AIR­GUN COL­LEC­TION

Webley’s early ‘Se­nior’ Air Pis­tols Part 3 by John Atkins

Air Gunner - - Airgun Collection -

Ad­di­tional im­ages cour­tesy of Webley Ar­chives, Nigel Allen, Ch­ester Purl­lant and Jeff Hy­der

W hen de­cid­ing where best to ad­ver­tise, gun­mak­ers of the past ob­vi­ously chose the mag­a­zines they thought would present their prod­ucts to the widest and most suit­able au­di­ence, just as an ad­ver­tiser of to­day would by choos­ing Air Gun­ner or Air­gun World. There were no spe­cial­ist air­gun mag­a­zines then, so BSA, for ex­am­ple, tar­geted the shoot­ers of rooks, rab­bits, rats and other crop de­stroy­ing pests by ad­ver­tis­ing their but­ton- end un­der­lever air ri­fle in The Jour­nal

of The Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, and more oddly, in a yacht­ing mag­a­zine, among many other pe­ri­od­i­cals. Webley & Scott Ltd. re­peat­edly used the

Mec­cano Mag­a­zine to reach the younger mar­ket, and clearly thought the ad­ven­tur­ers avidly read­ing the Wide World mag­a­zine would ben­e­fit from arm­ing them­selves with a Webley be­fore em­bark­ing on their dan­ger­ous trav­els abroad. The longestab­lished Wide World true ad­ven­ture mag­a­zine had run from April, 1898 and

Fig­ure 1 is a re­print from the Au­gust, 1931 is­sue car­ry­ing a be­lated re­view of the new Webley ‘Se­nior’ air pis­tol, writ­ten by ‘The Cap­tain’. It’s pos­si­ble the writer was the one- time edi­tor of The Cap­tain mag­a­zine, aimed at Public School Boys and Old Boys, another rich source for old air­gun ad­ver­tise­ments. The Cap­tain mag­a­zine started from a sim­i­lar time as the Wide World mag­a­zine, com­menc­ing a year later in fact, 1899 - un­til its demise in 1924.

Whilst ac­cu­racy, power and the new bar­rel link­age fa­cil­i­tat­ing the cock­ing ef­fort of the new flag­ship model Webley pis­tol were praised, there was no men­tion of the new re­volver stir­rup- type bar­rel latch, the new metal­lic pis­ton ring or even the model name! How­ever, if ‘The Cap­tain’s’ ex­am­ple was a first pro­duc­tion model, us­ing a Mark II body and a Mark I/II trig­ger as­sem­bly but no safety catch, it’s pos­si­ble the pis­ton ring had not yet re­placed the leather washer of these first ‘square grip’ Se­niors. The re­view was clearly well thought of by Webley & Scott be­cause they reprinted it for fur­ther dis­tri­bu­tion.

A good con­di­tion Se­nior pre­vi­ously in Nigel Allen’s Webley col­lec­tion has been pre­served in its orig­i­nal card­board car­ton, and I’m in­debted to Nigel for the use of his pho­to­graphs show­ing se­rial num­ber S2220 in Fig­ures 2 and 3. Dat­ing from around the time of the 1931 Wide World mag­a­zine re­view, the im­ages show both sides of this sec­ond pro­duc­tion- type Se­nior.

BROTH­ER­HOOD

The Oc­to­ber 1960 is­sue of Wide World ad­ven­ture mag­a­zine car­ried ad­ver­tise­ments for the Webley Mark I air pis­tol, and the Cogswell & Harrison ‘Cer­tus’ De Luxe sin­gle- bar­rel 12 bore shot­gun; the front cover be­ing shown as Fig­ure 4. This edi­tion of the pub­li­ca­tion, con­tains very un- PC sto­ries with such ti­tles as ‘Dwarfs of The For­bid­den Hills’ and a page about ‘The Wide World Broth­er­hood’ telling how they are a fra­ter­nity of men (and women) of good­will, linked by the com­mon bond of a love of travel and ad­ven­ture. It had only one rule – a solemn pledge to treat fel­low mem­bers as broth­ers, and if need arose, give them any help pos­si­ble. There was no an­nual sub­scrip­tion; the only nec­es­sary ex­pense was five shillings (25p) [ US 70c.] for the gilt- and- enamel but­ton­hole badge ( brooch for ladies) and cer­tifi­cate of life mem­ber­ship. The badge was to be worn when­ever con­ve­nient, to en­able Brethren to recog­nise one another. Al­though only 11 years old in 1960, the Broth­er­hood was rep­re­sented in over 70 dif­fer­ent countries and stated to be con­tin­u­ally in­creas­ing in strength.

