AIR­GUN COL­LEC­TION

Ad­di­tional pho­tos cour­tesy of We­b­ley Archives, Neil McCrossen and Vic­tor Nel­son

Air Gunner - - Contents -

In­ter-war We­b­ley Seniors, and John Atkins pays trib­ute to a friend and fel­low en­thu­si­ast, John McCrossen

I n my four- part se­ries on the first We­b­ley ‘Mark I’ Air Pis­tols run­ning over Fe­bru­ary, May, June and July last year, I men­tioned that the early Mark I pis­tol in .22 cal­i­bre was a per­sonal favourite of my friend, Jeff Hyder. Since then, I’ve been asked which was my own favourite model of the We­b­ley range of pis­tols down the years.

Whilst the post- war, fully- de­vel­oped We­b­ley ‘Seniors’ are su­perb ex­am­ples of Bri­tish en­gi­neer­ing of the ‘50s – the qual­ity ex­tend­ing al­most into the mid-‘60s with the early ‘Pre­mier’ A & B Se­ries that re­placed the Se­nior model, I’d go back fur­ther in time to the pre- war years and say, my all­time favourite is the ‘slant grip’ Se­nior first an­nounced in late 1935 un­til the out­break of World War Two, that re­placed the squarer- gripped first Seniors of June, 1930 to De­cem­ber, 1935, seen as the top four pis­tols in my group in Fig­ure 1.

The old, near ver­ti­cal grip-frame We­b­ley pis­tols are de­sir­able now, of course – es­pe­cially the ver­sions meant for ex­port like the Stoeger ‘Mark II Tar­get’ mod­els and ‘Seniors’, both with at­trac­tive che­quered wal­nut grips meant for the Amer­i­can mar­ket. A fine ex­am­ple, se­rial num­ber S1784 ap­pears top right of the group. It’s just a per­sonal pref­er­ence, but the pre­war ‘slant grip’ mod­els hold a par­tic­u­lar fas­ci­na­tion for me. Along with the slant grip Mark Is, th­ese were only made for about four years, so are less easy to find than some other We­b­ley mod­els.

We­b­ley & Scott’s odd il­lus­tra­tion, seen in Fig­ure 2, de­picts the new frame Se­nior cocked, with the ex­act shape of the new slant grip not yet fully re­solved; scanned from a print from ei­ther a broad en­grav­ing, or scrap­er­board il­lus­tra­tion – it’s dif­fi­cult to tell which – that was found in We­b­ley’s own ar­chive ma­te­rial. The tran­si­tional pis­tol still has an old- style long bar­rel and there’s been no at­tempt to re­move the old­est fea­ture, the ad­justable trig­ger screw, from the days of the very ear­li­est Seniors, which had in­her­ited fea­tures of Mark I pis­tols, namely the ad­juster screw and leather pis­ton head – rather than the later, phos­pho­rous bronze pis­ton ring. This makes me feel that the artist was work­ing ei­ther from a very old Se­nior, or an ear­lier pic­ture, and sim­ply put the slant grip onto an old- style pis­tol.

STREAM­LINED SE­NIOR

The change of grip shape can be pin­pointed to De­cem­ber 1935, when an editorial ap­peared on Page 762 of The Mec­cano Mag­a­zine ti­tled: ‘New Grips for We­b­ley Air Pis­tol’ – which read: ‘For a con­sid­er­able time the shape of the grip of the We­b­ley Air Pis­tols, al­though it did not de­tract from ac­cu­racy, has been sub­ject to crit­i­cism. It is of in­ter­est to our sport­ing read­ers, there­fore, to know that the mak­ers, We­b­ley and Scott Ltd. have now been able to in­tro­duce a new type of grip for their Mark I and Se­nior Mod­els. The new grip, in ad­di­tion to im­prov­ing the gen­eral ap­pear­ance of the mod­els, gives greater comfort in use and will ma­te­ri­ally add to the ef­fi­ciency of the pis­tols. In­ter­ested read­ers can se­cure a copy of a de­scrip­tive leaflet on ap­pli­ca­tion to We­b­ley and Scott Ltd., Wea­man Street, Birm­ing­ham 4, free of charge on men­tion­ing the “M.M.”’ This De­cem­ber 1935 M.M. is­sue, along with other pe­ri­od­i­cals, was the first to show the slant grip pis­tol il­lus­tra­tion in a small ad­ver­tise­ment. I found the

orig­i­nal proof of this also among the We­b­ley ma­te­rial, and the scrap­er­board il­lus­tra­tion is shown in Fig­ure 3 giv­ing a more ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the new slant grip Se­nior. Broadly ex­e­cuted, it was clearly only ever meant to print very small.

