Collectors Corner: Toy Cap Guns
By Michele Alice
Back in BC (Before Computers and video games), kids would rush home from school to spend hours running around in the fresh air and sunshine playing Cowboys and Indians, or Cops and Robbers.
All it took was a few rolls of caps from the Five-and-Dime, some chrome-plated toy guns, and a little imagination. There'd be a loud "Bang!" and a small puff of smoke and someone would suddenly collapse, theatrically clutching his chest. Or, if in a particularly strong thespian mood, he or she would stumble around in a prolonged death scene worthy of James Cagney.
Of course, children grow up, and the toys they'd played with were often given away or consigned to the landfill, but if you're among those who still possess your cap guns, you may be able to take advantage of the wave of nostalgia sweeping the Boomer generation.
Cap guns first appeared right after the Civil War (1861-1865) when arms manufacturers switched to producing cast-iron toy guns to supplement declining revenues. These cast-iron toy guns, produced up to World War II, used miniaturized versions of the percussion caps used in real firearms.
The end of WWII witnessed one of the great expansionary periods in consumer markets, and the growing influence of television helped fuel the production of toys based upon popular programming, particularly the Westerns that were so dominant until the mid-Sixties. Suddenly, almost every boy and girl wanted to be just like Roy Rogers or Annie Oakley, and that included owning a set of "six-shooters" with holsters.
Most cap guns manufactured during this "Golden Age" (1945-1965) were made of a zinc alloy. One of the earliest examples is the "Silver Pony" by Nichols Industries (Texas). This first effort by Nichols was cheaply made and originally cost just 69 cents! Today, mint and near-mint specimens (with box) can sell for several hundreds of dollars.
When Nichols introduced their "Stallion" brand of cap pistols in 1950, they became one of the leading producers of toy guns. The Stallion 45, fashioned after the famous Colt 45 Peacemaker, was the first toy gun to use a cap with a two-piece bullet system to produce realistic smoke through the barrel.
Mattel, Hubley, Kilgore, and Kenton are just a few of the other major companies of the period that were producing their own variations of toy guns from miniatures to full-scale versions, and from Derringers to revolvers to rifles.
Generally, cap guns can be grouped into three major categories according to the type of caps used: roll, disc, and individual. Roll caps were strips of paper with 50+ caps that were advanced by a mechanism that allowed the gun's hammer to strike each cap individually. Disc/ring caps were on a circular disc that rotated with the drum of the gun. And individual caps were used with the "bullets" in guns like the Stallion 45 and Mattel's "Shootin' Shells" brand.
Besides the guns themselves, there are a number of ancillary items that collectors are always seeking to acquire. These include original boxes, caps, holsters, and advertising. Most collectors concentrate on one manufacturer or time period or type of gun, while others specialize in a movie or television personality tie-in. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger/Tonto, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. are just a few collector favorites.
Most collectibles in the toy-cap-gun category currently sell online for from a few dollars to $400, but it's not surprising to see prices such as $998 for an early 1950s Daisy "Annie Oakley" rifle or $1424 for a pair of 1940s Roy Rogers guns by Kilgore, due to their rarity and condition. (You might want to rummage around your cellar or attic, just in case you have any examples stashed away, but note that federal regulations require that all cap guns, whether old or new, be sold with a "permanently affixed…blaze orange plug." You may also need to be aware of local, state, and international regulations.)
Interested in learning more about this fun collectible? Check out the resources listed below, and
Cap Guns, by James L. Dundas
Collecting Western Toy Guns, by Jim Schleyer
Cowboy Cap Guns and Guitars, by Jerrell Little
Television's Cowboys, Gunfighters and Their Cap Pistols, by Rudy D'Angelo
Toys That Shoot: And Other Neat Stuff, by James L. Dundas
Nichols Cap Guns - Expansive site (over 5000 pages) emphasizes Nichols toys, but includes info on items from dozens of other manufacturers.
Selling Toy Cap Guns - Discusses what is necessary to legally sell a toy gun. Includes copy of original law.
Vintage Cap Guns Buying Guide - Great little guide provides the necessary info to get started.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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