My friend and erst­while col­league, Kevin Brock found this is­sue and I see he’s stuck a ‘pos­tit’ note on the page out­lin­ing the aims of the Broth­er­hood say­ing: ‘There’s some­thing a bit dis­turb­ing about this! I won­der how many mem­bers they had.’

I don’t know, but in an in­creas­ingly un­car­ing world of global in­dif­fer­ence and the present ‘ev­ery man for him­self’ at­ti­tude – many car driv­ers are in too much of a hurry to slow down in re­spect for a horse on the road, let alone stop for a hu­man in dis­tress – I guess The Wide World cov­er­age of brave Bri­tish ad­ven­tur­ers abroad, and their ethic of care for oth­ers, be­gan to have lit­tle place, ad­mirable as it was, and the mag­a­zine faded away in De­cem­ber 1965.

I’ve read other is­sues and found it hard to be­lieve that many of the sup­pos­edly ‘ true’ ad­ven­ture sto­ries ev­ery ac­tu­ally hap­pened. The Times de­scribed the mag­a­zine as be­ing about ‘brave chaps with large mous­taches on stiff up­per lips, who did stupid and dan­ger­ous things’.

PAST LINKS

I men­tioned the four vari­a­tions of bar­rel link­age last month, made to the orig­i­nal dou­ble- jointed bar­rel link­age cov­ered by Webley’s patent num­ber 326,703, ap­plied for on the 3rd of May 1929 and granted on 20th March, 1930. The patent ap­pli­ca­tion date shows that Webley had been at work on the pis­tol to be­come known as the ‘Se­nior’ (rather than the ini­tial ‘Mark III’ des­ig­na­tion) for well over a year be­fore it reached the gen­eral public in July and Au­gust 1930. Webley air pis­tol his­to­rian, Jeff Hy­der, in­forms me that ac­cord­ing to pre- war fac­tory records of wages sched­ules, man­u­fac­ture of the ‘Se­nior’ had com­menced in late 1929.

The patent dou­ble-joint cock­ing link­age worked against a ramp dove­tailed and brazed in at the front end of the pis­tol body forg­ing be­hind the bar­rel hinge lug. The small ramp acted as a ful­crum, as­sist­ing the ef­fec­tive pull dur­ing the last part of the long cock­ing move­ment, and link and ramp had to be hard­ened by dif­fer­ent spe­cialised pro­cesses

due to the bear­ing forces in­volved.

The first pro­duc­tion-type Se­niors re­quired an al­ter­ation that I had no space to in­clude last month. The new bar­rel link­ages on very early Se­niors suf­fered break­ages at the hinge be­tween the long and in­ter­me­di­ate links, where they piv­oted over the ful­crum on the pis­tol body, re­sult­ing in Webley re­design­ing the in­ter­me­di­ate link by adding strength­en­ing shoul­ders to widen it at the front end at the hinged joint with the long link.

The top view of my Webley Se­nior, se­rial no. S2027 in Fig­ure 5, shows this sec­ond type of in­ter­me­di­ate link with ad­di­tional strength­en­ing shoul­ders. The new stepped sides of this mod­i­fi­ca­tion meant the po­si­tion of the link­age patent num­ber pre­vi­ously stamped along the left side, needed to be moved to the top of this im­proved in­ter­me­di­ate link. The small link at this stage of pro­duc­tion re­mained the orig­i­nal semi- cir­cu­lar shoe above the cock­ing slider.

No mat­ter what type of link­age, they could all suf­fer from the stretch­ing prob­lem over a long pe­riod of hard use, as I de­scribed last month, re­quir­ing ei­ther re­place­ment with a later ver­sion, or care­ful spe­cialised re­pair. Long ago, Jeff was told of another cu­ri­ous way some­one in the past had over­come the ‘stretched links’ prob­lem,

by in­sert­ing another metal pis­ton ring fur­ther back on the pis­ton, act­ing as a spacer for the small link cock­ing slider to work against, pre­sum­ably to push the pis­ton back fur­ther and into bent with the sear. It was so long back, that Jeff is un­sure where he heard this, but it was most likely from his friend, Dr. Mark New­comer who dis­man­tled many Webley pis­tols dur­ing re­search for his pi­o­neer­ing se­ries on Webley Air Pis­tols pub­lished in three parts in Guns Re­view mag­a­zine in the 1970s.

