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Bang, Bang, Bang!
by Jim Romeo


An Inveterate Collector Speaks About A Category Of Collecting From The Baby Boom Generation - Cap Guns

Not all gun shows pose a threat to society. Rudy D'Angelo knows that all too well. He's an inveterate collector of cap guns and the author of the recent Television's Cowboys, Gunfighters And Cap Pistols , published by Antique Trader Books. We spoke to Rudy to learn the inside track that only a savvy collector can give. Here's what we found:

How did you ever get into collecting cap guns and related memorabilia?

I have always collected military antiques (swords, headgear, medals, etc.) and
always attended military shows, gun shows and antique shows all over the New England area as well as New York, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Kentucky, etc. About 15-18 years ago, I was walking down the proverbial aisle of a big show called "The Big E Antique-A-Rama" held in West Springfield, Mass. when I spotted a Hopalong Cassidy cap gun which was identical to what I had as a youngster shortly after I came to America. I was born in Italy in 1944 and came to the USA in 1952. Hoppy was one of the most famous cowboys of both the big screen and new to television at the time and my parents bought me a Hopalong Cassidy capgun and holster set for Christmas. I believe my younger brother got a Gene Autry set that same year.

Seeing the Hoppy, I stopped dead in my tracks and picked it up, looking it over, marveling - as an adult - over the quality workmanship ("Made in USA" !!!! NOT Hong
Kong, Taiwan, Japan or Thailand) of the cap gun. As I closed my fist around the grip, I swear I felt like I was a kid again. I began to twirl it around and cocking back the hammer, and the seller suddenly cries out "Hey, "sonny" (kiddingly) that bring back some memories, does it ?" and that was exactly what it did. I bought it. I had to have it. I believe I paid something like $25 for it. I thought I was the big kid on my block in Hartford, Connecticut all over again. Getting back home later that day, I recall I carefully cleaned it with a special German metal cleaner, I oiled it, just like the old days and laid it on my dresser. That's how I started the interest again!

As I continued to attend shows, I began to search for all the guns that I had as a kid, all along the years, from 1952 to say 1960. Over the last 15 years, I managed to find them all. However, $25 guns of the type I had are no longer to be found !! Today they are as much as 10 times that !!!

As for the comic books you see in my book, for some reason, those comics and all the photos of the western stars autographed and those autographed personally to me I've had SINCE the late 1950's and early 1960's when I wrote to those stars, asking for their photos. Painstakingly, I carefully labeled, mounted and kept them for the past 40 years until one day I decided they should go into the book.

As I continued to find the guns, rifles and holsters I had, I also became attracted to other guns that I didn't have but those that immediately brought to memory the names of the various TV westerns that were so popular in the 1950's and early 1960's. What started with that one "Hoppy" back in 1982 or 1983, has grown to what you see in the book, now about 500 guns, holster sets, rifles, related western memorabilia but limited to those "character" cap guns for the TV westerns that are the focus of my book.

Can you tell us something about the people who collect cap guns? Are there many collecting clubs and organizations? How do most people get into it?

Most of the cap gun collectors that I know, have met, corresponded with, and have gotten to know since my book, are pretty much between the ages of say, 40 to 60 years old as they pertain to the TV western cap guns and holster sets as you see in my book. There are older cap gun collectors that collect the cast iron models of the 1930's and 1940's. The guns the baby boomers collect are the die cast metal ones that you see in the book. These collectors grew up in the 1950's, early 1960's and a few in the late 60's. By the mid-60's the handwriting was on the wall for westerns as the country moved to the outer space "frontier", social climate oriented TV shows, stupid and mindless comedies, one-parent situations and so on, like what you have on the boob tube today. Probably the last of the western cap gun collectors would be those few that recall Gunsmoke - the longest running TV western at 20 years, and some of the late comer TV westerns that lasted a very long time such as Bonanza, Wagon Train, Death Valley Days, and High Chaparral.

There are also young toy gun dealers that dont recall the westerns but now want the guns for investment purposes, re-sale, and trades. There are also those that want them as gifts to parents and relatives that DID grow up in the 50's and 60's that recall fondly the greatest toys they owned as youngsters.

