The History of Diana and the “MGR” Air Pistol (c. 1892 – c. 1914)

In this article, through what many would consider an insignificant air pistol, we discover the origins of the world-renowned airgun company Diana. We will learn about Diana’s rise and fall and then its rebirth from the ashes of World War II. How it was, and still is, a world leader of airgun innovation which has shaped the evolution of spring airguns that we use today.

Mayer and Grammelspacher was a company formed in Rastatt, Germany by Jakob Mayer and Josef Grammelspacher in 1890. Both Mayer, 1860-1933, and Grammelspacher, 1855-1897, previously worked at Eisenwerke Gaggenau which as we learnt in a previous article was also a leading German airgun manufacturer. According to the company archives of Dianawerke, there was a general anxiety and dissatisfaction felt by Mayer when Eisenwerke Gaggenau was converted to a public limited company in 1888. This dissatisfaction led to Mayer and Grammelspacher forming their own business. Incidentally, Rastatt is only 8 ½ miles or 14 km from Gaggenau. [1][2][3]

Josef Grammelspacher (1855-1897) and Jakob Mayer (1860-1933) [1]

It is known that by 1893, Eisenwerke Gaggenau may not have been as prosperous as it once was and that in 1893, the director Theodor Bergmann was probably forced to leave the business due to its poor performance. Whether Mayer was a significant factor in the development of airguns at Eisenwerke Gaggenau and whether his departure contributed to the poor performance of the business is not known. However, as we will discover, Mayer certainly had a flair for airgun design. [2]

Initially, Mayer and Grammelspacher set up business in a small workshop and was created to manufacture metalware products such as automatic vending machines, domestic and kitchen items and appliances, as well as airguns and airgun targets. [3]

Mayer and Grammelspacher factory – 1891 [1]

According to an article published for the 120th anniversary of the founding of Dianawerke, Mayer and Grammelspacher’s first air pistol was patented and produced in 1892. This pistol was called the “MGR” after Mayer, Grammelspacher and Rastatt. However, I am unable to find any patents relating to airguns by Mayer and Grammelspacher in Germany for that year. A search of the German patent register does show one patent that was filed on April 9th 1892 which would appear to be a mechanical vegetable peeler. [3][4]

The Eisenwerke Gaggenau patent had four claims. Three of which were relevant to the MF pistol. The first of these three mentioned a groove around the periphery of the piston for the sear to lock into. The second was for the separate cocking tool that could be fixed to a table or wall. The last relevant claim discussed breech bolt. None of these patented claims are present in the MGR. Thus it is possible that Mayer and Grammelspacher could have manufactured the MGR without infringing on Eisenwerke Gaggenau’s patent. [5]

Haviland and Gunn design

The nearest pistol in design to the MGR is the Haviland and Gunn. The design is so similar that it also includes the breech sealing pin instead of Eisenwerke Gaggenau’s breech bolt. The Haviland and Gun patent was filed in the U.S. and not in Germany. This gave Mayer and Grammelspacher the ability to manufacture and sell the pistol without restriction in Germany. But it did limit other countries in which they could sell the MGR. [6]

In 1893, Mayer and Grammelspacher were granted three patents. The first was for a walking stick syphon that may have been used to syphon alcoholic beverages from casks. The second appears to be for a salt table tray but with a mechanically operated lid. The third patent was for a self-loading airgun magazine capable of loading 100 shots. Clearly Mayer and Grammelspacher were developing diverse ideas and products but were also engaged in the development of airguns during the early years of their new business. Therefore, it is possible that they could have been making the MGR at that time. [7][8][9][10]

new purpose built factory

New factory constructed in 1900 [1]

Sadly, Joseph Grammelspacher died on November 25th 1897 aged 42 after a serious illness. He would never see the success that his company would later become. However, Jakob Mayer became the sole owner of the business and ownership remained in the hands of the Mayer family until October 13th 2014 when it was wholly purchased by German Sports Guns GmbH. [3]

By 1900 the business had grown to the point where a new factory was built and is still in use by the company today albeit with additional buildings. [3]

Jakob Mayer’s patent illustrating the MGR pistol

In 1901, Mayer filed a patent in the U.K. titled “Improvements in Air-pistols”. This patent had an illustration of the MGR pistol but the patent described a manufacturing method rather than a pistol design. The method was to cast the pistol including the barrel tube and then inserting a liner to act as a barrel. The Eisenwerke Gaggenau process involved casting the pistol and then boring out the barrel. There was a risk that if air pockets formed in the casting, the barrel, when bored out, could become useless. Thus Mayer’s patent improved the manufacturing yield as any such air pockets would have no effect once the barrel tube was fitted. [11]

world leading designs

It is interesting that Mayer filed this patent in Great Britain and not in Germany. Perhaps this method of manufacture was already known in Germany and thus a German patent application would be futile. Or perhaps Mayer’s pistol with barrel and compression chamber lining was already available to purchase in Germany. This could have made any patent application void as the invention, even though the patent describes method, was already in the public domain.