CH­ESTER’S CAN­VAS CASES

Ch­ester Purl­lant had no less than six can­vas- cased Webley Se­niors through his hands when ac­tively col­lect­ing, and four Se­niors in the later black ‘leatherette’ cases. One was re­tailed by the Army & Navy Co- Op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety Ltd, Gun Depart­ment, 105 Vic­to­ria Street, London, S.W.1. Fig­ure 6 shows that the strong, can­vas- on-wood case is sim­i­lar to the green baize lined ‘Webley’ la­bel types, but this one’s lin­ing is a red­dish colour. The lock is ‘left- hand’, just like the Webley of­fi­cial cased pis­tol pho­to­graph shown last month.

In pro­por­tion to the size of the pis­tol case, this Army & Navy Co- Op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety, Ltd. la­bel looks neat. Many of the trade la­bels stuck in­side pis­tol boxes are lu­di­crously large and seemed to be just utilised from those meant for ri­fles or shot­gun cases. If, for ex­am­ple, the Webley air pis­tol case la­bels had been smaller, that would have pre­vented the la­bel dam­age caused by the thumb- piece of the bar­rel stir­rup stick­ing up and wear­ing the la­bel. I sup­pose one size of printed trade la­bel had to do in the in­ter­ests of econ­omy. I have BSA air ri­fles stamped on the bar­rel top as hav­ing been re­tailed by Army & Navy Stores, and it would be in­ter­est­ing to travel back in time to visit their gun depart­ment. It must have been quite a large es­tab­lish­ment, full of in­ter­est­ing shoot­ing items, many be­ing shipped world­wide. The few We­b­leys found in cases are usu­ally beau­ti­fully pre­served, like another Se­nior’ from the late 1930s that Ch­ester once owned, shown in Fig­ure 7.

A very in­ter­est­ing Webley Se­nior be­long­ing to Jeff Hy­der has some un­usual fea­tures, mak­ing it an ‘in­ter­me­di­ate’ ex­am­ple. A 1940, 150th An­niver­sary pis­tol con­structed from pre-war, and what would later be­come, post-war parts ap­pears in Fig­ure 8. Namely, a ‘straight’ pre- war style trig­ger and a Webley un­marked grip on the right side with a pre-war Webley marked grip fit­ted to the left- hand side only. We don’t feel this ar­range­ment is caused merely by a bro­ken un­marked grip be­ing re­placed by one of the new ‘Webley’ marked ones, be­cause Jeff’s cased ‘Se­nior’ pis­tol for­merly be­longed to Al­bert Green of Webley, the co- cre­ator of the Webley air pis­tol and ri­fle deal­ers’ spare parts box sys­tem. With­out doubt, Mr. Green would have had bet­ter ac­cess to re­plac­ing a grip with the cor­rect one, than any­body else on earth.

Jeff has al­ways felt that hav­ing just the one mak­er­marked stock- side could well be a throw­back to the wood­gripped orig­i­nal Mk. I air pis­tol mod­els, sport­ing just the name medal­lion on the left- hand side grip only, with the right grip left plain. It’s also worth con­sid­er­ing the fact that Webley never threw any­thing away, and they would use up parts from dif­fer­ent eras and sell guns with un­ex­pected fea­tures and pos­si­bly they still had old grips in stock at this time, and this would at least use up half of them on the right side of any new pis­tols pro­duced un­til the old

un­marked grips ran out. It seems we will never know for cer­tain, un­less fur­ther ex­am­ples from 1940 ap­pear with the com­bi­na­tion of old- and new- style grips – one marked and one un­marked. Even then we might never know for sure the rea­son for the odd grips.

The long knurl­ing to the bar­rel was in­tro­duced in June 1939. Fig­ure 9 shows Jeff’s 1940 Webley Se­nior with fourth- type bar­rel link­age with no coil spring or a slot for it. In fact, noth­ing to pre­vent the links fold­ing over and hav­ing to be man­u­ally straight­ened out in or­der for the bar­rel to seat prop­erly af­ter cock­ing, as with the ear­li­est Se­nior link­ages.

