Milestones of Lincoln Jeffries/BSA air rifle production
Key dates for the period pre-1914
With thanks to Lakey.
Here is a time-line of key dates for BSA air rifle development and production. This is created to enable people to start to date pre-WW1 models according to model type.
1861 -- Birmingham Small Arms Company Ltd formed to produce military weapons to specific Government Contracts.
1901-1904 -- Lincoln Jeffries worked on new air rifle designs, producing various prototype models.
March 1904 -- Lincoln Jeffries patented the fixed barrel,underlever design of his new air rifle (patent No. 8761).
Mid-1904 -- Lincoln Jeffries visited B.S.A to show them his new design of air rifle.
Early 1905 -- Manufacturing agreement signed between Lincoln Jeffries and B.S.A to produce his air rifle. B.S.A would produce initially for L.J then later for B.S.A themselves.
Summer 1905 -- First batch of 1,000 air rifles produced by B.S.A, for Lincoln Jeffries. Called the ‘H The Lincoln Air Rifle’ (starting with serial Number 130).
Aug 1905 -- First batch of B.S.A air rifles made to exactly the same design, but for B.S.A to market under their own brand name. Known as ‘The B.S.A Air Rifle (Lincoln Jeffries Patent)’.
July 1906 -- First ‘Ladies Pattern’ air rifle manufactured by B.S.A for Lincoln Jeffries. Shorter and lighter than the original model, this rifle was designed for ladies and youths to use.
Oct-Dec 1906 -- Fourth batch of B.S.A Air rifles produced. These rifles showed a few improvements over the initial design and are known as ‘Improved models’. Now marked as ‘The B.S.A Air Rifle’.
1907 -- First B.S.A ‘Light Pattern’ air rifle produced. Identical to Lincoln Jeffries ‘L’ The Lincoln – Ladies model.
Feb 1907 -- First B.S.A, the B.S.A Air Rifle (Improved model B) produced after another series of small changes to the basic design.
Mid-1907 -- B.S.A Military Pattern Air rifle launched. This was a specialist military training variation of the basic rifle, designed to replicate the feel and weight of the current army issued rifle of the day. Only just over 420 ever produced.
Mid 1908 -- First production of the B.S.A Air Rifle (Improved model D). This was the most widely produced and numerous of the pre-WW1 B.S.A air rifles models.
1908 -- First production of the B.S.A Air Rifle (Improved model D) in No.3 bore (.25 calibre) starting around serial number 21000.
Late 1908 -- First production of BSA Air Rifle (Improved model D) in No.2 bore (.22 calibre)
Oct 1909 -- Last production of B.S.A Air Rifle ( Improved Model D) in No.3 Bore (.25 calibre).
April 1910 -- First B.S.A Junior model B.S.A Air Rifle (Improved Model D) produced. Only ever available in No.1 bore (.177 calibre)
Aug-Nov 1910 -- Last ever batch of ‘H’ The Lincoln Air Rifles produced for Lincoln Jeffires by B.S.A. From then on all air rifles produced by B.S.A were sold by B.S.A.
1912 -- Lincoln Jeffries retires at 65 years old and the firm of Lincoln Jeffries & Co Ltd is sold.
June 1913 -- First ever ‘Juvenile’ model B.S.A Air Rifle (Improved Model D) is produced. (This is really the Junior Mk2 air rifle, but is known as the Juvenile to avoid confusion).
Sept 1913-Jan 1916 -- The B.S.A Gun Laying Teacher produced during this period. Designed as a specialist offshoot of the B.S.A Air Rifle (Improved Model D). It was made to help teach the rudiments of Artillery Gun laying to troops/cadets in drill halls etc.
Late 1913-Early 1914 -- First production of The B.S.A ‘Standard’ Air rifle. This was the replacement model for the B.S.A Air Rifle (Improved Model D). Also produced in No.1 bore ( .177) and No.2 bore (.22).
1914 -- First production of rifles with identifying markings photo-etched onto the cylinders.
Oct 1914 -- Last ever production of the B.S.A Military Pattern Air Rifle.
