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Information on origins of Hercules/Speedy/Boy's Gem pistol  

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Garvin
(@garvin)
Curator in Chief Admin
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 4897
5th November 2020 18:38  

Information on origins of Hercules/Speedy/Boy's Gem pistol 

See also:

https://forum.vintageairgunsgallery.com/unknown-unmarked-airguns/boys-gem-target-pistol-with-gem-type-barrel-catch/#post-5709

 

 

From John G, posted on the airgunbbs.com:

 

An airgun whodunnit. Who made the Hercules/Speedy rifle and its pistol offspring?

 

One big mystery in the manufacturing history of late nineteenth/early twentieth century German airguns is the identity of the maker of the “Hercules” air rifle (also known in the UK as the ‘Speedy’), and its derivative air pistol, the ‘Boys’ Gem’. These guns were never marked with a maker’s name, and although catalogue entries are numerous, they have never thrown any light on the puzzle. So over the years there have been various guesses as to the manufacturer, but it has still remained a puzzle - until, I am pleased to say, now.

Recently an example of the rifle has come up for sale on Tim Dyson’s website, and there are now excellent of pictures of this and another in the Gallery.

That the rifle and pistol came from the same manufacturer is obvious when you compare them side- by- side.

 

Further proof of a common maker for the rifle and pistol is provided by a Bonehill catalogue from 1898, which calls them the “Boys’ Gem Air Gun” and “Boys Gem Air Pistol”, and describes them both with the phrase “With Drop-down Barrel and Patent lever breech-fastener”.

 

You can also see that they come from the same manufacturer by taking them apart. Both rifle and pistol have a very distinctive construction, and the cast steel is casing made up of two halves bolted together, with a removable inner brass cylinder. The following shows a dismantled pistol. A dismantled Hercules rifle has an almost identical appearance.

 

So who did make these guns? I was fortunate to be provided with a couple of pages from an extremely rare early Langenhan catalogue, dated 1911. This lists the rifle but not the pistol, which is not surprising, as catalogue data indicate that the pistol was not made after 1910. The catalogue labels the rifle simply as the ‘ Knaben- Luftgwehr Nr. 5 ‘ (translated as ‘Boys’ air rifle No. 5’, the same description used by Bonehill thirteen years earlier).

 

On its own, this catalogue page adds nothing to the story, but the introduction section to the catalogue is very informative:

 

(Note the telegram address in the top left-hand corner, which confirms the identity of the catalogue.)

The bottom paragraph translates as:

The items listed in the price list below are specialties of my company, which are made by a trained, experienced workforce using the latest precision machines. All of the items, including the smallest parts, are manufactured in-house.

So here we have Fritz Langenhan himself stating categorically that the Hercules air rifle was made, down to the smallest component, in his company. By inference, then he also made the Boys’ Gem pistol.

The pistol came in two quality versions, and was sold over the period ca. 1895 -1910. This was its last catalogue appearance, in the 1910 Burgsmuller catalogue. This is the only time I have seen it pictured alongside the MGR target pistol , which was introduced in the same year.

 

Considering that the Boys’ Gem pistol was so widely advertised (I have located no less than eight German catalogue appearances of the pistol over the 1898-1910 period), it is surprising that so few examples survive today. I know of only about half a dozen in various collections.

The air rifle seems to have survived on the German market for just a year longer than the pistol, and it does not disappear from the catalogue record until shortly after 1911. Then after a long absence it surprisingly pops up again in the 1920’s , but only in the UK and not in Germany. It was advertised exclusively by Clyde Bell as the ‘Speedy’, but he did not sell it for long and when stocks were exhausted the rifle disappeared permanently. It seems most likely that Clyde Bell was selling off old stock from Langenhan, or guns put together from left-over components and these soon ran out. We have to remember that this was the immediate post-World War 1 period and German companies were desperate to earn foreign currency in order to survive.

So two airgun identity mysteries are now solved, but I wonder why Langenhan never put his trademark on these guns?


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