A new fourth- type bar­rel link­age ap­pears on Jeff’s ‘Se­nior’ with no slot cut for a coil spring. The knurl­ing that ini­tially ex­tended for­ward on the bar­rel, fouled the top of both in­ter­me­di­ate link and cock­ing slider and had a detri­men­tal ef­fect on the top of this link be­cause it im­printed the pat­tern of the knurl­ing on the top. This im­pact be­tween link and the un­der­side of the bar­rel also caused the knurl­ing there of the mild steel (used at that stage) bar­rel to be­came flat­tened by cor­re­spond­ing wear.

Jeff’s Se­nior is housed in the cor­rect, new ‘leatherette’, non- lock­able Webley pis­tol case with nickel- plated snap catches and a gold let­ter­ing on black trade la­bel, rem­i­nis­cent of the type fit­ted to the first of the can­vas- cov­ered pre- war cases, but with the ad­di­tional line, say­ing ‘GRAND PRIX DU CASINO A MONTE CARLO – FIVE YEARS’ - which ap­plies to the re­peated suc­cess of Webley’s sport­ing guns in the pi­geon­shoot­ing field; not air­gun re­lated.

The later post-war model Se­nior batch no. 4276 in Fig­ure 10 has a fifth-type bar­rel link­age hav­ing the ad­di­tion of small coil spring in­tro­duced in Fe­bru­ary 1947 to fur­ther pre­vent the links fold­ing over them­selves. Note the long bar­rel knurl­ing still ex­tend­ing for­ward to foul the link­age; also the thicker ‘curly’ trig­ger with a long tip in­tro­duced in 1944 and lack of the wedge­shaped short link of the third-type link­age, this ‘teardrop link­age’ pre­vi­ously pre­vent­ing the in­ter­me­di­ate link from fold­ing over. The trig­ger tip was trimmed back in May, 1963.

PROB­LEM AD­DRESSED

Fig­ures 11 and 12 show the dam­ag­ing ef­fect on the rear of the link as the bar­rel knurl­ing im­printed its pat­tern on the top, due to the hard col­li­sion be­tween link and the un­der­side of the bar­rel on clo­sure; a sim­i­lar ef­fect is seen on Jeff Hy­der’s ear­lier 150th An­niver­sary model pis­tol. In Septem­ber 1949, the cross­hatched knurl­ing of the bar­rel was re­duced to two inches to pre­vent it col­lid­ing with the link­age. It took Webley a decade to ad­dress this prob­lem, but there had been a war on, so low pri­or­ity. Jeff ‘s fur­ther pho­to­graph, Fig­ure 13 shows a later Se­nior with the bar­rel knurl­ing short­ened at the front to clear the sprung short link. Fac­tory blue­prints tell us the new slot for the link spring was added in March, 1947 which dates my ex­am­ple (Fig­ures 10, 11 and 12) still with the ex­tended bar­rel knurl­ing, as af­ter this date.

An early, slant- grip Se­nior se­rial no. S7111, a pre-war pis­tol housed in a post-war ‘Leatherette’ case is seen in

Fig­ure 14. Dark let­ter­ing on gold trade la­bel with wear in the usual place. Webley’ Spe­cial’ pel­let tin and HOC ‘Ex­ce­lene’ oil. A one-time owner of this pis­tol, Ch­ester Purl­lant, told me it’s since had a Webley oil­can sub­sti­tuted and a ‘Se­nior’ pis­tol more suited to the age of the case. The con­toured lower sec­tion found in a few of these later, non-lock­ing cases al­lowed a post-war style, screw- on, re­versible spout Webley oil can to be com­part­mented along­side, rather than a pre-war Valvespout tin. Ob­vi­ously, it’s es­sen­tial that later cans are screwed on tight to pre­vent spoil­ing a pis­tol case with oil leak­age.

AC­KNOWL­EDGE­MENTS:

Thanks to Jeff Hy­der and Ch­ester Purl­lant for in­put and pho­to­graphs; also to Nigel Allen for the use of his pho­to­graphs.

