Before it was deemed dangerous or politically incorrect for young children to point pistols at each other and fire at will, cap guns were a staple of toy chests. The earliest ones were made of cast iron, later ones of plastic, but all used some form of mild explosive to create a popping sound and puff of smoke when the toy's trigger was pulled. Cap guns are named for this small cap, or capsule, of flammable material, which explodes upon contact with the trigger’s hammer mechanism.

The first cap guns date to the 1860s, immediately following the end of the American Civil War, when firearms companies experimented with toy guns in order to stay in business. These cast-iron weapons used paper strips enclosing sealed tablets of a gunpowder mixture, similar to tiny fireworks. Later toy-ammunition strips were designed to advance automatically, often including eight or 10 percussive caps in a single plastic round.

Many early cap guns were produced as novelty items with little resemblance to actual weaponry. These toys represented cartoon characters or animal figurines, like the “Sea Serpent” gun shaped like an underwater goblin, whose snapping jaws ignited the cap. The “Lightning Express” pistol was loaded by retracting a miniature steam engine; when released, the train careened down the weapon’s barrel to detonate its capsule with a satisfying pop. Other toys played on prevailing racial prejudices, like the “Chinese Must Go” gun which depicted an American immigration officer kicking a caricatured Chinese man, whose mouth would then fall closed on a gunpowder cap.

During the Great Depression, mobster shoot-outs by comic-strip icons like Dick Tracy made every elementary-school pipsqueak long for a gun of their own. Well-known cap gun manufacturers of the era included Nichols, Esquire, Daisy, Halco, and Stevens, as well as larger toy companies like Hubley and Marx. By 1935, concerned parents like Chicago’s Rose Simone were organizing toy-gun bonfires in an attempt to eradicate the violent toys.

However, the stories of American heroics during World War II, along with the popularity of Western films, served to glorify guns and their miniature toy replicas. Cap guns became associated with cowboy movie characters such as Roy Rogers, Buck Jones, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy. In the 1950s, an endless stream of merchandising for Western-themed television shows put miniature guns in the hands of millions. Young fans of "Johnny West," "The Lone Ranger," "Gunsmoke," "Bat Masterson," "The Rifleman," "Maverick," and "Bonanza" could own a pistol emblazoned with the name of their favorite show or character.

In 1955, Mattel launched its noisy, fully-automatic “Burp” gun, which it promoted through a year sponsorship of the Mickey Mouse Club television show. Ads featuring mini-machine-gun toting youngsters played during every episode. A few years later, in 1958, Mattel released its extremely successful "Fanner" cap gun line, which allowed kids to fire their guns in rapid succession by hitting the hammer directly, without actually having to pull the trigger. Though no real bullets shot from these guns, kids could load them with realistic-looking plastic cartridges.

