Robert Morgan looks at an airgun that broke the mould and is destined to become a collector's item
I’m going to talk about a modern gun the Whiscombe JW50 and one that is sure to be a collectable investment for the future. I would wager with anyone that this air rifle will only increase in value as the years go by.
The Whiscombe JW50
So what makes me so certain of the Whiscombe’s investment quality? First, the inventor, John Whiscombe, was nothing short of an engineering genius. The concept for this air rifle first appeared in the 1980s when John had the (some might say) crazy idea of taking two BSA Airsporter air rifles and joining them so that the internal spring-operated pistons fired towards each other. This meant that the subsequent compressed air was squeezed through a vertical transfer port into the barrel and expelled the pellet. Sounds easy on paper, but the real genius was the mechanism John invented to cock it. Initially, a single under-lever drew back both pistons linked via a cogged cam. This required considerable cocking effort and so was modified to draw back one piston at a time with each cock of the lever.
The twin-piston design also had a couple more beneficial effects. First, it made the rifle completely recoilless. Also, the rifle was extremely powerful, regularly exceeding double the UK legal limit. Further tinkering found that removing the wall between the two pistons increased efficiency tenfold (the split-second cushion of air created between the piston heads at firing preventing them smashing to pieces). And shortening the air-chambers, pistons and springs made the rifle come within UK power limits with easy cocking effort and tack-driving accuracy. When all these ideas were put into one rifle, the Whiscombe JW50 was born. Easily capable of 10m match groupings at 30m, it soon became the rifle everyone wanted.
The pre-charged revolution was still in its infancy, but even today a Whiscombe will easily hold its own against the best of them. (Read more on PCP air rifles here.) Later design changes introduced fixed-barrel versions and different piston strokes (the ‘50’ of JW50 refers to the piston stroke). Choices of stock style and left and right-hand versions were all added to the line-up. Were there drawbacks? The early models were weighty pieces and, even though the weight was reduced in later models, all versions required two cocks of the lever. And then there was the cost. John Whiscombe insisted on perfection and perfection does not come cheap. A JW50 cost £685 in 1995 when a Weihrauch HW80 could be had for less than £200. Production time was also lengthy, resulting in a long waiting list. At its height, production only reached about 10 units a month and often quite a few less.
Sadly, John Whiscombe died at the end of 2019 and I believe there are no plans to continue production. All this adds up to an investment collector’s dream in that fewer than 450 rifles were produced in John’s lifetime, a figure that falls short of potential demand. Way more people had heard of the Whiscombe than had ever owned one.
Its build quality was superb and its design unique. It is these sort of factors that make an item collectable. In the auction room, we are already seeing this, with Whiscombes of all types regularly achieving tidy four-figure sums. If you are ever given the chance to buy one, smash the piggy bank, max out the credit card and buy it, as you will not regret it in the long-term.