FIG­URE 6

FIG­URE 7

Fig­ure 1: Al­though the model name is un­men­tioned, ‘The Cap­tain’s’ be­lated re­view of the new ‘ Se­nior’ pis­tol was clearly ap­proved of by Webley & Scott be­cause they reprinted it from ‘ Wide World Mag­a­zine’, Au­gust, 1931. [Webley Ar­chives]Fig­ure 2: Dat­ing from around the time of the 1931 ‘Wide World Mag­a­zine’ re­view, this good con­di­tion ‘Se­nior’ se­rial num­ber S2220 pre­vi­ously in Nigel Allen’s Webley col­lec­tion has been pre­served in its orig­i­nal card­board car­ton. [Photo cour­tesy of Nigel Allen]Fig­ure 3: Sec­ond pro­duc­tion type Se­nior se­rial no. S2220. The first Patent type of in­ter­me­di­ate link strength­ened by widen­ing at the hinge of the long link. [Photo cour­tesy of Nigel Allen]Fig­ure 4: Still be­ing pub­lished in 1960, The Oc­to­ber is­sue of ‘ Wide World’ true ad­ven­ture mag­a­zine car­ried ad­ver­tise­ments for the Webley Mark I air pis­tol and the Cogswell & Harrison ‘ Cer­tus’ De Luxe sin­gle bar­rel 12 bore shot­gunFig­ure 5: Top view of Webley ‘ Se­nior’ se­rial no. S2027, show­ing sec­ond type of in­ter­me­di­ate link with ad­di­tional strength­en­ing shoul­ders at the hinge with the long link, to rem­edy ear­lier break­ages hereFig­ure 6: The Army & Navy Co- Op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety Ltd, Gun Depart­ment, London re­tailed this ‘ Se­nior’. The strong, can­vas- on-wood case is sim­i­lar to the green baize lined ‘ Webley’ la­bel types, but this one’s lin­ing is a red­dish colour. [Photo cour­tesy of Ch­ester Purl­lant]Fig­ure 7:The few We­b­leys found in cases are usu­ally beau­ti­fully pre­served, like this fine ‘ Se­nior’ from the late 1930s. [Photo cour­tesy of Ch­ester Purl­lant]

FIG­URE 4

FIG­URE 5

FIG­URE 9

FIG­URE 8

FIG­URE 10

FIG­URE 11

Fig­ure 8: In­ter­est­ing Webley ‘ Se­nior’ with some un­usual fea­tures mak­ing it an ‘in­ter­me­di­ate’ ex­am­ple - be­ing a 1940, 150th An­niver­sary pis­tol con­structed from pre-war, and what would later be­come, post-war parts. [Photo cour­tesy of Jeff Hy­der]Fig­ure 9: 1940 Webley ‘ Se­nior’, 150th An­niver­sary pis­tol with fourth- type bar­rel link­age with­out the ‘ teardrop’ and with no coil spring or a slot for same. [Photo cour­tesy of Jeff Hy­der]Fig­ure 10: Later post-war model batch no. 4276 with fifth- type bar­rel link­age hav­ing ad­di­tion of small coil spring in­tro­duced in Fe­bru­ary 1947 to fur­ther pre­vent the links fold­ing over them­selvesFig­ure 11: Show­ing the detri­men­tal ef­fect on the rear of the link as the bar­rel knurl­ing im­printed its pat­tern on the top due to the hard col­li­sion be­tween link and the un­der­side of the bar­rel on clo­sureFig­ure 12: Another view of Webley ‘ Se­nior’ batch no. 4276, show­ing how the bar­rel knurl­ing stamped its pat­tern on the link - as with Jeff Hy­der’s ear­lier 150th An­niver­sary model pis­tolFig­ure 13: In Septem­ber 1949, the cross- hatched knurl­ing of the bar­rel was re­duced to two inches to pre­vent it foul­ing the link­age. It took Webley a decade to ad­dress this sim­ple prob­lem for some rea­son. [Photo cour­tesy of Jeff Hy­der]Fig­ure 14: Early slant- grip Se­nior se­rial no. S7111, a pre-war pis­tol housed in a post-war ‘ Leatherette’ case. Dark let­ter­ing on gold trade la­bel with wear in the usual place. Webley ‘ Spe­cial’ pel­let tin and HOC ‘ Ex­ce­lene’ oil. [Photo cour­tesy of Ch­ester Purl­lant] FIG­URE 13

FIG­URE 14

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