AMERICAN GALLERY AIRGUNS
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AMERICAN GALLERY AIRGUNS
This is a group of fairly well-defined airguns which were produced by American gunsmiths just before and after the U.S. Civil War (1861-65). Travel to the country was difficult for city folks at the time these guns were made. These airguns, typically provided by concessionaires in indoor ranges, provided a means of satisfying the desire to shoot. Again, Wolff (1958) has one of the few good discussions of these interesting airguns which had been unappreciated for a long time. Now they are becoming increasingly hard to acquire as demand and understanding has soared.
These airguns are highly stylized from European patterns, such as those made by Josef Rutte of Bohemia around 1830. All have a huge central spring cylinder ahead of the trigger guard, containing a double volute mainspring system. All have leather piston seals and smoothbore barrels. The two main cranking methods are by a crank handle ("Kurbelspanner") or by a lever pivoted at the buttplate and typically shaped into the trigger guard in the forward end ("Bügelspanner"). And while virtually all are breech loaders, the particular methods of loading and cocking are classified into several groups.
1. Primary New York: Apparently among the earliest of American gallery airguns, these seem to have developed from European forms which use a detachable crank handle to cock the mainspring. The European forms have a tip-up breech; the American forms developed an unusual breech which opened by twisting the receiver. Famous makers include David and Joseph Lurch, G. Fisher, and August Mock.
2. Secondary New York: A small group featuring the twist-breech loading of the Primary forms, but cocked by a cocking lever formed by a rearward extension of the trigger guard. A gun of this type by John Zuendorff has been credited as being used in the draft riots of the American Civil War.
3. Upstate New York: A small, special group. The main feature is a hand-operated revolving cylinder and barrel which is attached to the receiver with a pin, wedge, and bottom strap in a manner and styling very similar to an open-top Colt revolver. 12- or 13-shot cylinders are known. The only makers listed by Wolff are Charles Bunge and C. Werner.
4. St. Louis: The key characteristic is a long cocking lever with its forward end formed by the trigger guard and the remainder concealed in a groove in the under edge of the buttstock. The barrel tips up for breech loading. The stocks have separate buttstock and forearm sections. A large group; famous makers include Bandle, Blickensdoerfer, and Stein.
5. New England: The buttstock and forearm are one piece. A fixed, two-piece cocking lever along the forward side of the receiver swings up and back for cocking. The barrel tips up or twists to a loose open position for loading. Two known makers are Eggers and Tonks.
6. Top Lever Gallery Air Rifle: Cocks by pulling back on heavy lever inserted into comb of rifle. Illustration shows the lever partially up for clarity.
7. Pop Up: Loads via a pop-up breech block in the top of the receiver.
About 1870 the gallery gun design, so well-developed in America, migrated to Europe and was continued as the European "Bügelspanner" for almost a century by several makers, most notably Oscar Will of Zella-Mehlis, Germany. Will frequently marked his guns as "Original Will" to distinguish them from the many copies -- some of these copies, amusingly, were then marked as "Original". Unmarked copies are rather common.
Values of American Gallery Airguns will range from $500 to $2,000 depending on condition, and especially scarce forms, such as Upstate New York models, bear asking prices of up to five thousand dollars. The later European "Bügelspanner" generally sells for $300 to $600, with the "Original Will" marking and better condition adding to the price.

From Blue Book Publications:


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