This is a truly lovely example of an English Webley Wedge Frame percussion revolver from the American Civil War era. The Webley Wedge system was developed by the famous Birmingham gun maker Philip Webley as a lower cost production alternative to the solid frame revolvers being offered by Adams and Tranter. Rather than machining the entire frame and barrel from a single forging as was done on those revolvers, Webley used a Colt style wedge to secure the two primary components of the revolver together. The front / upper component was the barrel and topstrap, while the lower component was the grip strap and lower frame, which contained the action. Most of Webley’s revolvers used the Joseph Bentley patented lockwork and were what modern gun makers would term “traditional double action”. Which meant that they could be cocked manually and fired in “single action” mode for accurate shooting, or could be fired in “double action” mode, by simply pulling the trigger. This latter method was faster, but the long, heavy trigger pull associated with the pull of the trigger rotating the cylinder, cocking and then releasing the hammer, inhibited accurate shooting. Philip Webley (1813-1888) went into business with his brother James as a gun and gunlock maker in 1834 in Birmingham, and in 1838 established himself on his own at 84 Weaman Street. In 1859 the name of the firm was changed to that of P Webley & Son, and it continued under that name and at that address through 1883, expanding to more Weaman Street properties in 1884 and operating until 1893, when it was combined with the firm of W & C Scott to become Webley & Scott. The firm remained in business under a number of names and owners (working in a number of different areas of the gun trade) until the year 2000. While Webley was responsible for the design that mated the wedge frame and Bentley’s lock work, it appears that he retailed more of the guns than he manufactured, and the guns were produced by a variety of Birmingham makers during the late 1850’s and early to mid-1860. Many of these revolvers were not marked with anything other than patent numbers on the frame and a retailers name on the top strap, which indicated who sold the revolver. This particular example is void of any markings that would indicate the manufacturer and bears no patent or serial numbers. It is only marked with Birmingham commercial proofs on the barrel and cylinder, and the top strap is engraved: W ROWNTREE BARNARD CASTLE & PENRITH. William Rowntree was listed as operating in Barnard Castle, County Durham from 1847 to 1865. He also maintained a place of business in Penrith, County Cumberland during the late 1850’s as well. Both towns are located in the northern regions of England, about 175 miles north of the Birmingham gun making region, and about 100 to 125 miles south of Edinburgh, Scotland. It is not clear from the limited available information if Rowntree was simply a retailer or a gun maker as well, however, a number of sporting shotguns are also known with his mark. Based on the style of the revolver, with the early Adams type self-cocking lockwork and the exaggerated curve to the grip strap, I would think this revolver would have been manufactured in the mid-1850’s, but it could be a later pistol as well. There is simply not enough information available on the maker or from this pistol to determine a more exact time frame for production and sale than mid-1850’s to 1865 (when Rowntree went out of business). The pistol is a fairly high-grade revolver and may have at one time been a cased gun.
The pistol is a percussion six-shot, self-cocking (double action only) revolver in 80-Bore (about .38 caliber). The revolver has a 5 ¼” octagon barrel and is just under 10 ½” in overall length. It has a “Colt style” under barrel loading lever, and a top strap. The grip is curved in an exaggerated fashion and features a trap in the butt for the storage of percussion caps or cleaning implements. The pistol is in VERY FINE+ condition overall and retains about 85%+ original bright blue on the barrel and top strap. The lower frame and grip strap retain about 10%-20% faded and worn blue, mixed with a smooth smoky gray patina. The cylinder retains about 40% original case coloring, which has faded and mixed with a mottled smoky gray patina as well. The cylinder also shows some scattered light peppering and pinpricking. The loading lever retains about 70%+ vivid case coloring, with some fading and toning to silver and gray. The frame of the revolver is lightly engraved with loose foliate motifs, and the triggerguard is engraved with matching patterns, in a tighter scroll motif. The butt cap retains about 20%-30% faded case coloring and is engraved with a swirling pinwheel motif. The edges of the frame, top strap and muzzle are all lightly engraved with boarder patterns. The action of the revolver functions perfectly and the revolver times and locks up exactly as it should. The original framed mounted hammer safety is present on the left side of the frame and retains its spring tension, but the small tip of the safety that engages the hammer nose inside the frame has broken off. This is common on English revolvers with this style of hammer safety, and it is a typical issue on Adams, Tranter and other English pistols of the era. The cylinder retains all of its original cones (nipples) and they are all in fine condition. The loading lever functions exactly as it should and securely snaps into place on the pin at the end of the barrel. The bore of the revolver is in FINE condition, with crisp 7 groove rifling present. The original front sight is in place at the end of the barrel as well, with a small notch at the top rear of the topstrap serving as a rear sight. The spring loaded trap cover in the butt of the pistol functions smoothly and exactly as it should. The pistol remains 100% complete, correct and original, with the possible exception of the frame wedge, which may be a more recent replacement. The checkered walnut grips are in VERY FINE condition, with sharp checkering throughout and only the most minor wear and handling marks present on the grips. The rear of the grips have a German silver shield inlaid in them, intended for the monogram or coat of arms of the owner, the shield remains blank and un-engraved.
It is well established that “Webley Wedge” pattern revolvers were imported by the South during the course of the American Civil War. While little definite information about quantities or exact specifications has been established, the general consensus is that the revolvers were of the pattern with a top strap and a Colt style loading lever under the barrel. More than likely both the 80-Bore (.38) and 54-Bore (.44) caliber revolvers were purchased, as they essentially equated to the standard .36 “Navy” and .44 “Army” Colt models which were the standard by which all percussion revolvers on both sides were rated. The famous “Pratt Roll” of percussion revolvers in the hands of Company H of the 18th VA Cavalry CSA as of July of 1864, indicates that of the 16 revolvers counted, 7 were Kerr’s, 2 were Tranter’s, 2 were Bentley’s, 4 were “unknown” and one was a Webley (#5054). While this revolver is hardly the quality that one would expect to see in the hands of an average cavalry trooper, it could well have been a private purchase revolver utilized by an officer. It may well have crossed the ocean as part of the speculative cargo in a blockade-runner and not as a Confederate central government purchase item. No one will ever be able to know for sure, short of finding receipts for the sale of Mr. Rowntree’s revolvers to the Confederacy. One thing is for sure, Webley wedge pattern revolvers were used in at least some small quantities by the Confederacy and they are very scarce revolvers on the American market today. While these were intended as cheap alternatives to the more expensive Adams and Tranter revolvers in England, and were produced in some quantity there, US examples are simply scarce. Adams and Tranter revolvers appear on the market with much more frequency than any Webley Wedge style percussion revolver. Overall this is a really lovely example in a high state of condition that functions well and is in a desirable combat caliber – 80-Bore, so close to the Confederacy's loved "Navy" caliber. This revolver would be a wonderful addition to any collection of secondary martial revolvers from the Civil War era, especially one that focuses on imported arms. SOLD