Liddle & Kaeding - San Francisco Marked Webley Bull Dog
- Product Code: FHG-1863-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
Brothers James and Philip Webley together would start what would become the most successful revolver companies 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 as a gunmaker. Both Webleys initially worked as gunlock filers and gunlock makers, as well as “percussioners”, and by the mid-1830s they 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 had 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 and early single and double action revolver 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; whose private army protected the company’s investments around the world, and was one of the largest and best-equipped military 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”. 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 “Long Spur” was a handcrafted elegant piece, which was exceptionally well made within the limitations of the 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 Webleys 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, and the Webleys could not compete with the Colt product on the basis of price, as the Colt revolvers were manufactured on the basis of interchangeable parts with an assembly line system. This motivated Philip in particular 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, and Philip was left to lead the company going forward. The following year Colt closed his London manufactory and put 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 English double-action handguns. 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 a wide variety of revolver designs as well as a line of semi-automatic handguns that were introduced 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. It was with the introduction of their first double action, centerfire metallic cartridge revolver designs in the latter part of the 1860s that the Webley firm really came into its own. The Webley firm had previously produced both pinfire and rimfire cartridge revolvers, but it was the centerfire cartridge that brought reliable (and reloadable) stopping power to their handgun designs. Initially the firm offered “dual ignition” revolvers with both a center fire and a percussion cylinder, allowing the user to switch to percussion if cartridges were not readily available. However, in 1867, they introduced a double action, center fire, solid frame revolver that would become known as the Royal Irish Constabulary model (R.I.C.). These revolvers were made available in a variety of calibers and barrel lengths, and derived their name from being adopted by the newly established Royal Irish Constabulary in 1868. The gun initially had no model or year designation, and was known simply as the Royal Irish Constabulary model, however as improvements were made in the design a system of separating the models had to be developed. Although it is unclear if the Webley’s used this system, for all practical purposes these earliest R.I.C. guns are Model 1867 revolvers. Their initial offering was in .442 Mark I (the same size as 54 bore from the old percussion days), but eventually the model would be offered in .450, .476/.455, .455/.450, and .430 as well as the American calibers of .44 WCF (.44-40) and .45 Colt. The guns had six shot “plain” cylinders, without flutes, that were loaded through a hinged gate in the right side of the frame. Empty cartridges were ejected via a swiveling ejector rod that was stored in the hollow center of the cylinder arbor pin. Typical barrel lengths varied from about 2 ½” to 4 ½” in length, and were initially rifled with 5 narrow grooves with a 1:15 right hand twist. The fact the guns were so successful with the new Irish police force resulted in other Commonwealth police agencies acquiring the guns as well. The R.I.C. model was adopted by the London police force, as well as many other English and Australian state police forces as well. The model proved equally popular throughout the British Empire. In 1878, to further capitalize upon the success of their R.I.C. Model, Webley introduced the gun that they would probably be most associated with for the next few decades: the British “Bull Dog”. The British Bulldog would probably become the most copied civilian firearm of the latter part of the 19th century, with copies being manufactured around the world, most notably in Belgium and America. (While Flayderman lists the year of introduction as 1872, the definitive history of the Webley revolver by Dowell specifically notes the year as 1878.) These copies often played upon the Webley “Bulldog” name for the model as well, with names such “American Bull Dog” and “Indian Bull Dog”. The Webley original was quite similar to the original R.I.C., in that it was a solid frame, double action revolver with a solid, unfluted cylinder. The primary differences were the use of a 5-shot rather than a 6-shot cylinder to make the gun smaller and easier to conceal, and the use of an abbreviated “bird’s head” (sometimes called a “parrot’s beak”) grip design for the same reasons. The original caliber was .442 centerfire, but additional calibers including .44 rimfire and .450 centerfire were soon added. Barrel lengths typically hovered just under 2 ½” to maximize concealment, with overall lengths around 6” to 6 ½”. The initial No 1 Bull Dog was soon followed by the No 2(circa 1880) and later the No 3 (circa 1883). Each subsequent model contained minor improvements upon the latter variant, primarily with subtle changes to the lock work and ejector system. The popularity of the revolver meant that a strong foreign market existed for the Webley product and American retailers coveted the small revolvers for sale to their customers for personal protection. In some cases, the revolvers were even marked on the top strap with the name of the American retailer, rather than the usual Webley & Son and “Bull Dog” names. These models appear to have been particularly popular in larger cities in the American West where the carrying of a firearm was advisable for protection, but where a larger gun in a hip holster would be impractical or in some cases illegal. As noted, the model was so popular that a large number of “Bull Dog” revolvers were produced by imitators both in America and around the world, with Forehand & Wadsworth and Iver Johnson being two of the largest American firms to cash in on the popularity of the diminutive, but powerful Webley design.
