Late 16th Century Crank Air Rifle

This beautiful rifle is being auctioned off by RIA

The analysis of this unique wheelock style air gun can be best described in the book “Smith’s Standard Encyclopedia of Gas, Air and Spring Guns of the World” by W.H.B. Smith. On top of page 17, there is a very similar example photographed with the caption “one of the earliest known authenticated air guns. German crank gun about 1560 A.D.”. Blade front and adjustable notch rear sights, with an indistinct proof on the left side of the barrel near the breech and a metal retainer arm secured to the underside, extending through the bottom of the stock, and held by a swiveling latch, disengaging the latch allows the barrel to slide forward and then tip up, exposing the breech. Action is fitted with double set triggers and a wheelock style crank on the right rear side of the buttstock, which conceals an air tang. Checkered full length stock, with brass tip, ebony tipped ramrod with lion head pipes, silver wire inlay, brass combination handiest and trigger guard, raised carved floral and fruit designs on the front of the raised curved cheekpiece and a brass buttplate with aforementioned action hardware.

[ Many thanks to Todd for emailing me the link. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • I got very interested in airguns a while back. They are amazingly sophisticated and capable, and early snips enjoyed great success with them. The modern air rifles have benefited from strong restrictions in many European countries on firearms: much inventive ingenuity has gone into research and innovation among airguns.

    One thing that surprised me is how the recoil of many airguns is so much more harder on optics than the recoil of firearms. With air rifles, the recoil pattern gives the scope a hard, quick shake, which can muck things up unless the rifle carries a scope specifically designed for air rifles.

    Airguns probably won’t appear frequently in a blog about firearms, but they are very cool.

  • Oops: “snips” should be “snipers”. Can you please correct? Thanks.

  • Bryan S

    Leisureguy – Thats because spring piston airguns have motion (recoil almost) going forward, where most rifles have the force going backward towards the shooter. Its tough when the scope is not designed for forces in that direction.

    You should see some of the big bore airguns, they pack a punch! And those HPA charged ones? 3000psi is nothing to shake a stick at, you are talking forces equal to the pressures seen in most firearms. very cool stuff, and very cool to see they were around back in the 16th century.

  • NeonCat

    About or week ago or so I was watching an old Sherlock Holmes on Mystery! on PBS – The Empty House. The assassin had an air rifle which used a cranking system to pressurize the tank. It was supposed to have been built by a blind German gunsmith. It was a beautiful weapon, great stock, lots of brass, etc. Wish I could find a picture of it.

  • dt

    That’s one beautiful piece of work. No CNC machines or CAD programs, just pure skill and love of labor. Reminds me of a scutzen rifle. Lewis and Clark had an air rifle with them when they explored the American west. It was a repeater that could reportedly shoot 22, .463 caliber musketballs on a full air charge.

  • Not that it will matter for much longer, but because of NJ’s firearms laws having a clause that exempts airguns with a projectile larger than 3/8″ from the definition of “firearm” (otherwise airguns *are* firearms in NJ), I’ve wondered if a useful, reliable, and safe repeating handgun powered by air could be manufactured cheaply.