Jakob Mayer’s first break-barrel lock with automatic safety

Mayer had filed a second patent in the UK on the same day as the one for his improved manufacturing process. This patent was called “Improvements in or relating to Air Guns”. It described a break barrel design with a barrel latch which is released by lowering a lever from underneath the rifle. The barrel would then be used as a lever to cock the rifle. The patent also described an automatic safety mechanism whereby the trigger would be made safe through the action of cocking the rifle. The safety could only be released when the barrel was returned to its firing position. The intention was to prevent premature firing of the airgun whilst the barrel was in the lowered position. An event which is not only damaging to the airgun but also a hazard to the person holding the rifle. This rifle was produced and is known as the MGR First Model. There were two variants. The first was smoothbore and was manufactured from 1901 to 1904 or 1905. The second had a rifled barrel and was manufactured from 1904 to 1905. Edwin Anson, the famous British airgun designer and manufacturer, imported and rebranded them as his own Ansonia air rifle. Anson even went as far as to stamp them “Made in Great Britain”! [12][13]

Diana, the goddess of the hunt

Dianawerke Trademark

Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, became the company’s trademark in 1904. According to the German trademark register, the company produced airguns, airgun spares, targets, toys, machines and apparatus for the manufacture of cartridges, ready-made cartridges, darts and arrows tipped with rubber suction cups. The children’s guns that fired corks and rubber suction cupped arrows had been marketed under a brand called Eureka as early as 1901. [14] [15]

There is one more patent that was filed a few years later that I think is worth mentioning. This patent, German Patent 163094, “ Selbsttätiger Verschluß für Luftgewehre mit Kipplauf “ or “Self-actuated closure for airguns with tipping action”, August 4th 1904 or British Patent No. 7218, “Improvements in Air-guns and the like”, April 5th 1905, described a break barrel airgun which used a spring-loaded wedge-shaped locking mechanism. It was shaped in a particular way such that it required more force to open the barrel than to close it. This, I’m sure you are all acutely aware of, has been used in millions of airguns and is still in use in many break barrel air rifles and pistols today. [16][17]

Jakob Mayer’s break-barrel spring-loaded wedge lock

two world wars

World War I had little effect on the production of airguns by Diana. They had almost as many airgun models available at the end of the war as they did when it started. That is except for air pistols. During World War I, production of Diana’s only air pistol of the time, the No. 8, was stopped and Diana focussed on just air rifles which were probably in popular demand as military trainers. However, Diana’s other products such as kitchen appliances were halted in favour of military needs. [18]

In the 1920’s, airgun shooting had become a popular family sport and Diana was well positioned to capitalise on this. Military trainers gave way to family friendly recreational airguns. Children’s rifles continued to be sold under the Eureka brand. In 1924, air pistol production was restarted with the Diana No. 1 which was also a design with the compression chamber built into the grip. It was also during the 1920’s that Jakob Mayor retired and handed over the reins of his successful Diana business to his two sons Edwin and Rudolf.

Diana No. 5 target pistol patent illustration

By the start of World War II, Dianawerke had raised five new German airgun related patents and two non-airgun related patents. Dianawerke also filed two patents in Great Britain that were duplicates of two raised in Germany. One of the British patents, Patent 416,560, “Improvements in Air Pistols”, December 12th 1932 was not granted. This patent, a break barrel cocking pistol design, was intended to be an improvement over existing air pistol cocking methods of the period. Such existing designs as the Tell II and the Haenel 26 and 28, used the grip as the cocking lever. Other than being smaller, it offered nothing of novelty over existing break barrel air rifle designs. So it isn’t a surprise that the patent was not granted. This did not deter Dianawerke from making the pistol though as they had already filed this patent in Germany in 1931. It was granted a couple of years later in 1933. This pistol became the first variant Diana No. 5 Target pistol and was available from 1931 to 1940. [19][20][21]

The Nazi swastika removed from patent documents

It’s interesting browsing through the patents of the Nazi period as the swastika of the patent office stamp has been redacted indicating the post-war censorship of the German Nazi party. I also noticed that another Mayer, Ludwig, appears on patent applications from 1937 to 1951, whereas Edwin and Rudolf no longer appear on patent applications. With historical records from this period being very scarce, I can only suggest that Edwin and Rudolf were no longer running Dianawerke and that perhaps a son to one of them, Ludwig, was now in control of the business.

