This is a FINE condition example of the Pryse Patent Revolver, which is was retailed by the famous London gunmaker George Daw. It is interesting that this Pryse designed Webley revolver is retailer marked by Daw, as Daw came to prominence as a retailer and “revolver maker” during the late 1850s, retailing and possibly manufacturing a design of Charles Pryse (the elder), that had be conceived in conjunction with Paul Cashmore.
In 1855, Birmingham gunmaker Charles Pryse and West Bromwich (Staffordshire) gunmaker Paul Cashmore received British Patent 2018/1855 for a self-cocking revolver mechanism and various improvements to revolver designs as well as improvements to loading levers for revolvers. This patent would become the basis for what collectors refer to as the Daw revolver, a gun that is typically attributed to George H. Daw of London. However, it was never actually manufactured by him. The Pryse & Cashmore design was for an open top percussion revolver with a somewhat unique double-action lock work. Like a traditional “self-cocking” revolver could be cocked and fired with a single long pull of the trigger. Likewise, the revolver could also be cocked manually and then fired by pulling the trigger in a conventional single action mode. Usually, these two methods of operation taken together are considered a traditional double action revolver. The lock work, however, had an additional feature in that pulling the trigger slowly, about halfway to the rear of its full travel, allowed the hammer to engage a notch that left the revolver in a half-cocked position and the cylinder partially indexed. This allowed the cylinder to be rotated manually for loading, but also allowed a shooter to take deliberate aim, and then finish the firing sequence by finishing the trigger pull, which indexed and locked the cylinder, fully cocked the hammer and then released it to fire. This half cock position along the trigger pull pathway reduced the weight and length of the double action pull and gave the revolver the speed advantage of a double action (or self-cocking) revolver as well as the improved accuracy of a single action type trigger pull. This action was in some ways similar to the “hesitating action” used in early Adams and Tranter revolvers. The revolvers were percussion ignition with cylinders that rotated in a counter-clockwise direction. There were three major components to the revolvers: the frame, the cylinder and the barrel, which also included the loading lever assembly. The barrel was secured to the frame via a transverse wedge that entered from the right side of the gun (Colt’s entered from the left side) and passed through both sides of the barrel web and the cylinder arbor pin. An interesting feature of the design was the “U” shaped notch on the lower face of the hammer nose that was designed to rest upon safety pins on the rear face of the cylinder, between the chambers. This allowed the revolver to be safely carried with a fully loaded cylinder, with the hammer down on a safety pin. This was similar to the safety pin system found on Colt revolvers of the period, but was somewhat more elegantly executed, making the system more secure and reliable. Like most English revolvers of the era, the Pryse & Cashmore revolver was available in a variety of frame sizes and calibers. Charles Pryse had established himself as a gunmaker on St. Mary’s Row in Birmingham in 1838 and became Charles Pryse & Company in 1840. In 1842, the firm of Pryse & Redman was formed, located at 84 Aston Road, and would remain in business through 1871. During the Civil War era, Pryse & Redman would manufacture a substantial number of Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle muskets, many of which would go to fill contracts for the Confederacy and likely the Union as well. The firm of Charles Pryse & Co would reappear in 1874 and would remain in business through 1883. In 1886, the firm would reorganize as Thomas & Lewis Pryse (his sons) and remain in business in one form or another through 1904. Paul Cashmore established himself as a gunmaker in Churchfield, West Bromwich, Staffordshire in 1849 and moved to the Newton Street Works, Old Church in 1854. He would remain there until 1878 and would last be listed in period directories in 1883. As there is never any indication that Pryse and Cashmore ever operated out of the same premises (or even in the same town) it is unclear if only one, or both of them were producing the Pryse and Cashmore patent revolvers. However, all of the noted authors on the subject (particularly A.W.F. Taylerson) note that Daw was not the manufacturer of the guns. It appears the guns were manufactured by Pryse and/or Cashmore and delivered to Daw “in the white” for “finishing and stocking”, allowing the level of embellishment and finish to be customized to the market. Daw would also case the revolvers and provide accessories, as required.