There are several western cap gun clubs and organizations. Some cater to certain gun types, such as Daisy rifles, Air rifles, cast iron guns, die cast guns, etc. Then there are collectors with specific categories such as Roy Rogers collectors, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger which are known as the "top 4".

These clubs and collectors are followed by other important western characters such as Red Ryder, Wyatt Earp, Have Gun, Will Travel, The Rebel, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Zorro, etc. There are also the phenomenon of the mid-50's such as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. These were real people of course, that these shows were based on. There are also Dale Evans (Roy's wife) and Annie Oakley for female "cowgirl" collectors - both have a strong following. There is the Cowboy Collector Network which specializes in Hopalong Cassidy guns and collectibles; The Toy Gun Collectors Association which takes in all toy gun, cap gun, cap and BB rifles' there is the Silver Bullet, for Lone Ranger collectors, Have-Gun Will Travel-Paladin club, and the above mentioned Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, etc.

Can you tell us about your collection? What are some of the most unusal and rarest items you have? How about the most valuable? Where did you find them?

My collection consists of cap guns, cap rifles, and related holsters and boxed holster sets with and without guns as well. I have a collection of about 500 or so. Some of the more unusual are the "Shotgun Slade", the "Gray Ghost", all the Have Gun-Will Travel cap gun models; The Rebel series of guns; several of the Davy Crockett models, The Colt .45 (about as real as you can get for a kid to play with -it comes apart and load and weighs, looks and feels just like a real one). These are all in my book in the respective chapters.

The most valuable guns - presently - are Annie Oakley guns and holsters, as well as Hopalong Cassidy, Roy, Gene and The Lone Ranger. These are followed by the other characters noted above.

I have found my guns at: gun shows, military shows, antique shows, auctions, flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and from other collectors and toy gun dealers.

My collection consists of cap guns, cap rifles, and related holsters and boxed holster sets with and without guns as well. I have a collection of about 500 or so. Some of the more unusual are the "Shotgun Slade", the "Gray Ghost", all the Have Gun-Will Travel cap gun models; The Rebel series of guns; several of the Davy Crockett models, The Colt .45 (about as real as you can get for a kid to play with -it comes apart and load and weighs, looks and feels just like a real one). These are all in my book in the respective chapters.

The most valuable guns - presently - are Annie Oakley guns and holsters, as well as Hopalong Cassidy, Roy, Gene and The Lone Ranger. These are followed by the other characters noted above.

I have found my guns at: gun shows, military shows, antique shows, auctions, flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and from other collectors and toy gun dealers.

When it comes to value in the world of cap guns, what determines value?

Values of cap guns depend on the following: (a) Desirability of the character
(b) rarity of that character in what was produced, what survived, etc, and (c) condition
of the collectibles.

What is the price range for cap guns? Can a collector get started for under $50? What has been the trend in prices?

Cap guns run anywhere from $20 up to $3000. This is a wide range. There are "western character" named guns (as in my book) and there are the "generic" cap guns which have names like Cowboy, Cowhand, Sheriff, Marshal, Rustler, Outlaw, Rancher, Mustang, Chief, Brave, Pinto, and so on. While the many generic guns are well made and most attractive, its the western character named guns that are the most sought after.

There are generic cap guns you cant give away for $10 and there are western named character guns that collectors will pay just about anything for to get.

What should a collector look for in building a collection of cap guns?

A good, informed, serious collector should first look for condition, no matter what he is starting with. He should then either go after western character named guns based on real people (Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickock, Bat Masterson, etc etc) and/or those based on the popular TV westerns of the 50's and 60's - those mentioned above that were fictional. A collector can also collect by variation of the same character; the cap gun companies; variations, and models with special features such as long barrels, colorful grips, special loading features, and so on. My book covers the 77 western characters that I have been able to identify and document in my research. If there are others (as noted in the last chapter titled "The Missing Cap Guns") they have yet to surface, though a couple have surfaced and I am awaiting documentation. One can build up a sizeable collection of just, say Roy Rogers cap gun, rifles and holsters. The same with Wyatt Earp, Davy Crockett, etc.

