpose of internet collecting. ‘Face-to-face’ is a term used mostly by sellers unwilling to wrap up a box.
Collector meets and fairs are few, but are regaining popularity as a result. You may need to drive all day and night to get to one, but where else can you find somewhere with wall-to-wall airguns?
Auctions are still very useful, but recently, despite the ease of the internet, the same issue arises when an auction house declines to have and involvement in packing and delivery, so unfortunately you’ll have to forget your carbon footprint when you are collecting your airguns!
Gun shops still provide a very valuable resource. A rack of pre-owned guns obtained as trade-ins can usually be found in most. A worrying trend now is shops declining to sell used at all for fear of service and warranty issues, but finding the right gun shop means you’ll never know what may turn up.
Saturday morning visits can be very interesting! Oddly, when the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 became law, and gun shops needed to apply the signature and face-to-face rule for purchases, legal exemption was given to older airguns.
A classification was created for anything predating 1939 to aid clarity and ease sales, with a long list of such airguns available online. Surprisingly, many gun shops and specialist Registered Firearm Dealers simply do not recognise or even know about this exemption.
When you get a shortlist of venues and fellow collectors where you know you can expect to find nice things, what happens when you turn up and see kit you want, but in poor condition? Well, for some items even broken is acceptable.
As a source of spare parts, even a bucket of bits is worth buying. Remember, condition is not everything, and never dismiss a really nice airgun because of cosmetic issues. It’s far better to have something than nothing at all, when it can be replaced.
As mentioned previously, you may well discover the difference between being an airgun collector who loves airguns and a collector of airguns who rarely shoots. So my final piece of advice is not to neglect your shooting. Too many people get caught up in the collecting part, but cannot hit a bullseye at six metres.
Whether you shoot a vintage, classic or interesting modern gun, the whole point is to get out there and enjoy your airguns!