This is a VERY FINE, fully cased example of the English Webley Wedge Frame double-action percussion revolver, as produced from the late-1850s through the mid-1860s. These guns provided less expensive alternatives to the Adams and Tranter patent revolvers of the day. The primary cost savings was in the use of a two-piece frame and barrel design, similar to Colt revolvers, with the two parts held together via a “wedge”. Adams and Tranter revolvers utilized one-piece frame/barrel assemblies that were forged from a single piece of metal and were much stronger and less prone to breakage and wear with age. The one-piece design could not “shoot loose” with repeated use, as wedge secured two-piece revolvers could. The “wedge” frame design is attributed to Birmingham gun maker Philip Webley, although Webley himself seemed to have manufactured very few of the guns; although he certainly retailed them in both Birmingham and London. The simplified double-action lock mechanism typically encountered in these revolvers is usually of the Joseph Bentley design, and these guns are often referred to as Webley-Bentley revolvers, even though they were produced by many Birmingham gun makers and are often unmarked. This Webley wedge frame was very well made and has an action more akin to that of the Beaumont-Adams than the typical Bentley style double-action only mechanism. The gun has a top strap over the cylinder to reinforce the frame, a feature missing from most Bentley pattern revolvers. The gun was typical of larger bore English double-action revolvers in that it featured a five-shot cylinder. Also typical of Webley style guns, the cylinder chamber were often numbered, in addition to the expected Birmingham commercial proofs between each chamber. The revolver typically had 6 to 6 ½” long octagonal barrels and were often chambered in the popular English 54-bore, which is about .442 caliber. As previously noted the action of the guns was more akin to the Beaumont-Adams lockwork of the era, an action that would be considered “conventional” double action today. It operated as a standard double action by pulling the trigger, which rotated the cylinder, cocked the hammer and released it; all with one long, heavy trigger pull. The action also allowed for more precise shooting. By thumb cocking the hammer and firing the gun in single action mode, a lighter trigger pull was available. In typical English revolver style, the cylinder only “locked up” when the trigger was pulled completely back (in double action mode) or when the hammer was locked in the fully cocked position (single action mode). This eliminated the need for a spring actuated cylinder stop in the bottom of the frame and the accompanying stop slots in the cylinder; features typical of American revolvers of the era like those of Colt and Remington. While some of the Webley “wedge” style guns utilized a Colt style, under-barrel loading lever, others used the decidedly English pattern lever, similar to the Kerr Patent lever found on many Adams revolvers. Top strap markings on this pattern of revolver vary greatly. Extant examples of this pattern of Webley Wedge Frame revolver are known with no markings on the top strap, with simply the word LONDON, and with the names P WEBLEY & SON, D. BENTLEY PATENT and J ADAMS (with and without the additional word LONDON). A handful of examples of similar English double action revolvers are known with pre-war Southern retailer marks, usually from New Orleans. New Orleans seems to have been a major source for imported English revolvers prior to the Civil War. Extant examples include guns retailer marked by Thomas Bailey of New Orleans. At least three variations of Bailey’s mark are known on Wedge Framerevolvers.
This example is engraved WEBLEY & SON LONDON on the top strap and is almost certainly a retailer, rather than manufacturer’s marking. Webley worked in Birmingham on Weaman street, becoming P Webley & Son in 1859 when his sons joined the business. It was not uncommon for Birmingham gun makers and retailers to add “London” marks and addresses to their guns to enhance the perceived quality of the weapons. This was particularly true of exported arms. The lower left side of the frame of this revolver is engraved simply PATENT No 2778, below the cylinder. The only other markings are the usual Birmingham commercial proofs and chamber numbers on cylinder and a pair of Birmingham commercial proof on the lower left angled flat of the barrel.
