Translation of "Das ist was, Doc!" VISIER, das internationale Waffenmagazin 12/2001, pages 92 (VISIER is the leading European gun magazine - much better, even, than American Rifleman. You might get or order a copy at your local international magazine store or website - or contact VISIER at their website. The illustrations are beautifully done in color - they alone make getting a copy worthwhile! I finally have been able to obtain a .pdf file of it -you will need Adobe Reader program (available free at www.adobe.com ) and a little patience to download a copy - but it really worth the wait - the Germans really do such things up right! (BTW - I am esp. interested in getting any possible info on the Radcliffe air rifle pictured there - fires water in the shooter's face as an initiation device - like the Daisy back-squirter, but so much better made - and with a US patent!). See the original, full color article (pdf file temporarily unavailable) and then see my English text below:
Editor of VISIER, das internationale Waffenmagazine (GUNSIGHT, the international gun magazine).
The paradise for airgun fans is to be found in California. Dr. Robert Beeman has gathered there what probably is the most substantial collection of airguns in the world. VISIER went to see him.
If the German saying "Professedly dead persons will live forever" is true, then Dr. Robert Beeman will feel fine even after his 70th birthday in March 2002: Even while the British magazine "Airgun World" wrote in 1999 that the most famous airgun expert had died, that Californian was working, in good health, on the latest of one his technical research publications. It took several protests, e-mails, phone calls and even complaints of foreign readers to get the editors to publish a short retraction. Perhaps they were thinking: "It was not wrong, but only too early."
Beeman is a legend. Everywhere that the almost two-meter-tall, white-haired scientist appears, he is soon recognized and surrounded by people with questions. His wife, Toshiko, tolerates this - their lives changed dramatically after they decided in 1972 to embark on the adventure of developing their own special gun company, . The Beemans founded "Beeman Precision Airguns", the first company in the USA to significantly develop a market there for adult airguns. After several trips through Europe, they had developed close business and social connections with leading European manufacturers such as Feinwerkbau, Weihrauch, Dianawerk, Webley & Scott, and H&N. Back home, they began a mail-order business based on the products of these firms and Beeman Silver Jet pellets from Japan.
First, they had to create an interest, understanding, and product demand among customers who were only familiar with firearms and youth level airguns. Their newsletter, titled the “Airgun News”, and the first edition of the Beeman Source Book/Catalog introduced their readers to European airguns, which were so much more sophisticated, and expensive, than the products of American manufacturers such as Crosman, Daisy, and Benjamin. At first they operated only at the mail order level. The special marketing strategy began with newsletter offers of special deals “available at your local Beeman Dealer". Actually, there were almost no Beeman dealers at that time, but this approach soon sent potential customers into local gunshops. After dismissing the first few callers as unimportant, many dealers began to contact the new Beeman company to find out how they could obtain these virtually unknown products for their customers! When the dealers actually received one of these surprisingly superb European airguns, and had a customer waiting to give them a rather large amount of money for it, they were convinced that perhaps airguns were not “just for youth”. The concept of a viable market for “adult airguns” in America had been born.
Although the marketing of adult airguns was only a part-time occupation at that time, Beeman couldn't complain about idle capacity. His scientific career had moved from studying elk (wapiti) migration in the wilderness of Idaho to marine biology research at Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University in California. He became one of the world specialists on the marine mollusks known as nudibranchs and sea hares. It greatly impressed the parents of his Japanese bride, Toshiko, that he exchanged research papers with one of the world’s few other authorities on this subject: Japanese Emperor Hirohito! Finally the airgun business became too demanding to be part-time. Mrs. Beeman had to leave her position as an executive/buyer in a department store. Dr. Beeman had to leave his teaching and research with the electron microscope and radioactive cell tracing. Soon after taking early retirement from his position as the Chairman of the Marine Biology Department at San Francisco State University, this couple’s new business could count 50 employees and a turnover of several million dollars per year.
One step to getting Americans to accept these adult airguns was to supplement the European brands, generally unfamiliar and difficult for them to pronounce, with the prefix "Beeman/". Thus there were Beeman/Feinwerkbau air rifles, Beeman/Weihrauchs and so on. This also helped to concentrate the public’s view on a single American brand name and to provide a marketing connection to the special scopes for airguns, new pellet designs, special lubricants, and other products that they had designed. Even at that early stage, Beeman’s imports also had some features and style differences slanted to the American market.
It is said that “A prophet is only appreciated in a foreign land”. It was thus with the excellent Feinwerkbau Model 124 air rifle. This “Beeman/Feinwerkbau” was seen by the American customers as the first true "adult airgun", while back in Germany FWB was only famous for its match air rifles and match air pistols built especially for the 10-meter discipline according to the rules of the International Shooting Union. To Germans the most popular Feinwerkbau models were the air rifle Models 150 and 300 and the air pistol Model 65. Although the Model 124 became extremely popular with Americans as a field airgun, and was Beeman’s leading model for some years, Beeman did develop an American appreciation of the FWB match air rifles and pistols, but more as items to be purchased by shooters who appreciated fine guns for their mechanism and casual home practice, rather than being restricted to hard-core formal target shooters. Feinwerkbau was astonished that Beeman could sell more of its match airguns to customers such as doctors and lawyers for individual appreciation than they could to formal target shooters!