Source: B.S.A and Lincoln Jeffries Air Rifles by John Knibbs (1986)
Key dates for the period 1919-1939
November 1918 – BSA announces it will resume manufacture of air rifles as soon as possible.
August 1919 – the first of the short pattern .177 cal target air rifles (“L” prefix) left the factory. They were assembled using pre-WW1 barrel and cylinder assemblies, cocking levers etc etc
October 1919 – the first of the new 45 ½ inch .22 cal Standard (“S” prefix) air rifles was produced, incorporating all the key features of the pre-WW1 rifles. Total 35,397 made between 1919-1936.
1920 – Strikes by various BSA workers over low pay. Iron Moulders strike causes shortage of castings for trigger guards, leading to BSA making the guard from a single pressing; German copies of the BSA Standard .22 cal appear in the UK at less than half the BSA price.
July 1920 – The New Sport booklet published to promote air rife shooting as a family sport for indoors and outdoors.
October 1920 – Sales of air rifles were three times pre-WW1 sales, mainly due to exports to colonies and former colonies.
December 1920 – All supplies of cast trigger guards used up by serial no. S9000 in the .22 cal rifle and L18000 in the .177 light pattern.
October 1922 – An upsurge in indoor air rifle target shooting leads BSA to announce the new 45 ½ inch “No.1 Club” air rifle. It used many of the .22 Standard’s components and had the prefix “CS” to denote “Club Standard”, not Club Special.
November 10th 1922 – the first CS, serial no. 13779 left the factory. In total 4,874 No.1 Clubs were made. The CS is soon equipped with twin counterwound springs.
Mid-1923 – the No.1 Club was selling better than expected. Its price was the same as the .22 Standard.
1926-1929 – Sales of air rifles slow. In 1929 BSA launched a massive promotion campaign, including a £100 bonus prize of a Schoolboys Own Exhibition air rifle competition is won with a BSA air rifle and pellets.
[Addendum August 2020: 1928-1930 - a 'transitional' stock was used that had the curved pistol grip of the earlier 1920s BSA stocks but they were also impressed with 'BSA' in the grip chequering, common to the angular 1930s stocks. John Milewski, the author and BSA historian, says about this date estimate: "BSA first illustrated the more angular 'post transition' stock in late 1929 and reviewers were commenting on the last type of stock profile by April 1930. As with all serial production, there would have been some crossover and 'transitional' stocks would still have been on the shelves in 1930."]
1930 – The 43 ½ inch No.4 Club Model was announced, using a new piston washer assembly, heavier piston, top of breech flat, single mainspring and a single trigger/sear unit in a one hole trigger block. Trigger adjustable via bolt through trigger guard, like pre-WW1 rifles.
October 1930 – The first Club No.4 left the factory, serial no. CS43501.
1932 – BSA reduced prices of all air rifles by 10 shillings due to fierce competition from cheaper rivals, including German manufacturers.
January 1933 – BSA “Breakdown Model” break barrel rifle launched. .177 cal only. Hot pressed chequering had “BSA” within it. One hole trigger block and adjustment bolt through guard, like the No. 4 Club. Internal diameter of cylinder same as pre-WW1 Juvenile pattern.
1935 – BSA decided to update all three underlever air rifles to boost flagging sales.
January 1st 1936 – Updated .22 Standard left the factory, with “T” prefix. It had BSA in the chequering, more angular pistol grip, grooved trigger, plain cocking lever pivot pin, one hole trigger block, trigger adjusted via bolt through guard, top of breech flat, L section rearsight blade, forged cocking link. Total 5,599 “T” patterns made 1936-1939.
January 2nd 1936 – First “A” prefix left the factory, replacing the “L” light pattern air rifle. Total 770 sold 1936-1939.
January 1936 – the Club No.4 replaced by a “C” prefix rifle similar to the “T” Standard but in .177 cal and 43 ½ inches long. Total 2,530 “C” prefix rifles despatched up to October 1939.