Certainly no further patents were raised in Great Britain following the rise of the Nazi party in the lead up to World War II. Also, exportation of products, of which Dianawerke had been exporting half of their production line abroad, was by now significantly restricted. During World War II, all airgun production was halted and instead, Dianawerke was forcibly converted to produce military parts for the war effort. [3][18]

the spoils of war

As with much of Germany’s manufacturing towns and cities, Rastatt was also a victim of the Allied aerial bombing operations. At the end of World War II, the Rastatt region, and thus what was left of Dianawerke, fell under French administration. In 1945 a team was sent to assess what remained of the Dianawerke factory and its assets. On that team was Colonel Millard, a family member of the Millard brothers who owned the Milbro company in the UK. Milbro were large importers of Diana airguns before the war. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that following the assessment, Milbro acquired the airgun manufacturing machinery, components, design drawings and the Diana trademark at a considerably low price from the French administration. [3][21]

Forbidden to manufacture weapons, Diana began producing high quality furniture

Despite the ravages of war, this was not to be the end of Dianawerke. The Mayer family still owned what was left and began to rebuild the business. German businesses were forbidden to manufacture weapons and that included airguns following the war. Instead, according to a former employee of Dianawerke, the company manufactured a variety of domestic items such as letter and pencil cases, metal sole protectors for shoes, horseshoe nails and a rudimentary potato holder. They also produced high quality specialist furniture for typesetters called a “setzregale”. Clearly the Mayer’s were doing all they could to rebuild the business within the restrictions laid out by the allied occupation of Germany. [22]

rebirth

In 1951 the restrictions on airgun production was lifted. Free of its shackles, Dianawerke was quick to restart their line of airguns and filed a patent on November 30th 1951 with Ludwig Mayer named as the inventor. Dianawerke immediately restarted manufacture of the LG15 air rifle but also developed a new model, the Diana Model 50. Air pistols did not return to production until 1955 when the pop-out Diana No. 2 with wood grips was reintroduced. Dianawerke were as inventive as they were prior to the war if not more so. They were producing new patents on an almost yearly basis throughout the 50’s and 60’s with Kurt Giss as the named inventor. In fact, in 1969 he was responsible for nine patents in all. One particular invention of note from Giss was the world’s first fully bounce-free and rebound-free spring powered air pistol which incorporated a double-piston. This design was first seen in the LP Model 6 air pistol in 1960 and later, in air rifle form, as the model 60 in 1963. [3][23]

The Giss double-piston bounce and recoil free design

Dianawerke had by now almost fully re-established itself in the airgun industry. By the 1970’s the company had 500 employees and production of recreational and precision target airguns was operating at full steam. However, the introduction of the Weapons Act of 1972 impacted sales as it regulated the sale and purchase of airguns. Also, Dianawerke was still not allowed to trade in British territories using the Diana name. Instead their products were either sold under other established brands such as Hy-Score or, where they were sold in British territories, using the brand name “Original”. However, in 1982, Milbro ceased trading and in 1984, Dianawerke reacquired the rights to the Diana trademark. The company was whole once again and continues to produce high quality airguns today. [3][21]

Mayer and Grammelspacher’s MGR

The MGR is very similar to the Eisenwerke Gaggenau MF. This isn’t surprising as we know that Jakob Mayer and Josef Grammelspacher were former employees at Eisenwerke Gaggenau where they may well have been involved with the manufacture of the MF. A cursory inspection shows that both pistols are a single iron casting. Both contain the compression chamber, piston and spring in the grip. Both have an adjustable trigger and a spring to remove any free movement. Both have an ornate floral decoration around the trigger and chequered grip albeit a cobble style chequering on the MGR. Both have fixed sights. Of course, the most significant difference is that the MF has that innovative combined transfer port and bolt breech seal. Whereas the MGR uses a simple pin seal as used in the original Haviland and Gunn design. However, apart from the breech sealing method, the important differences are within the MGR’s construction.