The Beemans promoted the idea that their special airguns should be equipped with high quality telescopic sights to take advantage of the excellent inherent accuracy. That meant that they wanted the stocks on their rifles to have higher cheekpieces. They also wanted certain features, different styling, and higher power (muzzle-energy) so as to make the European airguns more appealing to American shooters. Their suggestions were not immediately appreciated by the manufacturers in Europe.
Very familiar and comfortable working with research at universities, Dr. Beeman enlisted engineering support for his ideas for increasing the power of spring-piston system “sporting” air rifles. Also seeking a major breakthrough in adapting stock styling to American tastes, Beeman teamed up with Gary Goudy, one of the top custom stock craftsmen in the United States. Together they designed an air rifle stock that concealed the ugly hinge joint of breakbarrel air rifles, brought the cheek up to the optimum position for scope use, and had great esthetic appeal to American shooters. The Beemans presented their plans for a new powerplant, and a radically different stock design, to Mr. and Mrs. Hans Weihrauch Sr. in the Beeman gunroom in San Anselmo, California. They proposed to base the new design on the famous Weihrauch HW 35 air rifle. This aged construction had a bigger cylinder and a larger spring in comparison to the Feinwerkbau 124, but had less velocity. Beeman’s new design only used the barrel of the HW 35 and the superb Rekord trigger. Designated as the Beeman R 1, the new rifle became the most popular high powered adult air rifle ever introduced in the USA. In Germany it was sold as the HW 80- with lower power and a somewhat simpler, shorter stock. Ironically, the original HW 80 was delivered sooner than the R1 because the special, long US stocks couldn’t be delivered as quickly as the more traditional German style stocks. That created the false assertion that the R1 was a replica/copy of the HW 80 - but in fact, as discussed in detail in Tom Gaylord’s book, The Beeman R1, it was the other way around. (It is especially interesting that Beeman’s R1 stock design became the model from which Diana/RWS, and other competing companies, now fashion their deluxe sporter stocks!)
A similar thing
happened when Beeman conceived the Beeman P1 air pistol, which was
produced outside of the USA as the Weihrauch HW 45. The Beemans specified
exactly what they wanted in the way of power, features, and other
specifications - but were not exactly specific on the external features of the
new gun. The first prototype made by Weihrauch in Germany was somewhat larger
in size, especially above the grip, and had styling which the Beemans did not
think would appeal well to American shooters. Visitors at the Beemans Ranch
are sometimes shown the very fragile, second prototype model of the Beeman P1
which they had carved out of Plaster-of-Paris. It was designed as a look-alike
of the Colt Model 1911 "Government" pistol. The German engineers did a
beautiful job of copying Beeman’s model to produce the final appearance of the
air pistol. (Perhaps Weihrauch’s larger first prototype would be successful
nowadays as a "Desert Eagle" copy).
With each model the Beemans added to their delivery program, they received sample guns and prototypes. Samples of other air rifles and air pistols were sent by various manufacturers on approval. Of course, many of these were never adopted as catalog items. Using his scientific background in research and writing, Robert Beeman developed his new hobby; his collection soon contained both modern and historic specimens. Beeman described the historical and technical background of his airguns, not only in the Beeman Source Book/Catalogs but also in many other publications. In the first edition of the "Airgun Digest", published in 1977, he presented some outstanding samples of his collection and also gave, with the help of other well-known co-authors, valuable information for marksmen, technically oriented readers, and collectors.
At a very early point in the business, the collecting passion took possession of Beeman. He began to gather everything somehow connected with airguns, from blowguns (bought from the natives in the Amazon and Borneo), to superb European butt-reservoir air rifles from the 18th century, to prototypes and rare variations often not even known to the manufacturer himself. Beeman surprised the friendly Family Weihrauch by showing them a multi-shot, top-lever air pistol not known to them. It appears as the "HWZ" (for Hermann Weihrauch in Zella-Mehlis) in a rare pre-WWII factory bulletin, which Hans Hermann Jr. later located, but it is not officially listed in the company's documentations. The air pistol shown on page 92 is also very rare: a "Kuchenreuter" dueling trainer, signed by J. Adam Kuchenreuter, a member of the famous Kuchenreuter “dynasty” from Cham in the Upper Palatinate in Germany. Also in the collection is a gold-plated and engraved Girandoni-signed pneumatic air pistol (around 1780, only two specimens are known worldwide) as well as many "Windbüchsen" from the 17. and 18. centuries. Any museum would be proud to have them, as well as airguns like the combination long arm made by I. Haas between 1655 and 1704. It is complete with a shot barrel inserted into its enormous, deeply rifled barrel.
VISIER came to
visit Robert and Toshiko at their remote cattle ranch in May 2001 as the
result of an invitation made at the IWA show many years ago. The ranch,
situated in the middle of the beautiful Russian River vineyards near Sonoma
Valley, not only serves as the headquarters for the Beeman Airgun Collection
(generally housed elsewhere) of more than 1000 models, but also the arguably
world’s most substantial library of airgun literature. For two weeks Dr.