George H. Daw first went into the firearms manufacturing and retailing business in 1851 as a partner in Witton, Daw & Company, located at 82 Old Broad Street in London. John Sergeant Witton had established himself as a London gunmaker in 1835 and had worked under his own name until this partnership was established. In 1853 the firm moved to a new location at 57 Threadneedle Street, and in 1854 was renamed Witton & Daw, dropping the “& Co”. In 1860 George Daw took over the firm, changing the name to George Henry Daw (or simply G.H. Daw) and operating under that name until 1880, when it was changed to G.H. Daw & Co. The firm remained in business in a number of locations through at least 1889, and may have remained active as late as 1892, but it is not clear if this “Daw Gun Company” had originated with original Daw business. Daw is probably most famous, although rarely remembered for, the introduction of modern “Boxer Primed” centerfire ammunition to Great Britain in 1861. Daw acquired the British patent rights to the French patent of Francois Schneider, whose design had been further improved by Clement Pottet. Unfortunately, the French patentees did not keep their patent rights in force in France, thus removing any protection that Daw had acquired by buying their rights for patent in England. He was sued by Eley Brothers, the largest ammunition manufacturer in England, and it was found that since the French rights no longer protected the patentees, they had no rights to sell to Daw, leaving him with no protection in England. Although Daw lost his case, as well as his investment in the patent rights, he was still directly responsible for bringing easily reloadable, modern center fire ammunition to England. Daw’s greatest financial successes in the gunmaking business would come in the post-percussion era, with his manufacture of high quality cartridge revolvers, rifles and shotguns.
It appears that Daw also retailed some revolvers based upon Charles Pryse (the younger, son of the above-mentioned Charles Pryse) British Patent #4421 of 1876. The Pryse design was a was a double action, self-extracting revolver, with top-break action. A pair of spring-loaded levers at the rear of the cylinder locked the barrel and topstrap to the lower portion of the frame. Depressing the lower portion of both levers freed the top strap, and the barrel could be tilted down to expose the rear of the cylinder. The motion of depressing the barrel actuated a star extractor at the rear of the cylinder, which ejected the spent cartridge cases, emptying the chambers for reloading. The revolver also incorporated a rebounding hammer design, which greatly enhanced the safe handling of the revolver. Pryse’s design was popularized in 1877 with Webley adding the model to their product line as the #4, better known to most collectors as the Webley-Pryse. Webley’s introduction of the Pryse design started the Webley dynasty of top-break revolvers that would come to reign supreme among British military service revolvers until the 1960s! Webley also manufactured the revolvers for other retailers, and of course other maker’s followed Webley’s lead by offering revolvers of the Pryse pattern. The most distinctive feature of the Pryse design were the pair of spring loaded locking levers at the rear of the frame that secured the action. This was an improvement on Belgian designer M.P. Counet’s system that utilized only a single lever. However, Pryse’s patent primarily covered his rebounding hammer design and his “self-locking” cylinder, an improvement that prevented the “free-wheeling” of the cylinder that was typical in earlier English revolver designs when the action was locked in the firing position. The double-action lockwork of the revolver was typical of English revolvers of the period, within exposed "intermediate sear" that extended through the frame of the revolver into the rear of the triggerguard. Fully depressing the trigger clipped this exposed sear lever, much like the design found in Starr revolvers of the Civil War era. The revolvers were usually produced and service size calibers like one of the various .450 revolver cartridges or .442.
This is a FINE condition example of a Pryse Pattern Revolver, was manufactured in Birmingham and retailed by the famous London firm of George Daw. The top flat of the ribbed, 4 ¼” octagonal barrel is clearly and crisply stamped with the retailer mark:
G.H. Daw & Co 57 THREADNEEDLE ST LONDON
This mark places the production of the gun post-1880 when Daw’s firm changed the name to include the “& Co”, and of was of course manufactured prior the firm going out of business circa 1890. The Daw serial number 294 was stamped on the lower left side of the frame, but has been intentionally removed (more on that later), but is still present on the rear face of the cylinder. The matching assembly number 2is found stamped on the frame (concealed by the grip), on the rear face of the cylinder, on the bottom of the barrel web, and inside the mortise cut of the grip. The gun is also stamped twice with an Arabic mark that I cannot read. This mark is found on the right side of the frame in two places. This suggests to me that the gun’s serial number was removed when it was “obtained” somewhere in the Middle East and then subsequently saw some sort of service with an Arab. It is worth remembering the English were heavily involved in the Middle-East during this period with the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880), the Anglo-Egyptian War (1882) and the Mahdist War in the Sudan (1884-1889) all occurring during the period when this type of revolver would have been popular with British officers.