Are there deriviative collectibles from cap guns that are worth collecting, ( ie. Holsters, caps, badges, and related memorabilia)?

By derivative, most (but not all) cap gun collectors like to add "go-withs" to highlight an already impressive collection of cap guns. These include holsters, cap rifles, western badges, spurs, rubber knives, hats, gloves, lariats, and so on. Most also have at least a photo or a comic book of their favorite character(s).

Are there sub-categories of cap guns- space guns, western guns, gangster and cop guns, etc?

There are several kinds of cap gun categories: (1) western, which are the most sought after (2) space guns (3) police, detective, private eye - i.e. "cops & robbers" cap guns, and (4) cast iron, pressed steel, tin, and plastic "clicker" guns. By this term, these guns make a clicking noise when you pull the trigger and do not fire caps, BB's, disc caps, rubber bullets or darts. They just make the noises. Western guns by far, lead the pack in interest and desirability.

Can you tell us about the history of cap guns and how they came to be part of American life?

Cap guns go back to even before the Civil War. Just like swords, daggers, bows and arrows, the kids of each century played with the toys, whether they were home made or mass produced, that the fathers used - whether it was for defense, offense, or hunting. The first toy guns were cast iron, real wooden stocks, real steel for bayonets and swords blades. It seems to me that it is most natural for a boy (and some girls) whether they are aborigines with blowguns, bows & arrows, or African warriors with spears and clubs, to cowboys, soldiers, police officers and the criminal element, to want to play and imitate and fantasize with a weapon, and as well it should be for good to always triumph over evil, whether it is Billy the Kid or Darth Vader. Just about every kid - boys and most girls - that grew up in the 50's played with cap guns, rifles, Bowie knives, tomahawks, bows & arrows, BB guns, and a variety of toys of this type. We never hurt anyone or engaged in the shameful and destructive acts of tragedy that happen today.

How do you feel about kids playing with guns? Is it really harmful?

10. I think all kids should be allowed to play with toy guns, but I don't think this remark applies to today's generation of kids. If you read my Preface and Introduction then you already know how I feel about kids of the 50's versus today's youngsters.

I dont think it is harmnful at all. Kids in the 50's had one big advantage over today's kids: we were part of family. We had respect for parents and authority; we were taught values, principles, ethics, morals, religion and patriotism. There are no recorded incidents of anything like what goes on today. No kid would ever dream of taking a harmless cap gun to school. There were no such things as "drive-by shootings" by kids barely out of middle
school. I taught my son gun safety, and he played with guns growing up - both toy guns and later, real guns for target shooting. He is now married, hard working, productive member of society who doesn't even care about owning a gun and doesn't. I have given both of my young nieces cap guns to play with and take care of, and they do and they love to play with them, clean them and keep them in their rooms. Well adjusted kids dont need to act out fantasies. We knew that Superman didn't really "fly". The same with guns. The good guy won over the bad guy. The sheriff took him in; the damsel in distress was saved. the rustlers and killers were tried and hung...the newspapers of Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok's day didn't scream "the State killed the prisoner today". No, they read "Justice was served today". It's a totally different mind set today and that's why we have the social chaos we see and read about every day, whether you live in Washington, DC or Colorado. We had good role models to look up to and emulate. Today we have no heroes and the powers that be, from the top to the bottom, are lacking in all the virtues I mentioned above. I see it every day in my work and you see it and read about it on TV and the papers. Our country is in a downward spiral, not unlike the old Roman Empire. Any connection between those two warped individuals in Colorado that lacked all of the above and the cap guns we played with in the 50's and 60's is nonexistent.

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer in Chesapeake, VA.
Rudy D'Angelo's Television's Cowboys, Gunfighters And Cap Pistols is published by Antique Trader

Other cap gun books:

Backyard Buckaroos by Jim Schleyer (KrausePublishers)
Cap Guns, by James Dundas (Schiffer Publishing)
Hopalong Cassidy Collectibles (Cowboy Collector Network Publishing, Joe Caro, Publisher)


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