These reliable and reasonably priced double-action revolvers were popular export items and were available for sale around the world. Confederate purchasing agents acquired these revolvers, as they were much less expensive than the competing Adams, Tranter & Kerr patterns. The Pratt Roll, which is an inventory list of revolvers that details the 15 handguns in the possession of Company H of the 18th Virginia Cavalry in July of 1864 lists 3 Webley and/or Bentley revolvers, as well as 4 guns of “unknown” pattern. The balance of the revolvers on the list are 7 Kerr’s patent revolvers & 2 Tranter pistols. The Bentley numbers on the list are 3111 and 3221, while the Webley revolver is number 5054. This indicates that even in this small sample of CS used revolvers, 20% were of the Webley and/or Bentley patterns. As the average company grade officer would probably not be familiar with the names and patterns of English revolver manufactures (other than possibly Adams and Tranter), I have a feeling that the guns were identified by the maker or retailer name on the topstrap of the revolvers. This suggests that #3111 and #3221 were likely “D Bentley” marked Webley-Wedge frame revolvers, and #5054 was probably a P. Webley marked wedge frame. The “unknown” revolver with serial number 3563 was almost certainly a wedge frame revolver as well, but with no retailer mark on the top strap. The “unknown” revolvers with serial numbers 33,609and 36,604 were almost certainly Adams patent revolves, also with blank top straps. Based upon the very small sampling of likely “Wedge Frame” revolvers on the Pratt List, this revolver falls about 700 numbers below the “Bentley” marked guns in the low 3,XXX range. While there are no direct Confederate Central Government contracts known for this pattern of revolver, some Confederate correspondence exists that suggest the more reasonably priced double action revolvers (in both 80 bore and 54 bore) were purchased primarily by speculators for importation to the Confederacy. It appears that most of these guns were imported through Mexican or Texas ports and many saw use in the Western Theater and the Trans-Mississippi Theater. It is believed that the revolvers delivered by Nelson Clements (who had a contract to deliver 5,000 revolvers to the Houston Quartermaster) were of the Webley “Wedge Frame” pattern. A handful of guns that appear to have been part of his deliveries are known, and they are in the low 2,XXX serial number range, and obviously numbers above and below that point would be potential Clements contract arms due to the size of the order. Additionally, examples of Webley Wedge Frame double action revolvers exist with Confederate provenance. These include several well-documented Webley Wedge Frame revolvers in museum collections. The gun of Colonel John Smith of the 20th Alabama Infantry (ex-Bond collection) is one example, as is one reported to be engraved to General William Mahone. Both pistols are in the Museum of the Confederacy collection, to the best of my knowledge. Another Webley Wedge Frame revolver, formerly in the famous Richard Steuart Collection, resides at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond. The Webley Wedge Frame revolver (#5553) is identified to Captain George Russell, the quartermaster of the 47th TN Infantry Regiment.
This double action Webley Wedge Frame is a classic example and is unmarked externally except for previously mentioned WEBLEY & SON LONDON retailer’s mark on the topstrap, the numbers on the cylinder chambers, Birmingham proofs on the barrel and cylinder, and PATENT No 2778 on the left side of the frame. The gun is also marked throughout on nearly every part with the Roman numeral style assembly mark XVII. This is applied as either file slashes or is stamped on nearly every part from the loading lever and frame to cylinder and grips. The gun is in VERY FINEcondition and is contained in what appears to be an its original casing. The revolver retains the large majority of its original blued finish on the 6” octagonal barrel, with between 85% and 90% remaining. The frame has flake and faded and retains only about 20% of its bright blued finish, mostly in the protected areas. The cylinder retains slightly more blued finish, again showing flaking like the frame, with about 35%+ remaining. The revolver uses the Colt style lever, which is typical of guns in this serial number range. Earlier and later guns are usually encountered with the Kerr style, side mounted lever. The loading lever retains about 90%+ of its original color vivid casehardened finish and remains quite striking. The balance of the gun (backstrap, gripstrap and triggerguard) retain only traces of original finish and show a mostly smooth brownish-gray patina with scattered mottled plum brown oxidation mixed over the metal surfaces. There is some very minor scattered pinpricking and lightly oxidized surface freckling present, mostly around the chamber mouths and in the percussion cone recesses, around the chamber mouths and forcing cone. Some similar pinpricking is present around the muzzle and is lightly flecked here and there on the revolver. There are a handful of minor surface scuff and scratches present on the revolver, with a couple of more noticeable ones on the top strap. Sadly, these look fairly recent and are likely the result of poor handling by whoever originally discovered this gun. As would be expected with a lower cost, “working man’s” revolver, this one shows none of the lightly engraved embellishments typical of Adams and Tranter revolvers, with the only aesthetic addition being a pair of lightly engraved boarder lines that trace the outline of the revolver frame, cylinder face and muzzle. The loading lever is an under-barrel, Colt style lever with a pin retention system as found on Deane-Harding revolvers, rather than the Colt wedge shaped catch. The revolver is fully functional and is mechanically very good. The pistol functions perfectly in both single action mode and double action modes as well. It times and indexes exactly as it should and has very tight lock up. The loading lever functions smoothly and locks into place securely. The bore of the revolver rates about VERY FINE as well. It is mostly bright and retains very crisp fourteen groove ratchet style rifling. The bores shows only some very lightly scattered flecks of minor pitting and oxidation. The revolver retains all five of its original percussion cones (nipples), which show some erosion from firing and use, but remain very crisp and useable today. The original dovetail mounted front sight is in place on the top of the barrel, near the muzzle as well. The two-piece checkered wood grips are in about FINE condition as well. They show some light use and wear, with some minor flattening and smoothing of the checkering from carry and handling. There is a minor sliver of wood missing along the rear edge of the right grip where it meets the grip frame. Otherwise, the grips are in solid condition, with no breaks, cracks or repairs noted. The grips show wear commensurate with the flashing erosion found on the rear of the cylinder in the cone (nipple) recesses and match the revolver perfectly.