Eisenwerke Gaggenau’s MF

a design for success

Brass compression chamber lining

True to Mayer and Grammelspacher’s patent, the MGR has both a barrel and compression chamber brass lining that was inserted after casting of the pistol. The compression chamber and the barrel are both formed as part of the casting process rather than machined out afterwards. This would have significantly reduced the time to manufacture each pistol. Not only was production time improved, but yield also improved as imperfections in the casting process would have no effect once the liners were fitted.

Just visible, the barrel lining

Mayer and Grammelspacher made other simplifications too. The base of the compression chamber was flat rather than curved on the MGR. This meant they could mass produce the end caps without the need to hand finish each to make them fit specific pistols as was the case with the MGR. They also refrained from adding a trigger guard.

The MGR might appear to be simplistic in function, but by minimising the amount of machining required and standardising parts, Mayer and Grammelspacher could produce pistols quicker, more reliably and at less cost than Eisenwerke Gaggenau. This meant they could compete and flourish. There is no doubt that the MGR is a much nicer pistol with its curved features and functional breech bolt. But the MF was purposely designed for mass and economic production. If I have one criticism of the MF, it would be that it needs a trigger guard. It is far too easy to depress the trigger whilst cocking the pistol.

The letters “MGR” embossed above the trigger

There are a number of known variants of the MGR which are mostly related to the finish and the cocking mechanism. According to the patent drawing, the MGR was designed to be used with a separate cocking handle and there are known examples that have been manufactured to this specification. The example in Jimmie Dee’s collection has a screw in T-shaped cocking handle. Other known examples have either a pull ring screwed onto the cocking rod or the cocking rod itself is extended and a ring formed out of the extra length. Whether these are all original features or are various repairs it is not known. However, just as with the MF, I expect that the separate cocking handle and T-shaped screw on handle are original. [21]

The finish was traditional black lacquer or nickel plate and the letters MGR were placed as part of the casting above the trigger. One example has been seen with a curved trigger whereas all others appear to have a straight trigger. It is possible that the curved trigger may be a customised part or perhaps a replacement for one that has been lost or broken. [21]

In Great Britain, the MGR with the separate cocking handle was imported and sold by Gamages as the “Tahiti”. [21]

date of manufacture

We know from official company records that the MGR was first manufactured in 1892. However, the patent was filed in 1901 and granted in 1902. Although there are no known variants without the barrel and compression chamber linings, it is possible such pistols were made and are yet to be discovered. Thus, as John Griffiths surmises in his excellent encyclopedia, it may be prudent to consider that any such examples without a lining date from 1892 and those with a lining perhaps date from 1901. John also notes that a German catalogue dated circa 1905 introduces the pistol as “new”. I tend to agree with John that this date would appear to be too many years after the grant date of the patent to be considered the actual date of manufacture or first availability. Dating the end of manufacture or availability is perhaps harder. The encyclopedia suggests this date to be 1914, the start of World War I and is probably based on listings in the Albrecht Kind 1913-1914 catalogue. [21]

There is an almost identical and very rare pistol which was made by Friedrich Langenhan of Zella-Mehlis, Germany. It differs from the MGR in at least two ways. Firstly, it does not have the MGR inscription within the floral decoration and secondly, the grip is a fish scale pattern rather than a cobblestone style. The shape of the seal pin may also differ. It is known that the Langenhan copy was available in 1911 according to one catalogue. However, the precise manufacturing and availability period is not known due to the lack of available catalogues and records of that period in history. These are known as the Langenhan 6 and 7 in black lacquer and nickel plating respectively. It is possible that Langenhan may have produced the MGR copy under license from Mayer and Grammelspacher. [21]

poor performance

I have to admit to using this pistol with some trepidation. I find the lack of trigger guard somewhat unnerving. I’m not really sure that there is a safe way to use it other than to always point it away at somewhere safe as you should do with any gun. You could load the pistol and then cock it. Or cock it, then load it. Either way, without the trigger guard there is always a risk of accidentally firing it. Then there is the thought of that handle snapping at the bottom of your hand and the spring forces it up along with the piston to eject the dart out of the barrel. What a lovely thought. This worry would appear to be unfounded though as not once did the handle make contact with my hand.

