BELLOWS AIRGUNS
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BELLOWS AIRGUNS
This is a quite well defined group of breech-loading spring-driven single-shot airguns generally made in the late 1700s to mid-1800s. They were made by craftsmen who often were not known gunmakers in a Germanic/Austrian region centered on Regensburg and roughly bounded by Nürnberg, Prague, Vienna, and Munich. This design has a puzzling origin very suggestive of early wheellock firearms. Almost all specimens can be quickly identified as bellows airguns by their massive, heavy buttstocks that bear a large square cocking lug on the right hand side near the buttplate and by their lack of either a cocking lever (hammer)¹ or a pumping handle or threaded pump port in the buttplate. Their basic feature is a conical bellows hidden in the hollowed-out wooden buttstock. Turning the lug with a separate, large cocking handle (almost always missing) winds a short chain to compress one or two hidden V-shaped mainsprings and spreads the bellows. Pulling the double set trigger releases the mainspring(s) to suddenly force the bellows shut -- thus blowing a dart out of the barrel -- much as one could fire a wad of paper from a fireplace bellows. The projectiles usually are about .24 to .32 (6 to 8 mm) caliber darts, generally with a hair tail.
Releasing a latch on the side or underside of the forearm allows the breech to open for loading. The flexibility of the long wooden forearm acts as a barrel hinge. The power of these guns is very low; evidently they were intended for indoor recreational target shooting. Trigger guards commonly are similar to the huge, ornate, finger-grooved brass guards of wheellock firearms.
The stocks typically are full-length but some specimens, especially advanced late examples may have half stocks. The stocks may be plain or ornately carved and decorated. The upper side of the stock's wrist has a provision for an aperture sight (also usually missing) of greater than appropriate precision. Also like wheellock firearms, the barrel often is octagonal and "swamped", i.e. visibly narrower in its middle. The barrels are smoothbore, often with a brass bore liner.
The single-spring versions generally are distinguished by the cocking lug being near the toe of the buttplate while the double-spring versions have the lug between the toe and heel of the buttplate. The single-spring models apparently are the oldest and scarcest forms but the double-spring guns may sometimes be more valuable due to moderate to exquisite carving and elaborate brass decorations.
Makers include Christian Hintz in Prague, Ioh. Andrea Kuchenreiter (as inlaid on gun) (= Johann Andreas Kuchenreuter?), J. Adam Kuchenreuter, and Hornauer in Regensburg, Lachermeir and F.X. Wistaller in Munich, Sevcik in Laibaich, M. Dobner in Erding, Maringer, Mausch, Wenzel Spatzeirer, Rochus Wastl, Johann Planer, St. Jllichmann, and Peter Volkmann in Vienna, Dir in Reichenhall, Joh. Mond in Augsberg, Anton Pell in Linz, Anton Schreiber in Gratz, Wolf in Würzberg and Fran.Zelner in Salzburg, and K. Kiendlbacher.
At this time we know of two surviving bellows pistols, one in 8 mm caliber and the other in 7 mm. While unmarked, the pistols appear to be from the mid-1800s and possibly made by J. Adam Kuchenreuter, a top gunmaker in Regensburg, Germany. No bellows pistol (that we know of) has come to market in over 30 years, making it very difficult to establish values.
Plain rifle specimens of fair condition may sell for as little as $500; better condition, well-decorated specimens may go for well above $3,000. An original cocking handle or a container of darts is very scarce. Each will add 10% to 20% while an original aperture sight may add 15% to 25%. A fine specimen may be the most attractive item in your collection.
Little information is available on Bellows airguns. The best sources of additional information are Hoff (1972, updated 1977) and Wolff (1958). Some good details of the pistols are given by Griffiths (2008).
¹A very few, early bellows airguns had fake flintlock hammers.

From Blue Book Publications:


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