The revolver appears to be chambered for one of the various .450 cartridges (probably .450 Adams), as the 1.5” cylinder has large .477” breech openings, chamber mouths that vary between .445” and .446”, a very large .458” forcing cone and a .449” muzzle. The revolver has an overall length of about 8 ¾”.
The revolver retains about 85%+ of its period nickel finish overall. The barrel and web portion of the frame retain about 90%+ of their finish, with some thinning and fading. Most of the finish loss is from handing and use, with the typical wear along the sharp edges and at the muzzle, as well as at the rear of the barrel where it meets the cylinder. The barrel is smooth and free of pitting with only some scattered patches of lightly freckled surface oxidation present, and some bubbling to the nickel. As noted, the top rib of the barrel is marked with the GH Daw retailer mark, and the two upper angled flats are marked with a pair of Birmingham commercial proof marks near the topstrap. The cylinder retains about 75%+ of its original nickel, with the flaking and loss scattered and likely holster-wear related. The cylinder is mostly smooth, with some lightly scattered areas of pinpricking present, particularly on the face of the cylinder. The frame retains about 75%+ of the original nickel and the frontstrap of the pistol retains about 90% of the original finish. The triggerguard retains about 60%+ of its finish, with most of the loss appearing to be the result of flaking and some minor bubbling, likely the result of holster wear as well. The frame shows no pitting, and only the most minor areas of very lightly scattered pinpricking, and light surface oxidation where the finish has flaked or worn. This is particularly obvious on the lower left side of the frame where the serial number was intentionally removed, likely by its secondary Arab owner. The butt cap retains its original lanyard ring, and has about 60% of its nickel, with the balance an oxidized brown patina. The action of the revolver is mechanically excellent. Both the double action and single action mechanisms function crisply and correctly in every way. The Pryse locking system works perfectly as well, smoothly releasing the action to open when the levers are depressed and tightly locking the action when the pistol is closed. The extraction system works correctly as well, with the star shaped extractor lifting as it should when it is actuated by the opening of the action and the forceful depression of the barrel. The extractor then snaps smartly back into position. A small knurled knob on the left side of the frame, forward of the cylinder, allows the removal of the cylinder. The knob has an arrow engraved on it, and when the arrow is facing the muzzle (like a similar arrow engraved on the barrel above it), the cylinder is locked to the mechanism. When the knob is rotated 180-degrees, and the arrows oppose each other, the cylinder may be removed from the revolver when the action is opened. The hammer spur of the revolver appears to have been lightly bobbed or shortened, possibly to make pocket carry or draw more convenient. The bore of the pistol rates about VERY GOOD to NEAR FINE it is mostly bright and retains very crisp rifling, consisting of seven very wide grooved and an equal number of very narrow langs. The bore does show some very light pitting scattered along its entire length. The checkered one-piece walnut grip is in GOOD+ to NEAR VERY GOOD condition as well. It is relatively solid and complete and free of any breaks or repairs. The grip is lightly sanded and shows two small cracks on the lower front edge, running between the bottom edge of the frontstrap and the grip cap. The checkering remains mostly visible throughout but has clearly been sanded. The grip also shows some lightly scattered dings and handling marks.
Overall this is a very nice example of a fairly scarce and desirable Pryse Pattern Revolver, retailed by George Daw & Company. The presence of Arabic marks makes it much more interesting and certainly suggests the gun saw British service in Egypt or the Sudan during the 1880s and was subsequently reused by some of the indigenous people. I would love to know what the Arabic mark says. This will be a fine addition to any collection of late 19th-century British service cartridge sized revolvers with a potentially interesting history.