Mattel also created a series of “Shootin’ Shell” guns and playsets, which fired plastic bullets that could be coupled with its “Greenie Stik-M-Caps” to create the desired popping sound. The cap gun craze finally slowed during the '60s and '70s, though, when images of bloodshed in Vietnam and increasing parent protest cast the toys in an unflattering light. Finally, in 1988, the U.S. Federal Toy Gun Law made it illegal to sell any "look-alike firearm," including toy cap guns, without a "permanently affixed," bright-orange plug in the end of its muzzle. In fact, even vintage cap guns are now required to be sold with this orange marker, as a casual glance of cap guns for sale on eBay reveals.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 1930s Hubley Atomic Disintegrator Space Toy Die Cast Cap GunUltra Rare 1961 Mattel Tommy Burst Detective Set Exib Cap Gun Snub .38 & RifleUltra Rare 1959 Mattel Buffalo Hunter Set Winchester Rifle & Fanner Cap Gun ExibStallion 45 W/box Six Shooter Mark Ii Nichols Ranch 2 Sets Grips Toy Cap Gun1965s Mattel Shootin Shell 45 Diecast Cap Gun Toy - More Listed - No ReserveVintage Hubley The Rifleman Flip Special Toy Cap Rifle , Never Fired.Mattel "buffalo Hunter Set" Fanner & Winchester Rifle, Holster-unused-boxed! Vintage Mattel Fanner Shootin' Shell Double Holster, Toy Cap Guns & BoxNichols Stallion 45 Mark Ii Cap Gun1950s Zorro Single Cap Gun Holster & Coyote Toy Cap Gun - No Reserve More ListedAntique Cap Gun Miniature With Silver Engraving Handles 12 Inch Gold Chain WowNichols Stallion 300 Saddle Cap Gun - RareGreat Old Original Cast Iron Volunteer Toy Cap Pistol By J. & E. Stevens C.1873Gene Autry Toy Cap Gun With Box1965s Schmidt Hopalong Cassidy Diecast Cap Gun & Holster Toy - More Listed - NrVintage Mattel Shootin Shell Cap Gun Toy BulletsWyandotte Hopalong Cassidy Toy Cap Gun Set Nickel Finish White Incised Grip RareItalian Made - Edison Giocattoli Kids Toy Cap Gun Double Barrel Shotgun Vintage Kenton Or Shimer Zip Cast Iron Toy Cap Gun , Very Clean. 1890's Cast Iron Figural"chinaman" Cap Bomb Toy / Cap GunVintage Stevens Victor Cast Iron Toy Cap Gun , ** StarVintage Rare Eagle Head Cap Cane , Cast Iron And Wood. Ltd Toy Stamp & Fanner Shootin Shell 9 Inch. Cap Gun With 8 ShellsVintage Toy Hubley Texan Cast Iron Cap Gun / Western Cowboy Capgun /black Grips Nichols Silver Mustang Mint In BoxMint 1960s Miniature Xythos Cap Gun Set X4u2mm Can Use As JewleryNichols .45 Stallion Toy Cap Pistol With 9 Toy Play Bullets . BeautifulVintage Miniature Cap Gun Pistol Watch Fob Marked Japan1939 Kenton Toys Gene Autry Cast Iron Cap Guns W Original Belt & Holster - Nr1950s Gun Smoke Matt Dillion Diecast 2 Cap Guns & Holster Toy - More ListedVintage Original 1960s Miniature Toy Cap RifleVintage Kenton American Bulldog Cast Iron Toy Cap Gun , Hammer Trigger VariantLatco Ruf Riders Cap Guns & Holster - Gold PlatedVintage Mattel Bullet Pak Safe 8 All Metal Play Bullets In Original Packaging.Rare Vintage Hubley Army 45 Shot Toy Cap Gun/pistolNice Old Original Cast Iron "lion" Toy Cap Pistol Gun By Hubley C.1920(2) Rare 1940s Hubley Army 45 Cast Iron Toy Cap GunNichols Stallion Pasadena (6) Aluminum 2pc 45 Bullets In Case & Box Round CapsLeslie Henry Marshall Wild Bill Hickok Cap GunHubley"cowboy"cap Gun-vintage Early 50's-pretty Nice Condition-see Photos #004Vintage Mattel Bullet Pak Safe 8 All Metal Play Bullets. Never OpenedDerringer Mattel Belt And Belt BuckleCoyote Metal Cowboy Cap Gun5-vintage Die Cast Toy Cap Gun/pistols-texan Jr-hubley-western-eagle-gabrielHubley Texan Jr Cap Guns &  keyston HolsterLtd Toy Stamp & Hubley Texan Jr 8 Inch. Cap Gun1940 C.i. Kilgore American Cap Gun Near Mint Greatest Cap GunOld 16" Rayline Mare's Laig Wanted Dead Or Alive Toy Gun / Swivel Holster 1950s6 Vtg Hubley Colt 45/44 Pistol/revolver Cap Gun Toy Metal Bullets Un-used+extrasMattel Shoot-in Shell Colt Six Shooter Rifle Toy Cap GunVintage Louis Marx Marx-man Ricochet Carbine Rifle New In Box 33" Long PlasticVintage Old 2mm Pinfire Miniature Toy Cap Gun Mattel Fanner 50 Cap Gun Bullets Mattel Bullets 19 Total 1950s Nichols Stallion 38 Die Cast Cap Gun Toy - Lots More Listed - No ReserveHubley Cowboy Cap GunAuthentic 1941 Working Gene Autry Cast Iron Cap Gun Vintage Rare Austrian Miniature Cap Gun Key Chain Octagon Barrel Nice SilverVintage National Cane25 Cap Cane, Cast Iron With Wood Rod. Vintage Mattel Fanner 50 Toy Cap Gun !!!!''space Gun''..vintage Tin Spark Toy..''shudo'' ..1960's Japan...great Graphics