Jeff Hyder in­forms me that dur­ing early 1935, We­b­ley de­cided to al­ter the ba­sic air pis­tol straight or ver­ti­cal grip de­sign by the in­tro­duc­tion of a new style of an­gle grip frame con­fig­u­ra­tion, but the per­sons re­spon­si­ble for the de­ci­sion are un­known. How­ever, the changeover date of 1935, which used to be based on mag­a­zine ad­ver­tise­ments, can now be sub­stan­ti­ated by We­b­ley’s own stock­tak­ing records of that year and by records kindly sup­plied by Vic­to­ria Drop Forg­ings Co. Ltd. (still trad­ing) who were sup­pli­ers of the sep­a­rate trig­ger guard steel forg­ings, which re­quired pro­fil­ing and milling be­fore they could be fit­ted to the pis­tol bod­ies. Whilst the pre­cise date of the slant grip pis­tol in­tro­duc­tion to the pub­lic is now clear, the ac­tual pro­duc­tion changeover is prob­a­bly not so clear cut. When Jeff in­ter­viewed re­tired We­b­ley em­ploy­ees on this ques­tion, they replied that there was no fixed date but a grad­ual changeover from one type of pis­tol to an­other be­cause We­b­ley would use up ex­ist­ing stock of body forg­ings and fin­ished com­po­nents of straight- gripped pis­tols as se­rial num­bers ran up to 50,000 for the Mk. I and 7,000 for Seniors

Early slant grip model Seniors with­out cord­ing ( grooves) around the grip frames ap­pear as Fig­ure 4. Top: Se­rial no. S7097 with hol­ster made by the pre­vi­ous owner, a re­tired sad­dler who sold me the pis­tol for £ 5 in the early 1970s, whilst be­low is Se­nior no. S7272. A .22 cal­i­bre We­b­ley Se­nior se­rial no. S11781 with sur­viv­ing pel­let en­ve­lope, spare wash­ers and un­worn brush, housed in orig­i­nal card­board box is pic­tured in Fig­ure 5. The orig­i­nal orange en­ve­lope is cor­rectly marked for .22 Spe­cial pel­lets but er­ro­neously also printed: ‘No. I Bore’ be­neath (in­stead of No. 2 Bore).

As­sum­ing steady pro­duc­tion flow, the ta­ble I in­cluded in May 2017 made it pos­si­ble to ar­rive at the ap­prox­i­mate date when in­di­vid­ual Mk. I and Mk. II Tar­get Model air pis­tols might have been made. Join­ing the ‘Ju­nior’ model air pis­tol in pro­duc­tion from 1929, the first 90 ‘Seniors’ re­plac­ing the Mk. II Tar­get Model were pro­duced from June 1930, but un­for­tu­nately, the records then come to a dead end and tell us no more. Ap­prox­i­mate dat­ings for Seniors can only be es­ti­mated from se­rial num­bers over the pe­riod of mid-1930 un­til late 1935 when 7,000 old-frame pis­tols were pro­duced. After which, 12,000 new-frame pis­tols were made, S19000 be­ing the high­est num­ber known to col­lec­tors for a late pre-war Se­nior.

The 1930s pub­lic­ity pho­to­graph re­pro­duced as Fig­ure 6 for the new We­b­ley slant grip Se­nior was taken by Mon­ger & Marchant, com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­phers, Lon­don and was found among old We­b­ley ma­te­rial. It was prob­a­bly used some­where, rather than re­jected be­cause We­b­ley never wasted any­thing if they could use it. The se­rial num­ber of the early slant grip pis­tol fea­tured in the photo shoot was S7652. The lock­able, 12/6d ( 62½p) pis­tol case in the photo is al­ready show­ing some rub­bing wear to the usual place (lower right) of the gold let­ter­ing on black, first type trade la­bel, and also to the green baize lin­ing.

WE­B­LEY VALVESPOUT LA­BELS

The shape of the pro­tu­ber­ance, or boss at the root of the leakproof, ‘Valvespout’ oil can is clearly seen in the old pho­to­graph. To the best of my knowl­edge, all orig­i­nal Valvespout- type We­b­ley oil cans of this pe­riod had this same shape, and any that do not match are re­pro­duc­tions and prob­a­bly not gen­uine. Fig­ure 7 shows a gen­uine We­b­ley oil can that ac­com­pa­nied a fine We­b­ley ‘Ser­vice Mark II’ air ri­fle I bought from a Mr. Mil­ner in the mid-1970s for £ 38, so it must have been a good one be­cause my usual pay­ment for a Ser­vice Mk. II then was £15 tops. I also pur­chased his brother’s 2nd Se­ries model for £3 be­cause it was a relic and needed a com­plete re­build. He threw in a June, 1938 We­b­ley cat­a­logue, as well as the dented oil can. As it had no la­bel, I asked if it was ever marked ‘We­b­ley’ or ‘Valvespout Brand’ (oil which came in an iden­ti­cal tin). Mr. Mil­ner re­mem­bered it well as hav­ing a We­b­ley la­bel – since lost. There were no fake or re­pro­duc­tion We­b­ley tins around in those days. How­ever, the re­place­ment la­bel is an old re­pro­duc­tion with a sub­tle change to one of the quo­ta­tion marks – or ‘speech marks’ – to iden­tify it as such. John McCrossen, whilst mirac­u­lously still keep­ing the orig­i­nal oil in­side, re­moved the bad dent long ago for me. He gave me a re­pro­duc­tion la­bel he’d made, to stick on. John pointed out that he had made a tiny al­ter­ation to his re­pro la­bels by turn­ing the ‘99’ mark fol­low­ing the word ‘ WE­B­LEY’ into a back- to-front ‘66’! This was to en­able any of his la­bels in cir­cu­la­tion in the fu­ture to be iden­ti­fied as re­pro­duc­tions. I’ll con­tinue to look at pre­war slant grip We­b­ley Seniors next month, but for the rest of my space, I hope you will join me in to cel­e­brat­ing the happy life of well- known We­b­ley col­lec­tor, John McCrossen.

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FIG­URE 3

FIG­URE 2

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FIG­URE 5

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