Offered here is a VERY GOOD condition example of a Webley No 2 Bull Dog Revolver that is bears the very desirable western American retailer mark of Liddle & Kaeding of San Francisco. Robert Liddle was born in 1824 and initially worked as a gunmaker in Baltimore, MD during the 1840s and into the early 1850s. At some point in time circa 1853 or so, Liddle moved to San Francisco where he established a new company as Liddle & Co. Sources differ but it appears sometime in the latter part of the 1860s, Liddle formed a partnership with Charles V. Kaeding, creating the firm of Liddle & Kaeding, which operated until 1889, at which point Liddle went back to working under his own name until 1898. It appears for at least part of the time during the 1870s, Liddle’s son James Henry also worked with the firm. The company was an all-around sporting goods retailer that retailed guns of all sorts (both domestic and foreign) as well as a wide variety of “outdoor” equipment and advertised locally as the “Sportsmen’s Emporium”. While the firm may have initially manufactured some arms, and likely preformed repair work as well by the Webley era they seemed to be primarily a retailer, despite some of the wording in their advertisements. The first advertisement that I could find for the company is from the August 11, 1872 edition of the San Francisco Chronical, and it reads at the top: ATTENTION! SPORTSMEN! and goes on to claim the firm provided “THE LARGEST AND BEST assortment of GUNS, FISHING TACKLE and SPORTING ARTICLES on the Pacific Coast.”. A larger and bolder ad in the August 31, 1880 edition of the Chronical read in part:
LIDDLE & KAEDING
538 Washington St., S. F.,
NEW YORK, LONDON AND BIRMINGHAM,
Wholesale and Retail Dealers,
W.W. GREENER, W. & C. SCOTT & SON
REMINGTON, PARKER BROS.,
AND THE FAMOUS
Colt’s Breech-Loading Shotguns.
A full assortment of the above famous makers currently in stock.
Winchester’s, Sharp’s, Ballard’s, Burgess’, Kennedy & Stevens’
Colt’s, Smith & Wesson’s and the famous British Bull-Dogs
Another add, dated march 19, 1887 read in part “THE OLD RELIABLE HOUSE. Fishing Tackle! Fishing Tackle!”, and went on to list the varying types of fishing supplies offered by the firm. From examining the large number of advertisements for the firm in the San Francisco Chronical between 1872 and 1887, it appears that as the 1880s progressed the company specialized more and more in sporting good (and sporting arms), with less emphasis (or none) on handguns in the ads, and eventually concentrating on promoting their shotgun inventory and fishing equipment. Based upon the fact that this is a No 2 Bull Dog and the firm seemed to have been selling fewer pistols during the latter half of the 1880s, I would estimate that this revolver was retailed by the company in the first half of the 1880s. The topstrap of the revolver is clearly marked in two lines, one on each side of the sighting groove: LIDDLE & KAEDING on one side and SAN FRANCISCOon the other. The left side of the frame is marked in three lines, forward of the cylinder: WEBLEY’S / No 2 / .450 CF, with the upper and lower lines arced like a cartouche. Below this is the famous Webley “Winged Bullet” logo over the letters W & S, and below that is the serial number 23903. The last three digits of the serial number, 903 are found on the rear face of the cylinder, and the assembly number 3 is found in several places, including the rear face of the cylinder, on the interior lip of the loading gate, twice on the grip frame under the left grip panel and twice on the interior of each grip panel. Birmingham commercial proof marks are found on the barrel and on the cylinder between the chambers. The gun is 100% original and correct in every way. The gun retains about 10% of its original nickel plated finish overall, with the large majority having flaked away, revealing the bare metal underneath. The exposed metal has developed a mostly smooth, dark brown patina. The gun is mostly smooth with no serious pitting present but it does show some scattered areas of pinpricking (mostly on the frame forward of the chamber mouths) around the muzzle. There are also some scattered patches of minor surface oxidation present on the metal, mostly forward of the cylinder chamber mouths and on the barrel. The revolver is mechanically EXCELLENT and functions perfectly in every way. The revolver times and indexes correctly and locks up quite tightly. The action functions crisply in both single and double action modes, and the loading gate closes tightly and securely as it should. The Webley lockwork allows the cylinder to rotate when the hammer is down, with the cylinder only locked at the time of firing when the trigger is all the way to the rear. This same lock work deficiency is typical of many English percussion revolver designs of the previous decades. The “half cock” notch is not a half cock at all, but a safety notch to keep the fixed firing pin from contacting a primer, were the revolver to be dropped and land upon its hammer. The bore of the 2 3/8” long barreled revolver rates VERY GOOD+ and retains very crisp 9-groove rifling its entire length. The bore is fairly dark and seasoned and shows evenly distributed light pitting along its length, as well as some smaller areas of more moderate pitting. The original half-moon, German silver front sight is in place on the top of the barrel near the muzzle and is in fine condition. The two-piece checkered walnut grip panels remain in VERY GOOD+ condition as well. The grips are solid and complete and free of any breaks or repairs. The left grip panel shows a very minor grain crack in its bottom, that remains tight and stable and is mentioned for exactness. The checkering shows some minor wear and flattening to some of the points, as well as some very minor bumps and mars, all of which are typical of a revolver that was primarily carried concealed.
Overall this is very nice, solid example of a very desirable San Francisco retailer marked Webley No 2 Bull Dog Revolver. The gun remains in VERY GOOD complete and original condition with fine markings throughout. These guns were a famous part of the American West, and while even the cheaper American made copies are becoming collectible, nothing beats the desirability of an original Webley from the period. The gun has a very desirable San Francisco retailers mark and is chambered for the largest and most desirable cartridge, Webley’s .450 Centerfire. This is the type of gun that the serious gambler, gentleman who wanted real protection or an undercover San Francisco lawman would have carried, and it is certainly one of those guns that probably could tell some wonderful tales if it could talk. I think you will be very pleased with the untouched condition and fine markings on this scarce Liddle & Kaeding of San Francisco marked Webley Bull Dog revolver.