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The end of the American Civil War brought about the introduction of toy cap guns when companies that once created real guns turned to manufacturing toy guns to stay in business. Cap guns were further popularized by the introduction of Western heroes in movies and television. The height of popularity for toy cap guns came in the 20-year span directly after World War II when cowboy heroes including The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, and many more caught the attention of America’s youth.
Hundreds of companies manufactured cap guns from cast iron, plastic, die-cast metal, and wood. Toy companies including Hubley, Kenton, Kilgore, Wyandotte began entire production lines of cap guns. Cap guns almost always came with a Western-sounding name such as Mustang, Pioneer, Texan, Colt 45, or Stallion 45. Eventually, Western heroes faded from television and cinemas, creating a downturn in cap gun popularity and diminishing sales to a near standstill.
Cap gun collectors today hunt for mint and boxed examples, especially those originally in complete sets with lifelike bullets, holsters, and graphic boxes. Many collectors hunt for rare and hard-to-find unfired examples.
Not all cap guns look like real guns. The hard-to-find Sea Serpent cap gun is shaped like an underwater goblin with snapping jaws that ignite explosive caps
Ives, an early American toy manufacturer, produced some of the first cast-iron cap guns in the 1860s. Its most famous cap gun is the mechanical The Chinese Must Go gun, a political slur against cheap labor in the 1880s
A rare The Chinese Must Go animated cast-iron cap gun with original box sold at James D. Julia Auctioneers in November 2005 for $2,640