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]

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Original 1959 Hubley 'the Rifleman' Winchester Flip Special Toy Rifle Cap GunVintage Western Play Hubley Texan Jr Toy Cap Pistols Overland Trail Holster~vgcLeslie-henry 44 Cal Wagon Train Cap Gun Antique Bronze Rare Ricochet Sound !!Mattel Fanner Shootin Shell Cap Gun With Pack Mattel Shootin ShellsVintage Nichols Model 61 Cap Gun(2) Vintage Diecast Cap Guns 1950's Nichols Gold Stallion 38 & Hubley Cowboy Rare Black Lone Ranger Cap Gun & Holster SetVtg. Hubley Colt 45 Toy Cap Gun W/gold Cylinder 6 Silver Bullets W/holster Rare!1950s Hopalong Cassidy Cap Gun & Holster Set With The Original BoxPair Of 50-60's Hubley Colt 45 13.5" Long Vintage Western Cap Gun Collector Vintage Miniature Austria Cap Gun Fob With Engraved HandleTwo Vintage Mattel Fanner 50 Toy Cap Pistols With Genuine Leather Double HolsterPirate Double Barrel Cap Gun Pistol Toy Diecast Old Vintage Cowboy Western KidsVintage 1936 Kilgore G-man Automatic Repeater Cast Iron Cap Gun Removable ClipVintage Fanner 50 By Mattel Toy Gun. Nice And WorkingVintage Daisy Child's Victory Wood Chattermatic Noise Maker Toy Rifle GunVintage Nichols Stallion 45 Mark Ii Cap GunMarx Historic Guns In MiniatureJohnny Eagle Red River Cap Gun 1960Johnny Eagle Lieutenant Pistol With Case, Clip, 6 Bullets And InstructionsVintage Rare Kilgore Long Tom Box Only. Original Nice.Vintage Fanner 50 Cap Guns With Gun Belt/ Mattel Toys / Works Fine /10 1/2"Vintage Nichols Stallion . 22 Toy Cap Gun Black Grips Excellent Condition WorksVintage 1-5/8" Austria Miniature Tiny Cap Gun Pistol ? Charm? Fob? Working PartsVintage Topper Toys Johnny Seven One Man Army Oma Missle Grenade Cap Pistol EtcVintage Cast Iron Cap GunHubley Colt 45 Cap GunWyatt Earp Vintage Leather Double Holster SetStallion 32 Six Shooter Nichols Cap PistolVintage Jaguarmatic Toy Cap Pistol Made In Italy By Edison GiocattoliLarge Lot Of Mini Toy Gun Parts And Misc L@@kVintage Mattel Shootin' Shell Indian Scout Toy Rifle Gun In Original Box (1958)Mattel Shoot'n'shell Excellent Plus W/holster And Box + 6- 2 Piece Shells Mattel Fanner 50 Shootin Shell Toy Gun Pistol RevolverRare 1950s Actoy "wyatt Earp" Buntline Special Esquire Cap Gun W/card VintageRare Canadian Marshal Long Barrel Cap GunVintage Miniature Toy Cap Gun Fob Rabbit Picture 1.5'' LongVintage Original Miniature German Maus 2mm Replica Pistol W Accessories & CaseNichols Cap Guns 60th Anniversary Dyna-mite Derringers 1946-2006 Limited Ed. BoxWild Bill Hickok & Jingles Hubley 11" Cap Gun & Holster Set Trigger Guard BrokenRoy Rogers HolstersDaisy Model 660 Vintage Pop Gun Works. Original Advertising Sticker On Stock!1960s Nichols Dyna-mite Derringers Lot Of ( 2 ) Cap-guns ToysVintage Hubley Colt 45 Cap Pistol 1950's Rotating Cylinder Gold WashVintage 1958 Shootin Shell Toy Cap Buckle Gun Nip Blister PackVintage 1986 Larami Mac 11 Automatic Cap GunNichols Toy Cap PistolNichols Pasadena Stallion 45 Cap Gun1950s Nichols Silver Mustang Cap Gun Agent Zero Mattel 1964 Vintage Mock Radio Fold Out Rifle Gun - Cool Old Toy Gc-Mattel Shootin Shell Bullet Pak Kilgore G-man Cast Iron Cap Gun W/magazine/clipSet Of Fanner 50 Cap Guns In Original Leather HolstersHubley "colt 38" (1950’s)Vintage Lot Of 3 Hubley Toy Cap GunsVintage Mattel Remington Derringer Cap Gun Belt Buckle WorksVintage Toy Cap Guns HubleyDaisy Big Shot - Softball Ammo For Training Rifles - Daisy Cork Gun BallsNichols Cap Gun Dyna-mite Derringer Gold Plated W Bullet Limited Ed. Wooden Box50-60's Hubley Colt 45 13.5" Long Cap Gun Beautiful Western Vintage Collector