The trigger is very smooth. But, as you would expect with a single stage design, there is no warning of when it will release the piston unless you adjust it for a hair-trigger release. Something I don’t advise given the lack of trigger guard.

The power of this pistol was very poor. Worse than the Eisenwerke Gaggenau MF. But let’s be realistic, it could be 124 years old! The fact that it works at all is amazing and it is possible the spring has lost some of its tension. It did shoot darts, but it would only just penetrate a cardboard box at a distance of about a yard. Even then it was shooting low by a good foot! Maybe the piston to cylinder face has seen better days.

The MGR stripped bare

I wonder what this pistol was like to use when it was new. I hope it was reasonable considering all the thought that had gone into improving the manufacturing process. Judging by the success of Diana, I’d like to think it wasn’t so bad. Either way, I’ve learnt a lot about Diana from this lowly pistol. Many airgun enthusiasts probably wouldn’t give it a second thought if they were to see one at a collector’s fayre or auction. If it wasn’t for this pistol, I probably would not have learnt about Diana as until now, I had never considered Diana to be an important player in airguns. It just goes to show how our misconceptions can cloud our opinions.

Perhaps there will be room in the collection for some more Diana’s after all….

 

Until next time, happy shooting!

Jimmie Dee

 

References:

  1. Photographs courtesy The Vintage Airguns Gallery
  2. The Eisenwerke Gaggenau MF, Jimmie Dee’s Airguns
  3. Die Göttin aus Rastatt by Daniel Guthannß M.A., Dianawerk 120 Jahre Mayer & Grammelspacher
  4. German Patent 5049, “Reibapparat für Kiichenzwecke”, April 9th 1892, Mayer and Grammelspacher, German Patent and Trademark Office
  5. German Patent DE3960, “Neuerungen und Luftpistolen”, July 3rd 1878, Michael Flürscheim, German Patent and Trademark Office
  6. U.S. Patent 126,954, “Improvement in Toy-Pistols”, Benjamin Haviland and George P. Gunn, May 21st 1872, United States Patent And Trademark Office
  7. German Patent 72531, “Spazierstock mit Hebereinrichtung”, February 4th 1893, Mayer and Grammelspacher, German Patent and Trademark Office
  8. German Patent 76514, “Salzfafs mit mechanisch bewegbaren Deckeln”, August 18th 1893, Mayer and Grammelspacher, German Patent and Trademark Office
  9. German Patent 73775, “Lademagazin für Luftgewehre”, May 13th 1893, Mayer and Grammelspacher, German Patent and Trademark Office
  10. Diana (Dianawerk) Mayer & Grammelspacher GmbH & Co. KG Dianawerk 1892-1932: Birth of the Trademark, Blue Book of Air Guns
  11. British Patent 20,560, “Improvements in Air-pistols”, October 14th 1901, Jacob Mayer, European Patent Office
  12. British Patent, 20,559, “Improvements in or relating to Air Guns”, October 14th 1901, Jacob Mayer, European Patent Office
  13. Ansonia rifle, The Vintage Airguns Gallery
  14. Diana trademark, Register number: 69840, German Patent and Trademark Register
  15. Eureka advert dated 1901, The Vintage Airguns Gallery
  16. German Patent 163094, “Selbsttätiger Verschluß für Luftgewehre mit Kipplauf”, August 4th 1904, Mayer and Grammelspacher, German Patent and Trademark Office
  17. British Patent 7218, “Improvements in Air-guns and the like”, April 5th 1905, Jacob Mayer, European Patent Office
  18. Dianas 1892 to present, The Vintage Airguns Gallery
  19. British Patent 416,560, “Improvements in Air Pistols”, December 12th 1932, Edwin Maye and Rudolf Mayer, German Patent and Trademark Office
  20. German Patent DE574,329, “Luftpistole mit Kipplauf”, December 13th 1931, Dianawerk Mayer and Grammelspacher in Rastatt, Baden, German Patent and Trademark Office
  21. The Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols, John Griffiths, ISBN 978-0-95595-160-2
  22. M&G’s post-War non-airgun products, The Vintage Airguns Gallery
  23. British Patent 803,028, “Improvements in or relating to air-guns”, March 20th 1956, Kurt Giss, MAYER GRAMMELSPACH DIANAWERK, European Patent Office
  24. MGR Tahiti (Gamages), The Vintage Airguns Gallery

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