Tipping & Lawden Hammer Safety .380 Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-1941
- Availability: In Stock
The Birmingham based gunmaking firm of Tipping & Lawden was the trade name partnership between Thomas Tipping Lawden and Caleb Lawden, who established themselves as gun, rifle and pistol makers at 40 Constitution Hill in 1837, expanding to 40 & 41 Constitution Hill in 1852. In 1860, the firm added a London location at 18 Buckingham Street. In addition to the usual production of military pattern muskets and rifles (both for military contracts and commercial sale), the company manufactured sporting arms for the general gun trade both in England and abroad. The firm also established itself as a major manufacturer of handguns in Great Britain by the end of the 1850s. Their first major success in that vein was the manufacture of double action percussion revolvers under Willian Harding’s 1858 patents for Deane & Son in London (these were of the “Deane-Harding” pattern). In 1859, the firm procured the rights to manufacture Sharps’ Patent four-barrel pepperbox revolvers under a licensing agreement with C. Sharps & Company of the United States. Tipping & Lawden also secured their own patents during 1861 and 1862 for a breechloading mechanism (in both percussion and pin fire), a dropping barrel breech loader (with John Thomas) and a cane gun. On March 13, 1869 John Thomas, who was employed as a manager at Tipping & Lawden, was granted British Patent 779 / 1869. His patent was a for a cartridge revolver with a simultaneous extraction system. The patent covered three variations of the mechanism, but it appears that only the 1st type of action was produced in any quantity. Thomas entered into an agreement with Tipping & Lawden to produce the revolvers of his design, which they did from about 1869 until they were bought out in 1877 by P. Webley & Son. Tipping & Lawden were large enough players in the mid-19th century English firearms trade that when the Birmingham Small Arms Company LTD (BSA) was chartered in 1861, they held sixty of the 2,000 initial shares of stock. The BSA was the outgrowth of the Birmingham Small Arms Trade, a consortium of the twenty largest Birmingham arms makers that had formed a cooperative organization during the Crimean War and worked to assist their members in the acquisition and execution of large military arms contracts. The Thomas Patent revolver was a solid frame design with a longer than normal frame, which allowed enough space for the cylinder to slide forward about ¾ of an inch. The revolver loaded in a convention manner through a loading gate on the right rear of the frame. However, a very different system was used to unload the revolver. A small spring at the lower front of the frame was depressed, allowing the shooter to use the large, bulbous lug under the barrel to rotate the barrel counterclockwise through 180 degrees. This freed the barrel to be drawn forward which pulled the cylinder forward at the same time as well. A stationary star shaped extractor at the rear of the frame held the cartridges by their rims, and after the cylinder was pulled forward, any empty cartridges could be shaken loose, as they were no longer supported by the cylinder chambers. Unfired cartridges remained in place, as their exposed bullets were still within the chamber. The process of opening the revolver in this way created a large amount of torque, which helped to dislodge any stuck casings from the chambers and made for a very reliable extraction system. To close the action, the barrel was simply pushed back into its normal position and rotated clockwise to lock the action closed. The balance of the design was a typical English pattern double-action (“self-cocking”) revolver of the period, with the often-encountered exposed sear release at the upper rear of the triggerguard. The one exception was the inclusion of an interesting “hammer safety” device. This small wing shaped screw at the upper left rear of the frame served as both a hammer locking safety and a de-cocking device. With the screw fully tightened the action was locked and the hammer could not be cocked either manually or by pulling the trigger. By loosening the screw, the action functioned normally. If the hammer was fully cocked and the shooter wanted to de-cock the revolver, the screw could be tightened, and the trigger pulled. This would release the sear and the hammer, but the hammer would remain in the cocked position, supported by the hammer safety screw. Slowly releasing the pressure on the screw by loosening it would allow the hammer to drop into a safety notch, keeping the firing pin from contacting the primer of the cartridge in the chamber. The Thomas revolver was innovative and offered certain advantages to the user, particularly in terms of rapid unloading. However, the machining and required tolerances of the design made it more expensive to manufacture due to time and workmanship. As a result, in addition to manufacturing Thomas’ revolver, Tipping & Lawden produced a more traditional cartridge revolver. This gun was more akin to the Webley Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.) model, with a solid frame, hinged loading gate and a center mounted ejector rod that was stored within the cylinder arbor and could be withdrawn and pivoted into position to eject empty cases when needed. This revolver retained two feature common to the Thomas Patent revolvers; a distinctive protruding hump at the upper rear of the grip and the thumb screw hammer safety. As these revolvers were universally manufactured for sale to other firearms retailers, they are rarely marked by Tipping & Lawden, but rather carry the name of the retailer on their topstrap. However, their features and profile make their origin unmistakable. It is reasonable to assume that the success that Tipping & Lawden were starting to enjoy with their various in-house and licensed handgun designs during the 1870s resulted in Webley’s acquisition of the company. Sometimes buying your competition is preferable to fighting them. As soon as Webley took the firm over, the Thomas Patent revolver was immediately dropped from the product line and the patent allowed to expire. The solid frame R.I.C. style revolver with the hammer safety suffered a similar fate, as Webley already offered comparable models. However, Webley did continue to manufacture the Sharps’ patent pepperboxes for some time, attesting to the popularity of that design.
