3rd Model Webley Long Spur Revolver - Rare
- Product Code: FHG-2245-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
Brothers James and Philip Webley would together start what would become the most successful English revolver company to be established in England. James, the elder Webley, was born in 1807 and established himself in the trade by the time that his younger brother Philip (born in 1813) was done with his apprenticeship. Both Webley’s initially worked as gunlock filers and gun lock makers, as well as “percussioners”, and by the mid-1830s were working together in that capacity on Weaman Street in Birmingham. James Webley was also working on producing his own complete firearms to sell under his own name, and by 1835 had a retail outlet at 14 St. Mary’s Row in St. Mary’s Square. In 1838, young Philip “acquired” the gun implement making company of William Davis by marriage to his daughter Caroline. Davis, a noted bullet mold and implement maker has passed away in 1831 and his wife Sarah and his daughter Caroline had continued to run the business until Philip married into the family. From that point, the Webley story centered on the old Davis business location at 84 Weaman Street and would eventually expand to include #81-#91 Weaman Street. By 1845, at the age of 32, Philip was in a position to purchase the business from Davis’ widow.
By the early 1850s the Webley brothers were producing, both alone and in joint venture, a variety of small arms including single shot percussion pistols, various repeating pistols such as pepperboxes, “transitional” pistols, early single and double action designs, as well as “ships pistols”, muskets and various long arms. Their customer list included the two largest and most important gun buyers of the era in England; the Honorable Board of Ordnance (the British Military) and the Honorable East India Company. The East Indian Company maintained a private army that protected the company’s investments around the world and was one of the largest and best-equipped forces of the time.
In 1853, the genesis of what would be the most lucrative part of the Webley business going forward occurred, James Webley’s design patents were filed for what would become known as the Webley “Long Spur” revolver. The patent was number 743, granted March 29, 1853, for a new single action revolver design. The revolver was a percussion ignition handgun with a unique grip angle and a long, low, extended hammer spur that made the cocking of the action very fast. The design used the typical “open top” frame of the period but had a hinged connection between the barrel and the frame, forward of the cylinder. This allowed the barrel to be tilted down with the removal of a wedge forward of the cylinder. This wedge engaged a slot in the cylinder arbor, much like with a Colt revolver, but the wedge was slotted and captive like a shotgun wedge of the time. The wedge was easily removed; the barrel easily tilted down, and the cylinder could be quickly removed for loading. In fact, period reports noted that the Webley design with its odd looking hammer was faster to shoot that a Colt revolver and the hinged frame made the gun faster to reload than a Colt. The initial design did not include a loading lever, but like most British revolver designs of the early 1850s, loading levers were soon introduced in a variety of patterns, and these changes made up much of the subsequent “types” within a pattern of revolver design.
The “Long Spur” was a handcrafted elegant piece, which was exceptionally well made within the limitations of a small format business of the time. However, the quality that went along with master craftsmen building the guns by hand meant two things; the interchangeability of parts was limited at best and the guns tended to be expensive. As a result, the Webley’s had a hard time competing with their biggest rival in single action revolvers; Samuel Colt. Colt had established his manufactory in London in 1851 after The Great Exhibition. The Webley’s could not compete with the Colt product on the basis of price, as the Colt revolvers were manufactured on the principle of interchangeable parts with an early assembly line type system. This motivated Philip to pursue both theories of modern production and put significant effort and monies into the building of interchangeable parts guns in an assembly line fashion. In 1856, James Webley died, leaving Philip alone to lead the company forward. The following year Colt closed his London manufactory and left Philip Webley in the unique position of being able to fill the void left by the closing of the Colt plant.
Webley had himself taken out two revolver patents in 1853 (#305 on February 4th and 2127 on September 14) for “improvements to revolver lock mechanisms” and these patents would form the basis for his famous “Wedge Frame” revolver that would help establish Webley as a premier maker of that style of handgun. In 1860, Webley’s two sons Thomas and Henry joined the company and it was renamed P. Webley & Son, with locations in Birmingham and London. Over the next few decades, Webley would become the premier English revolver maker with such famous designs as the Webley-Pryse series of revolvers, the Webley RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary), the “British Bulldog”, the Webley-Fosbery “semi-automatic” revolver, the Webley “Mark” series of revolvers (Mark I – VI), the Webley Government Model revolvers in .476 and .38, the Webley-Green, and even a line of semi-automatic pistols after the turn of the century. In 1877, the firm began to absorb large, old time Birmingham makers with the acquisition of Tipping & Lawden. In 1897, they acquired Richard Ellis & Company and the long time firm W. & C. Scott. At that time, the firm changed their name to The Webley & Scott Revolver & Arms Company. The success of the company continued through the Great War, but the enactment of the UK Firearms Act of 1920 significantly restricted English gun ownership, making it difficult for average Englishmen to own a firearm. As a result, the firm’s sales of handguns was significantly curtailed due to the new restrictions, with their only major handgun customer becoming the British military, who maintained the Webley & Scott revolvers as their standard sidearm until 1964. As a result of the new business model they were forced to work with, the firm searched for other markets to explore. In 1924 they entered the air gun market and remain a major player in that field to this day. They also expanded their line of sporting arms, becoming a well-regarded maker of high-end shotguns and double rifles. Webley & Scott has passed through a number of hands since the mid-1900s and remains in business today making high grade sporting arms and air guns.
