[Closed] Welcome to the Vintage Diana Forum! May 2nd 2010
Welcome to the Vintage Diana Forum!
I became interested in vintage Dianas a couple of years ago and that interest has grown since. The great variety of Mayer and Grammelspacher’s early output and the longevity of the company - from about 1890 to the present day - makes it a brand that has special significance for collectors.
The factory’s 120-year lifespan can have drawbacks for collectors. For instance it can be confusing working out which guns belong to which period, since Diana in its wisdom has quite often re-used model numbers. Sometimes the doppelganger is a completely unrelated gun and at other times an update of what is essentially the same model.
The company's history has at least two distinct periods to it: that which happened before World War Two and everything since. The latter period is well known. It began with the restarting of production in the ashes of Nazi Germany, the company's pre-War machinery having been taken as reparations by the French, sold to the British and put quickly to work making airguns based on Diana's pre-War designs in Scotland.
Diana's rapid reconstitution as a force to be reckoned with in the worldwide airgun industry is nothing short of breathtaking - and was part of Germany's post-War economic miracle. The company soon began innovating as it had before, first developing unique sporting and target models and then designing and building reasonably priced, effective recoilless match rifles and pistols that sold in their tens of thousands over the next couple of decades. In the 1990s the company began to concentrate on sporting airguns and Diana still holds a good share of the market in quality European airguns today.
Diana’s pre-War production is more mysterious and so more intriguing. We know it began with the sort of simple break barrel designs popular at the time. These were quickly complemented by the factory’s own ground-breaking lever and detent breech lock designs patented by Jakob Mayer. Later, at some time around the start of World War One, M&G borrowed from the world-beating Lincoln Jeffries tap-loading underlever to produce a powerful military trainer, the first pattern Diana 58.
After the fallout from the Great War had died down and production was allowed to resume, the 1920s became a golden age of production for M&G, which both built upon its own pre-WW1 designs and continued to borrow from the best of foreign ones.
In the mid-to-late '20s, M&G was at the forefront of airgun development when it introduced half-stocked rifles such as the models 25, 27, 35 and 45. The half-stock would later become standard across the airgun world. The later 1930s versions of the larger Diana air rifles were equipped with a superb double pull trigger, a design that was ahead of anything else available on a production airgun at the time.
In a curious twist, one of several amid the fierce 20th century rivalry between German and UK arms manufacturers, the final version of the tap loading Diana model 45 - whose original design borrowed from the LJ underlever - was then "borrowed back" by the British in the 1940s. Webley adopted the model 45 as the basis for its long-running Mark 3 rifle, which replaced the loss-making Mk2 Service rifle and remained in production until the mid-1970s.
It speaks volumes about the decline of Britain as an industrial power versus German competitiveness that Webley was still making its Supertarget version of the MK3 - a design essentially unchanged for more than 50 years - on the eve of the launch by the German Walther company of its revolutionary single stroke pneumatic match rifle, the LGR. In a bizarre footnote, the final pattern Supertarget came equipped with an Anschutz rear diopter sight - the airgun equivalent of a Ford 'Model T' fitted with anti-lock brakes.
The Second World War was economically disastrous for M&G. It was first prevented from selling its goods abroad in the late 1930s and then enlisted to build military hardware - small arms and aircraft engine parts - when war broke out. Presumably it was also subjected to the loss of part of its skilled workforce through conscription and perhaps Allied bombing, and then finally in the wake of Germany's defeat it was stripped of its machine tools and the right to use the Diana brand in foreign markets. For a second time in its relatively short commercial life, the company's progress suffered a war-related hiatus.
The impact of WW2 – and perhaps WW1 too – on what is known about Diana’s early production goes a long way to explaining why there are doubts over the introduction dates of certain pre-War models and also why no detailed and definitive ‘official’ history of Dianawerke has been written. Recently, responding to a question about vintage Dianas in a thread on the American Vintage Airgun forum, Robert Beeman threw some light on the subject when he recalled his own visits to Germany:
“The Dianawerk ‘collection’, post-bombing was pitiful. And whenever we pressed the staff for historical info they always gave us the ‘geez - I don't know’ approach. The Dianawerk President had almost no historical knowledge. Most all of the Mayer ‘boys’ didn't come home from WW2. Their places were taken, via a very interesting post-WW2 tradition, by the widows of the departed and by their best, surviving friends as selected for the jobs by those widows. (The Grammelspachers simply vanished early on.) The loss of manpower and family lines in WW2 was just staggering….. That and the simple loss of almost all early specimens gives us a clear idea why they don't, can't, know details of their own company's history.”
Please enjoy the pics and materials in the resources section of this forum. If you want to discuss anything on the subject then please go ahead. You can either post any additional information/pics/materials you want to share in this section or email it to me and I'll add it to the resources section.