Vintage Toy Guns Are A Potent American Symbol

While plastic uzis have recently gotten a bad rap, just about anyone can appreciate the naive innocence of vintage toy guns. They remind us of a time when good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black hats and everything seemed so much simpler. Nowadays there is a thriving subculture of people who collect these items not because they love guns, but because they love toys.

Within this category of collectibles, there are several subcategories, including the air rifle, the bb gun, and the cap gun among others. Each one has a certain appeal, and each category has its own specific heritage.

Air Rifles

The first toy air rifle was called Markham's Challenger, invented and produced in Plymouth Michigan beginning in 1886. This was a clumsy toy by today's standards, but was undoubtedly the prize possession for many boys growing up on the expanding American frontier. The famous Daisy rifle quickly followed, including the ubiquitous Model 20. This rifle sold continuously with few changes between 1908 and 1937. Its great success was due in great measure to the company's savvy advertising campaigns which made Daisy a household name. Many other competitors quickly entered the arena so that there are literally hundreds of different makes and models available to collectors from different eras within the 20th century.

Daisy is also a big name in the history of BB guns. Although they didn't invent the device, they were the first to reduce the standard bore size and standardize the manufacture of BB guns. Due in part to the success of the Daisy brand, BB guns quickly became a common consumer item across the US and a very popular toy for boys. Consequently, design variations flourished including imitations of famous firearms as well as more fanciful inventions. Besides Daisy, other important manufactures include Crosman, Benjamin/Sheridan, Webly, and Ampell.

Cap Guns

Cap guns have been around since the early part of the century. They hey-day for cap guns, however, was during the 50s and 60s. This is largely because of their association with and endorsement by popular TV and film icons like Roy Rodgers, The Lone Ranger, and Gene Autry. Significant manufactures include Nichols Industries, Hubley, Wyandotte, Classy, Mattel, George Schmidt, and many others. These guns remained widely popular around the world until the decline in popularity of western shows and movies. By the early 70s, virtually all cap gun manufacturers had gone out of business or changed direction.

Although there are enough sub categories of vintage toy guns to keep any collector happy, most people are attracted to these items because of what they reflect about our cultural identity during the mid-20th century. Whether they bring on bouts of nostalgia or cause one to reflect on the the changing global reality, vintage toy guns will always be potent symbols of American culture.

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