The Webley “Long Spur” was a particularly important gun in the history of the Webley firm due to the fact it was their first in-house design and is referred to on the current company’s web site as their “first production revolver”. Due to the slow production process and expense of the guns, they were not manufactured in large quantities, with only a couple of thousand likely to have been produced between late 1853 and end of the 1850s. By the end of that decade the assembly line manufacture of more modern, double-action designs like Webley’s “Wedge Frame” had eclipsed the “Long Spur” and relegated it to a mere footnote in firearms history.
The “Long Spur” was produced in three basic sizes and three basic models. The sizes were a “Small” (pocket), "Middle" (belt) and "Large" (holster) model. The pocket model was a 120-Bore (about .34 caliber), 6-shot handgun with a short barrel that was typically 3 ½” to 4” long and was intended for pocket carry. The belt model was sized for carry in a belt-worn holster and was a 5-shot gun that was nominally 60-Bore (about .43 caliber) with a longer barrel, generally 4 ½” to 5”. The holster model, or what might be termed a “dragoon” model during the period, was a much larger gun and was intended to be carried in pommel holsters. It was manufactured in a nominal 48-Bore (about .46 caliber). This was also a 5-shot revolver with a longer barrel than was typically between 6 ½” and 7” long. With the exception of a handful of 1stModel Pocket Revolvers, all of the Long Spur models were rifled with 3 broad lands and grooves, with the grooves being deeper than typically encountered on 19th century revolvers. Again, with the exception of a handful of 1st Model Pocket Revolvers, all Webley Long Spurs have cylinders that rotate clockwise. The 1st Model revolvers were produced without a loading lever and had the hinged frame previously discussed. The 2nd Model revolvers added a loading lever on the right side of the frame that was secured under the cylinder when not in use. This system was substantially different from most loading levers in use at the time. Many 1st Model revolvers were subsequently upgraded to 2nd Model standards with the addition of the loading lever. The 2nd Model also retained the hinged frame system. The 3rd Model revolvers introduced a pair of substantial changes. First the hinged frame was abandoned. The new design used a threaded arbor pin onto which the barrel assembly was screwed. A thumbscrew that projected from the lower portion of the barrel web and frame junction was to prevent the barrel from being unscrewed unless the user wanted to do so. Loosening the thumbscrew allowed the barrel to be unscrewed from the arbor pin. The second change was to adopt a more conventional loading lever that was hinged and attached to the left side of the frame and secured against the left side of the barrel when not in use. The lever substantially resembled the design that was patented by James Kerr of the London Armoury Company, which was used on many Model 1854 Beaumont-Adams revolvers. Other than the changes in the loading lever system and the eventual change in the frame attachments systems, most Long Spurs were essentially identical across the three models. They all had the uniquely shaped, elegant frame, long, low hammer spur, octagonal barrels and two-piece checkered wood grips. The presence of a lanyard ring in the bottom of the grip frame certainly suggests that military contracts were their primary goal with the design. While no official contracts are known, it is assumed that a number of the larger caliber revolvers probably saw service in the Crimea and during the Indian Mutiny with British military officer’s that were required to provide their own arms, equipment and uniforms. In typical Webley fashion, the cylinder chambers are numbered sequentially. The guns were usually engraved with flowing floral scrolls and while not of the highest quality it was significantly better work than found on the more pedestrian arms of the period. The backstraps of the guns were engraved BY HER MAJESTY’S ROYAL LETTERS PATENT, and the side plate on the left side of the frame was typically engraved JAMES WEBLEY PATENTEE on early production guns or later, WEBLEY’S PATENT. If the gun was offered by a London or Birmingham retailer other than Webley, that retailer’s name was usually engraved on the barrel. Those guns sold in Birmingham or to the trade from Birmingham were marked with Birmingham proof marks, while the handful of guns sold by London retailers usually had London Proof House inspection marks. The revolvers were serial numbered, with the primary number engraved on the top of the backstrap and most of the major components stamped with the same number or an assembly number. The guns were typically blued, with color casehardened hammers. Like the Colt revolvers of the era, a small extension hood on the top of the hammer served to keep broken percussion caps from flying back in the face of the shooter. Also like the Colt, the nose of this extension was notched to provide a rear sight when the hammer was cocked. Unlike the Colt, the extension hood was quite thin and prone to breakage. William Dowell, author of the definitive work on Webley, The Webley Story, notes that more than half of the Long Spur revolvers that he has examined show this piece to be broken or repaired. He further notes that due to the relatively small production run of these guns, and their expense during the time of production, that all sizes and models of Long Spur revolvers are quite scarce, and they are often the centerpieces of an advanced English revolver collection when one can be found for sale.