The Tipping & Lawden Hammer Safety Revolver offered here is in about VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition. The gun generally conforms to the solid frame R.I.C. type design with a solid frame, hinged loading gate, central ejector rod and a double action lock mechanism. The handful of examples that I have ever been able to view have all had octagonal barrels, checkered one-piece walnut grips with the pronounced hump at the upper rear, and of course the Tipping & Lawden “hammer safety” mechanism. Many have a lanyard ring in the butt as well. All examples that I have examined have had blued frames, cylinders and barrels, however it would not surprise me to find that some were made with case hardened cylinders as were most of the Thomas’ Patent Revolvers. Invariably, the guns are free of any markings indicating their manufacture by Tipping & Lawden and show only Birmingham commercial proof marks, serial number and caliber markings and often a retailer mark on the top strap. This gun is no exception and the only markings found on it are the Birmingham commercial proofs, serial (assembly) numbers, caliber mark and a retailer’s name. The proof marks are found on the lower left angled flat of the barrel, the right rear of the frame and between the chambers of the cylinder. The serial number 167 is found on the face of the frame web. The assembly number 6 is found on the rear of the cylinder, the cylinder arbor pin and the ejector rod. The number is probably found internally as well. The upper left angled flat of the barrel is marked .380, indicating that the revolver is chambered for the English .380 centerfire cartridge, the ancestor of the British military .38-200 cartridge. The .380 cartridge was a slightly lower powered version of the .38 Smith & Wesson cartridge (the predecessor to the .38 Special cartridge), and had terminal ballistics like what we often call the .38 “Short Colt” cartridge. The topstrap is engraved DD. THOMAS. / GUN MAKER. / CARDIFF.. David Thomas was a gun maker and retailer located at 3 Broad Street in Cardiff, Wales. He first appears in period directories circa 1867 and continued in business through about 1878.
As previously noted, this is a VERY GOOD+ to NEAR FINE condition example of a scarce and apparently early production Tipping & Lawden Hammer Safety Revolver. The gun is one of the medium-bore, .380 CF handguns, which appear to be somewhat less common than the larger .450 CF version. The revolver has a five-shot cylinder and a 3 ¾” octagonal barrel and an overall length of about 8 ¾”, making it quite concealable and perfect for carry in an overcoat pocket. The revolver retains some of its original finish, about 10%-20% overall. The revolver is blued throughout with some of the small parts left “in the white”. The revolver retains its bright blue primarily on the cylinder and in protected areas on the frame and barrel. The loss is primarily from flaking, carry and wear. The areas of finish loss are mostly a dull pewter-gray color, although some of the exposed metal has oxidized and discolored somewhat. There is some lightly scattered oxidized discoloration and staining flecked along the gun as well. The revolver is mostly smooth although there is some scattered roughness and some moderate pinpricking and light pitting over the revolver’s surface. The hammer is finished it the white and shows flecks of oxidized discoloration on its surfaces. The cylinder arbor pin, ejector rod and loading gate are also finished in the white and show similar flecks of lightly oxidized surface discoloration. The bore of the revolver is in about VERY GOOD condition and remains mostly bright and shiny. The bore shows scattered light pitting most of its length, along with a couple of small patches of more moderate pitting. The original front sight remains in place on the top of the barrel near the muzzle. The revolver is mechanically EXCELLENT and functions perfectly in every way. The double action mechanism functions flawlessly and the revolver times, indexes and locks up exactly as it should. The unique hammer safety mechanism is fully functional as well. The loading gate locks securely into place when closed and opens smoothly when the catch is released. The checkered one-piece walnut grip remains in about FINE condition as well. The grip is solid and complete and free of any breaks, cracks or repairs. The grip shows some scattered bumps, dings and bruises from handling and use, but no abuse, and the majority of the checkering remains crisp and sharp.
Overall this is a very nice example of a fairly scarce and nice condition Tipping & Lawden Hammer Safety Revolver that is 100% complete, correct and original in every way. The gun retains some of its original finish and displays very well. The revolver and its unique safety mechanism operate flawlessly, and the gun remains in very crisp condition throughout. This gun is 100% in every way and will be a great addition to your collection of 19th century English cartridge handguns, and would be a great juxtaposition to a group of solid frame Webley revolvers from the same period.