Beeman carried a vast number of gun cases with their treasures from the
intermediate safe-room to one of the patios of their ranch house so that the
guns could be examined, photographed, and of course admired.
Robert Beeman had planned to sell his successful company, "Beeman Precision Arms", by his 60th birthday in 1992.(The new name became necessary because the company had added some fine firearms to its line.) A successful deal to sell the company to Colt's Manufacturing Company unfortunately was cancelled. The day before "the check went into the mail", Colt's went bankrupt. The business was again offered for sale in 1993. Three companies attempted to obtain ownership. After some difficult negotiations, S/R Industries of Maryland, a concern with recreational items, became the new owner. Shortly thereafter, the company moved from Santa Rosa (north of San Francisco) to Huntington Beach near Los Angeles, where Marksman, another S/R-owned company is based.
Since then Robert and Toshiko have traveled, but certainly not as typical "retirees", over most of the world, to buy single specimens or complete collections, visit old friends and to try to find a museum (so far in vain), which will be able and willing to present the Beeman Airgun Collection according to its importance. The Beemans dedicated some of this travel to locating what surely is the most legendary air rifle of all time - the pneumatic air rifle carried by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their 1803-06 expedition from the Missouri River west to the Pacific Ocean.
But that's a completely different story.
This Kuchenreuter spring piston pistol was made around 1830. The "hammer" forces the piston forward and this compresses the air for firing.
The 1st Beeman P1 is no P1: a Plaster-of-Paris sample made by Beemans as a pattern for the gun which later became the Beeman P1 and then the Weihrauch HW 45.
Pistols with an air reservoir in the grip were not unusual, but this ancient air pistol by Bouillet/Paris with a tube magazine is very rare.
A Japanese Howa bolt-action CO2 rifle.
The MRR has interchangeable barrels from .177” to .50” caliber. The spinning reel is for retrieving harpoons and arrows! The tips of the brass “torpedoes” were often filled with TNT. Dart-syringes (not-shown) could be filled with medicine or anesthetics for domestic or wild animals.
A very rare
Girandoni air pistol, even signed: a transverse breech block allowed rapid
reloading of lead balls from the magazine tube on the side. In spite of the
small grip reservoir, there was enough air for several shots from this 9 mm
A double barrel rifle from Austria, around 1850: the left barrel is a muzzle-loading, black-powder firearm, the right barrel is an adjustable-power, breech-loading airgun for .40” caliber projectiles. (Note the breech loading block raised for loading).
Master gunsmith Wenzel made this pneumatic air rifle around 1740 at the Ehrenbreitstein castle near Koblenz, Germany - some details of which were discovered during the VISIER visit.
Club members used this very rare Radcliffe air rifle for initiation jokes: when the trigger is pulled, water is sprayed at the face of the shooter!
Three very seldom seen rifles: The first model 1923 Crosman, a St. Louis air rifle (extremely well made - one of only three masterful replicas of early Benjamin airgun designs), and the all-metal, completely plated Cycloid BB rifle, which was made only from 1899 until 1901.
An elegant cased Mortimer air rifle - the buttstock air reservoir is covered with calf-leather. Loading tools and the handpump are included. The barrels (.40” rifle/36 gauge shotgun) were suitable for shooting birds or large game.
Nearly 200 years intervened between these two pre-charged pneumatics: a ball reservoir air rifle, made by Thomas Bate of London around 1840, or earlier, and the flask reservoir, Beeman "Gamekeeper" which appeared in the last catalog produced by Robert Beeman, but which was never produced in quantity.
The box on page 95:
Beemans is not Beeman.
Since the sale of their company "Beeman Precision Arms" to S/R Industries in1993, Robert and Toshiko Beeman forwarded further inquiries to the new owners. Robert served as a consultant for the new company for five years and continued to operate, on a local basis only, in the Santa Rosa, California area as "Beeman Outdoor Sports" for one year after the sale. The local business was then sold to Laurie Brown, their former national sales manager, who operated that business across the street for awhile as “Air Guns International“.
In the past, one could only reach Beeman Precision Airguns of Australia at "http://www.beeman.com" . Now this "URL" (site-address) belongs to S/R Industries for "the official" Beeman Precision Airguns website. In addition to an online-catalog, you will find a good deal of information about the history of airguns, calibers and pellets, maintenance, and the differences between spring-piston, pre-charged and pump-pneumatic airguns. Most of these articles originally were written by Dr. Robert Beeman and published earlier in his catalogs. That these catalogs are themselves already collector's items (up to US$450), can be seen from the price lists on the private website (“Airgunology and the Scientist”) of Robert and Toshiko Beeman ("http://www.beemans.net"), which has been online for several months. There Dr. Robert Beeman, who is still working as an airgun author/editor, expert-witness and consultant, also illustrates some of his valuable specimens and gives a great deal of information about adult airguns and their market. Some items, esp. Beeman collectibles and literature, are offered for sale. And there are some requests - even Beeman doesn't have everything...
Translation and editing by Robert Beeman at the request and approval of Ulrich Eichstaedt, 3 January 2002
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