Offered here is a NEAR FINE condition example of a 3rd Model Webley Long Spur Holster Revolver. As would be expected, this 3rd Model revolver abandons the hinged frame of the earlier 1st and 2nd Model guns and has a conventional loading lever screwed to the left side of the frame and secured along the left side of the barrel. The gun is slightly smaller than the nominal 48-bore chambering of the typical “holster” sized pistol and is more accurately about 50-Bore. The pistol has a 6 7/8” octagonal barrel with a bore diameter that measures about .452” at the muzzle and a forcing cone that measures about .460”. The five cylinder chambers all measure about .460” +/- .005 and are marked with the expected chamber numbers from 1 to 5. The left side of the frame is engraved in a single-line banner: WEBLEY’S PATENT. The backstrap is engraved: BY HER MAJESTY’S ROYAL LETTERS PATENT, with the serial number 1217 engraved horizontally above the patent notice. The gun is engraved on the barrel with a retailer mark that reads:
JOHN COX SOUTHAMPTON
John Cox was a gun maker and retailer who worked in Southampton, Hampshire (England) from 1843 through 1859. Period directories indicate that he was located at 13 High Street from 1843-1851 and at 7 Bernard Street from 1854-1859. His wife Mary Ann maintained the business at the same address through the latter part of the 1860s, even after Cox’s death. Located only 15 miles from Royal Naval base at Portsmouth and being a major port itself, Southampton would be a good location for a gunmaker to sell arms to men embarking on ocean voyages. More than likely Cox sold many handguns to officers departing for the battlefields of the Crimea, India or even Asia, or as they were being sent off to the far flung duty stations of the mid-19th century British Empire.
As previously noted, the revolver is in NEAR FINE condition overall and all the markings discussed above remain fully legible and most are quite crisp and clear. The serial number, 1217 is found throughout the gun, including on the rear face of the cylinder on the dividers between the cones (nipples), on the cylinder arbor pin, on the inside of the frame and on the rear face of the barrel web. The two-piece checkered grips are also numbered 1217 on their interior surfaces. The file-slash assembly mating mark \\\ is found on the interior of the grips as well as one some interior parts like the edge of the mainspring and edge of the frame. The gun is elegantly engraved with tight floral splays on the frame with complimentary floral engraving on the butt cap, hammer, and trigger guard. Light decorative boarders are engraved on the leading edge of the cylinder and near the muzzle. The gun is 100% original and correct in every way. The gun retains some strong traces of its original blued finish, most of which is present in streaks on the barrel and in protected areas of the frame. The balance of the gun has an evenly oxidized and slightly mottled plum-brown and gray patina on the metal where the blue had faded, dulled and worn. The patina on the gun is more pleasing in the hand, under normal lighting, than the photos under bright lighting and against a harsh white background make it appear. The barrel is essentially smooth and free of any significant pitting but shows lightly scattered surface oxidation and minor pinpricking here and there, with some oxidized roughness near the muzzle. Similar oxidation and pinpricking is present on the frame as well, with more moderate oxidation and some light pitting on the butt cap. The cylinder has a moderately oxidized brown and gray patina and is mostly smooth, other than a thumb-sized patch of discolored minor surface roughness that probably resulted from that part of the cylinder resting on fabric for many years. The engraving remains mostly sharp on the gun, with little smearing or blurring, and the markings also remain quite crisp. The cylinder chambers are clearly numbered 1 though 5and the Birmingham proof house marks are crisply stamped between them. A pair of Birmingham proof house view and proof marks are present under the barrel as well, just forward of the frame. The gun is mechanically FINE and times, indexes and locks up perfectly. The screw-frames system works correctly as does the captive retention screw and the revolver can be easily disassembled if desired. The cylinder retains all of its original cones (nipples) and they are in very good, relatively crisp condition. The original lanyard ring mount is in place in the butt and rotates freely. The hammer remains crisp and sharp and retains the original notched hood at its nose, which is undamaged. The hammer retains lovely scroll engraving and a finely checkered spur and still shows some strong traces of the mottled case colored finish. The original loading lever is secured to the right side of the frame and remains fully functional. It operates smoothly and locks into place as it should when not in use. The original rear sight notch is in place on the nose of the hammer hood and the original front sight blade is in place in its dovetail on the top of the barrel near the muzzle. The bore of the revolver rates VERY GOOD and remains mostly bright with sharp 3-groove rifling its entire length. The bore shows only lightly scattered pitting along its length and some moderate frosting in the grooves. The two piece checkered grips are in FINEcondition and are solid and complete with no breaks, cracks, chips or repairs noted. The grips show some very minor wear and flattening to the checkering, and a few minor handling bumps and dings, but are otherwise very crisp and sharp.
Overall this is a really very nice, totally complete and correct example of a rather scarce 3rd Model Webley Long Spur Holster Revolver in NEAR FINE. These holster sized revolvers were certainly popular with British military officers and it is quite possible that the gun was sold to an officer who served in the Crimea or during the Indian Mutiny. Crisp, complete Webley Long Spur revolvers are quite scarce, and I have no doubt that this gun will find a very special home in a collection of English percussion revolvers and will be one of the prides and joys of that collection for years to come.