The pistol is contained within its original English casing and is complete with a variety of accessories that are the usual mix of original and later replacement accouterments. The casing is typical varnished mahogany veneered design with “Bible” hinges, a brass escutcheon plate on the lid, and a brass lock on the front. The case is in about FINE condition and shows some light wear and finish loss, as would be expected. The case shows some scattered bumps and dings commensurate with its age. The interior compartments are lined with a lightly faded dark green baize that shows good age and wear and appears to be original to the casing. The case is in solid condition with no serious weakness to the structure itself or the interior compartment dividers. There is no retailer label inside the case lid, and no indication that there ever was one affixed to the lining in the lid. The case is loaded with a variety of revolver accessories, all of which are contained in compartments. Included in the casing are the following accouterments:
1) Wedge Frame Bullet Mould, in EXCELLENT condition. The mold is a typical English single cavity brass mold found in many English casings that produces a single round nosed bullet with a single grease groove and shallow heel. The bullet has the general profile of the Adams and Tranter bullets of the era. The cavity measures .446” at its widest point and cast a bullet with an overall length of .58”. The mold is marked 54 on the top of the left handle, indicating 54-Bore. The reverse of the handle is marked WD on the opposite side of the same handle for William Davies. This mark was applied to the molds and tools made by Davies, whose business was acquired by Philip Webley after Davies death, with Webley retaining the “WD” mark on the accessories that he produced. This mark, and the fit of the mold in the case convince me that the mold is absolutely original to the casing and the revolver, and that Webley likely retailed this set. The brass body of the mold has a rich golden patina that is untouched and uncleaned, and the mold cavity remains bright and clean with excellent edges. The blued sprue cutter is in wonderful condition, functions smoothly and retains about 80%+ of its original blue, with some light wear and loss along the edges.
2) Adjustable Powder Flask in about GOOD+ to NEAR VERY GOOD overall condition. The small bag shaped flask is of copper with an adjustable brass spout and top. The body of the flask shows numerous scattered bumps, dings and dents. The polished brass top is clearly marked in three lines JAMES – DIXON / & SONS / SHEFFIELD. The original fire blued closure spring is in place on the top of the flask and the flask functions correctly. The flask is appropriate to the casing and fits well, but could be a replacement, as the condition does not quite match the condition of the revolver or the case.
3) Pewter Oiler in VERY FINE condition. The oiler is complete with the detail oiler attached to the inside of the lid and is completely unmarked. The oiler fits the casing correctly, is of the correct style and may or may not be original to the casing.
4) Tin of Bullets in VERY GOOD condition. The unfinished tin shows some minor bumps, dings and dents from handling and use and from holding the lead bullets. It is unmarked and contains a number of nominally .445” diameter lead balls that would be appropriate for the revolver. The tin is likely not original to the casing but is certainly of the period.
5) Cleaning Rod in VERY FINE condition. The polished rosewood cleaning rod is in fabulous condition and shows only light handling marks and little use. The rod has a removable brass jag for cleaning the bore, and a brass mounted steel ball extractor (concealed by the jag) for unloading the cylinder.
6) Cone Wrench in VERY GOOD condition. The ebony handled wrench is of the correct style and size, fitting both the case and the revolver cones appropriately. The wood grip shows numerous minor bumps and dings and the metal shows scattered oxidation. Again, the condition of the tool is not commensurate with the revolver and casing, suggesting it is a later replacement.
7) Tin of Caps in VERY GOOD condition. The cap tin has a red jappaned finish and retains much of the green paper Joyce label on the lid and body. The interior of the tin is paper lined, and no caps are present. The tin displays well and is likely a later addition to the casing.
8) Turned Wood Container in VERY GOOD condition. This was likely originally intended to contain spare cones (nipples). It is now empty and has a modern copy of a period percussion cap label glued to its lid. This is likely a more recent addition to the casing to fill an otherwise empty compartment.
All of the various accessories display well and fit the casing well also. The most important accessory, the mold, is certainly correct and original, with all others adding an appropriate appearance to the casing.
Overall this is an extremely attractive, rather high condition example of one of the less common English percussion revolvers to see use during the American Civil War. Even though the Confederacy probably imported several thousand of these pistols, they appear for sale only rarely, and when they do often show hard use and mediocre condition at best. These guns did not have the name recognition or caché of similar pistols by Adams and Tranter and were probably more likely to have been used in the post war era than saved as mementos of the “late unpleasantness”. While this revolver falls right in the range of the Nelson Clement deliveries and just below the serial number range of some of the best documented Confederate used Webley Wedge Frame revolvers, those on the Pratt Roll, it is more likely to have been a speculative purchase, rather than a contract purchase for the military. The gun turned up in North Carolina, where the port of Wilmington remained one of the last places where Confederate blockade runners could still make deliveries during the last days of the war. More than likely this gun arrived as part of a speculative cargo and was sold on the docks when it arrived. Whether it ever saw military service, or simply defended a southern home will never be known. This pistol is 100% correct and complete, is well marked and functions perfectly. It remains in its original case with the correct mold and an assortment of other appropriate accessories that add nicely to the display. It would be a great addition to any collection of Civil War era revolvers and would be equally at home in a collection of typical Confederate used handguns. It is a lovely, large bore English pistol that displays wonderfully and is rarely seen on the market for sale in this condition.