Source: The Golden Century - A concise illustrated history of the commercial gun production of B.S.A by John Knibbs. Pub. John Knibbs (2002)
Eddie on variations between pre-WW1 rifles
Both Lincoln Jeffries and the bods at BSA lodged various patents and improvements over this period, mostly small details concerning the tap closure and later a strengthened cocking arm. The earliest BSA's were just called "The BSA Air Rifle" and had this impressed on the cylinder, The first time a letter was added in brackets on this impressed legend was in the serial series from 14230 or thereabouts, and was a "B".
Previous guns to the "B", but later than the first rifles were just sold as "improved" models but with no suffix letter for some reason, Logically as John rightly says you could therefore consider any gun from 1120 or so to 14230 to be model A guns, but in reality there is no such thing.
The "B" guns were followed by "D" guns....There are no "C" guns either
It's all a bit of a red herring except to collectors who delight in the myriad of small differences in these pre 1914 guns, they are all basically the same guns (Military Pattern excluded) with just;
Two styles of sights (early and later).
Two (or three if you are pedantic) basic cocking lever styles (Ducks bill with or without strengthening or side latch).
Taps with or without ball bearing detents (The Lincoln and early BSA's do have some extra varieties of there own).
Two styles of stock with variations of markings and checkering (cut down in the case of the junior rifle).
Two styles of trigger, with later guns having a double "safety sear" set up, which was quietly dropped or disabled by rivets as could be problematic.
The Juvenile is a gun all on it's own, being a true miniature of it's bigger brethren with a smaller cylinder dia than all the other guns shared (in various lengths).
The above is somewhat of a simplification, but not by that much, but it is the merging of production between improvements, and BSA's practise of using parts in stock on guns that technically should not have had them that mean there are countless "odd" guns out there that are exactly how they left the factory, but different to how they "should" be.
Add to this the myriad of BSA supplied options such as aperture sights, sling swivels, sight protectors, cases etc. and it all means that even if you only collected say 43" improved model D guns from just 1912, you will have 20 or more rifles all slightly different, or even more if you collected retailer's stamps or other interesting markings
The pre-WW1 BSA rifles - a chronology
With thanks to Eddie:
It was in order:
The BSA Air Rifle... basically a BSA marked Lincoln, they faffed around with the taps on some of these.
Next up was the Improved Model B, same sights as before, but tap had retaining plate and was set in a socket, as opposed to the through tap on the earlier gun.
There was never an "A" or "C"... Next was the Improved Model D, which had beefier sights, (the aperture on the stock is an add-on on this example) and an improved spring loaded plunger set behind the loading tap to give a more positive tap closure (previous ones just shut to a stop).
These are the main visible differences. Airgunners then were just as keen on the latest "best thing" and BSA announced each small improvement with a big hoo-ha and advertising campaign, which increased sales dramatically.
They started fitting a side latch cocking lever in the later stages of production of the "D's" and then did away with the steel butt plate... these late pre-WW1 guns were the first "standard" air rifles, a title that all sizes of 1919-39 inherited (apart from the break action)."
Lakey on a 1st batch BSA air rifle
This is a reply by Lakey to a post on the airgunbbs.com about the recent purchase of a 1st batch BSA (serial no. 1630) in very good condition:
"Lovely condition gun from the very first batch of guns made by BSA, for sale under their own label. The cylinder should be marked The BSA Air Rifle (Lincoln Jeffries Patent).
It has the uncommon long tang trigger guard, which were cast, and fairly brittle. The tang for the your stock , is straight, however the tang for the Pistol grip (known as the Pistolhand stock) was curved, and very time consuming to fit. Many breakages occured at the factory, so the long tang trigger guards were quickly phased out.
John Knibbs gives the dates of manufacture between Sept and Dec 1905, and it would have sold straight away , such was the demand for these revolutionary guns.
The rifle has a later rear sight fitted from a 1920's gun - that stands out a bit for the purist collector.
Early guns like this had a narrow parallel hole in the deep loading tap, so will need a pellet pusher to properly seat the pellets in the breach. Value wise, I would say around £220- £275 somewhere around there, but that is only my opinion."
Pics of the rifle thanks to Baz: