Webley W.G. Army Model .450/.455 Revolver
- Product Code: FHG-1804-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 as a gunmaker. Both Webleys initially worked as gunlock filers and gunlock 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 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 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 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 competitor in single action revolvers, Samuel Colt. Colt had established his manufactory in London in 1851 after The Great Exhibition, and the Webley’s 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 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 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 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, 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 their Royal Irish Constabulary model (R.I.C.). These solid frame, double action, cartridge revolvers were made available in a variety of caliber and barrel lengths and in addition to being adopted by the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1868 were also adopted by the most of the Australian state governments for their police forces as well. Next Webley introduced their “Bull Dog” Models, a large bore pocket revolver aimed at the civilian market. Other solid frame models included their Army Express revolver. However Webley was not content to rest upon his laurels and while his solid frame revolvers experienced great success he worked on the development of hinged frame revolvers that featured simultaneous cartridge extraction. The first model introduced would be in conjunction with the Edmund Woods patent around 1870 and would be known as the Webley-Woods model. As design improvements were incorporated, new lines of Webley “top-break” revolvers would be introduced, usually in association with patent improvements of a secondary designer. These would include the Webley-Pryse (based upon Charles Pryse’s patent circa 1876), Thornton & Kaufman patents resulting in the Webley-Kaufman circa 1881, new patents by Henry Webley in 1883, the Webley-Wilkinson circa 1892. The Pryse patent introduced the “rebounding hammer” to Webley revolvers, a safety mechanism where by the hammer immediately returned to a safe, “half cock” position after being fired, which kept the firing pin from being able to contact the primer of cartridge, even if the revolver was dropped. A similar design was patented by Smith & Wesson about a year later in 1877, and the rebounding hammer remained the primary safety system in double action revolvers until the introduction of frame mounted firing pins and transfer bar safety systems during the 20th century. One of Webley’s most successful late 19th century designs was known as the Webley “WG” Model and was produced in a Target and Army model. The model made minor improvements upon the action and locking systems of the prior Pryse and Kaufman models, but Webleys held all pertinent patents. The first “WG” models were introduced in 1885 and were manufactured in .476 for a black powder cartridge, but subsequent models would be designed for new British military cartridges. The first model to bear the actual marking “WG” on the gun was introduced in 1889, and according to Webley stood for “Webley-Green”, although some references say it means “Webley Government”. I defer to the Webley-Green designation, as that is the one used in The Webley Story by William Dowell, the definitive work on the guns and the company. In 1892 Target and Army variants of the “WG” were introduced, primarily in .476/.455, capable of utilizing both the older .476” black powder military cartridge and the newly introduced .455 Mk1 cartridge of 1891, also a black powder round. The “WG” revolvers produced circa 1892-1895 had birds head shaped grips. In 1896 the “WG” Target model was introduced, with a 7 ““ barrel, 6-shot fluted cylinder, adjustable sights and checkered wood grips with a square butt, replacing the bird’s head profile. To the causal eye it was not significantly different than any of its immediate predecessors, but again included some very minor improvements in action and locking systems. Interestingly Webley had experimented with a frame-mounted firing pin on the “WG” models circa 1893, but with the Target model the firm returned to the conventional firing pin on the hammer face. The companion model to the “WG” Target was the “WG” Army Model. The Army model had a 6” barrel, fixed sights and was intended for sale to army officer’s who had to provide their own uniforms, equipment and firearms. These were the last of the revolvers to be produced under the P. Webley company name, as the acquisition of W. & C. Scott in 1897 resulted it the creation of the Webley & Scott company, and all arms produced after that merger would be so marked. For the collector of Webley arms in the United States, that means that P. Webley marked guns are of pre-1899 manufacture (produced on or before December 31, 1898) and thus are regarded as antique rather than modern firearms in the eyes of the Federal Government and the BATFE. The success of the Webley 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 today. 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 “WG” Model 1896 was an important revolver as it bridged the gap between the older black powder .476” Enfield military cartridge, the newer black powder .455 Webley Mk I of 1891 and the newly adopted .455 Webley Mk II of 1897 using cordite instead of black powder. Although the designations do not really indicate this, all utilized a .454” bullet with a .476” neck diameter and had a nominal base of .480” with a .535” rim. Even the truly obsolete .450 Adams (or .450 Tranter) was for all practical purposes interchangeable with the newer cartridges. The Mk I had the longest overall length at 21.7mm, the old .476 had a 21.65mm overall length and the new Mk II had a 19.3mm overall length. The Mk II round would be the primary British military handgun cartridge from 1897 to 1898 and from 1900 to 1912. The Mk III was only in use temporarily, as the hollow point bullet design was a violation of the 1899 Hague Convention. The Mk II utilized a 265 grain solid lead round nosed bullet, propelled by 6.5 grains of cordite and traveling at about 650 fps and generating about 250 ft/lbs. of energy, making it comparable to a modern .45 ACP target load. While the stopping power of the older .476 and Mk I cartridges and the new Mk II cartridge were essentially equivalent, it was the differences in pressure curves between the old black powder cartridges and the new cordite ones that were reflected in the strength of the 1896 “WG” Target and Army Model revolvers
Offered here is a FINE condition example of a Webley 1896 “WG” Army Model Revolver. The top of the barrel rib is clearly marked:
P. WEBLEY & SON, LONDON & BIRMINGHAM
The right side of the frame is marked with the serial number 19772, and the last 3 digits of the serial number, 772, are also stamped inside the rear face of the cylinder and on the bottom of the barrel web. The complete serial number is also found stamped on the interior of the frame, under the left grip panel and inside both of the walnut grips. The left side of the frame is marked WEBLEY / PATENTS in an arced, two line cartouche and the winged “Webley & Son” bullet logo is stamped to the rear of the patent marking. The caliber marking .450 / .455 is present on the left side of the barrel web, forward of the cylinder. The left side of the topstrap is stamped: “W.G.” ARMY MODEL. As would be expected as an 1896 “Army Model”, the gun has a 6” barrel, fixed sights and checkered wood grips with a square butt profile. The gun is 100% original and correct in every way. The gun retains about 45%-50% of its original blued finish overall, much of which has faded, thinned, dulled and worn. Only some of the protected areas of the frame retain any bright blue, but the barrel and cylinder retain significant amounts of original finish. The barrel retains about 60%+ of its original blue, mixed with a gray-brown patina. The blue is mostly faded and dull and has mixed nicely with the patina. The barrel is essentially smooth and free of any significant pitting, but shows evenly distributed light pinpricking over its entire upper surface, most noticeably at the muzzle and along the top rib and top strap. A pair of Birmingham commercial proof marks are present o the upper angled barrel flats on either side of the frame. The cylinder retains about 40% of its original finish, most of which has faded and dulled, with the brightest blue being in the protected recesses of the cylinder flutes. The cylinder also bears the usual Birmingham commercial proof marks at the rear of each flute. The cylinder is essentially smooth, with only some light pinpricking around the cylinder mouths and at the face. The frame retains about 10%+ of its original blue, most of which is faded and worn, with only some hints of bright blue in the protected areas around the hinge and behind the flash guard. The frame shows some lightly scattered oxidized freckling, but is essentially smooth. The barrel latch retains about 80% of its original bright niter blued finish with some minor wear, fading and dulling, and similarly blued parts around the frame hinge retain about 50% of their finish. The grip frame and backstrap are mostly a smooth, mottled brown and gray patina, with no finish remaining and only traces of finish remains on the forward portion of the triggerguard. The revolver is mechanically EXCELLENT condition and functions perfectly in every way. The revolver times and indexes correctly and locks up tightly. The action functions crisply in both single and double action modes, and the barrel catch secures the top-break revolver tightly as it should. The thumb catch releases the barrel as it should and the automatic extractor functions smoothly and correctly when the barrel is lowered. The original sight notch is in place on the top of the barrel catch and the original front sight blade is in place in base on the top of the barrel near the muzzle. The bore of the revolver rates VERY FINE and remains mostly bright with sharp 7-groove Metford patent rifling its entire length. The bore shows only lightly scattered pitting along its length and some light frosting in the grooves. The original lanyard ring is in place in the butt of the revolver and moves smoothly and easily. The two-piece checkered walnut grips are in VERY GOOD condition. As mentioned earlier they are stamp numbered to the gun on their interior. The grips are solid and complete with no breaks, or repairs noted. The grips show some minor to moderate wear and flattening to the checkering, as well as numerous minor handling bumps and dings. Two small cracks are present, but both are stable and of minor consequence. The left grip shows a short, ““ long surface crack and minor chip at the upper rear where it meets the frame. This grain crack does not go through the grip and is only on the surface, where it appears stable. The right grip shows a tight grain crack in the same location, but this one is slightly longer at about 1”, and is visible on the reverse of the grip as well. Again, it appears tight and stable and does not materially detract from the display of the revolver. This appears to be a weak spot in the grip design, as a small locating pin is present on the frame in this area and a small indexing hole is present in the reverse of the grips here as well. This means the wood is thin and delicate where the grips meet the frame at the upper rear. Other than the normal wear and tear from carry and use and the two minor cracks, the grips remain solid, complete and match the condition of the revolver well.Overall this is a very nice example of a desirable late 19th century Webley “WG” 1896 Army Model Revolver in FINE condition. These workhorse revolvers were quite popular with British military officers from their introduction through early 1900s, with many remaining in use right through the era of the Great War. This is exactly the type of revolver that a British officer might have carried during the Boxer Rebellion in China (1899-1901), the Second Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902) and of course the Great War (World War I 1914-1918). This would also be a wonderful “shooter” for the revolver enthusiast who like to shoot obsolete and military style revolvers. As .455 Webley Mk II ammunition is still available both in antique original loadings and from Fiocchi (at about $36 per box of 50) in modern loadings, it would be fun to try this old revolver out. The tight action and crisp bore suggest that this would be a fun antique revolver for the firing range. Overall this is a really nice Webley “WG” Army Model with enough finish to qualify as “fine”, but not so minty that you would be afraid to take it out and use it some. I’m sure you will enjoy adding this attractive gun to your collection of British or 19th century cartridge revolvers. SOLD