What can I say! An absolutely fantastic example of one of Webley and Scott’s first air pistols. These air pistols are über rare on their own but this one is a complete package. An original box, an original box of pellets, an original spare breech seal with envelope, an original sales leaflet and a barrel cleaning brush.
Webley and Scott introduced their MKI air pistol in 1924. Originally it was manufactured with a single spring clip on the right-hand side of the breech. The purpose of the spring clip was to lock the barrel in place ready for shooting. Not too long afterwards, Webley and Scott realised that a single spring clip wasn’t quite up to the job and so they introduced a second spring clip on the other side. About 700 spring-clip MKI pistols were manufactured and perhaps over 100 of the first pistols were of the single-clip design. However, some suggest as few as 30 single-clip pistols may have been manufactured with a spurious higher numbered, serial 131, pistol adding to the confusion. Incidentally, the earliest known single clip is marked with serial number 27. As I will explore later in this article, there appears to be a history of earlier models intermixed with the serial numbers of later models. It is possible that this could be due to the sale of old stock during the end of the financial accountancy period.
all that glitters is not gold
As you can imagine, with only 700 pistols produced, the double spring clip is a very rare find today. You may be lucky enough to see one for sale a year if you happen to be in the right place at the right time. The earlier single clip model is even rarer. In fact, I haven’t seen any photographs of one let alone one for sale! However, I have heard of a double spring-clip pistol that had one side expertly “filled in” to make it appear to be a single clip model. Hence the phrase, “All that glitters is not gold“.
The spring-clip design included two thin protrusions above the spring clips. Finding a pistol with these intact would be a collector’s dream. Unfortunately, most examples are missing the protrusions. Some have one with the other broken off, others have both clearly broken off, and others do not appear to show any signs of breakage yet they are missing nonetheless. It has been speculated that Webley and Scott decided to change the design to remove the protrusions as they were prone to breakage either during use by the owner or during the manufacturing process when the breech section was machined or ground to shape.
There doesn’t appear, at this time, to be any distinct point in the serialisation of the pistols where a change may have been made to the manufacturing process. An indicator of this could be characterised by squared edges of the breech rather than rough or rounded edges where the protrusions would have been broken off. Whilst pistol 1257, as seen at a recent Kempton Arms Fair, has intact protrusions, this pistol could be an earlier pistol that was serialised much later.
Webley and Scott eventually replaced the spring clips with a sliding barrel catch at around serial number 700. However, there are examples of double spring-clip pistols with serial numbers of 1257, 1530 and 1535 which is quite intriguing. You might expect the serial number to be stamped onto the airgun at the latter stages of production rather than when it left the factory. If that’s the case then it would indicate that the double spring-clip was still being manufactured in tandem with the sliding barrel catch second series MKI. But that’s just plain crazy! If we disregard this, then it is possible that these pistols might have been old stock that had not yet been stamped with their unique serial number. At some stage later stage, perhaps during a stock take, they may have been discovered, stamped and shipped out to be sold. Although considering this would be a good 700 pistols since the series two had been released, this theory also seems a bit far-fetched. Either way, we have a mystery. Were there about 700 spring-clip pistols made, or 1500? I think the answer is probably the lower of the two figures with the higher numbered examples being old stock.
The double spring clip also had various design variations during its production run. None of which are documented in either Gordon Bruce’s Webley Air Pistols book or John Griffith’s Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols although John does note some differences. The differences that I have noticed focus on the rear sight and breech block. One example, number 281, has a breech block with a “v” cut into the rear that could have been intended as a rear sight. It also has the usual sliding plate rear sight. Another variation is a curved breech block without the “v”. Another example, number 557, has a flat-top breech block. Again, there is no correlation between these variations and serial numbers. Of all the variations, the curved breech block without the “v” cut-out is the most common with only one example of each of the other variants known. It’s possible that these were one-offs, however, with so few examples of the spring-clip MKI it is impossible to say.
Not only did the pistol have a number of variations but so did the box of which there were two variants that are known. These centre around the pellet box. Some were supplied with a small separate box of pellets whereas others were supplied with a larger box that was glued in place. Later, when the sliding catch second series MKI, was introduced, the same box was used showing the spring-clip variant on the label. However, the instructions on the inside of the lid were modified to indicate the operation of the sliding catch.
Whilst the pistol had an adjustable rear sight albeit only for elevation, the trigger was not adjustable. It was available in both .177 and .22 rifled barrels as well as smoothbore for darts. Spare barrels of either calibre could be purchased for the owner to swap should they wish. The pistol incorporated a safety which is operated by pressing in, then turning to either the “safe” position or to the “6 o’clock” position for firing, the releasing the catch. In either position, the catch would locate in place by a screw which also prevented the spring-loaded catch from falling out.
There is so much more I intend to write about the origins of the Webley and Scott airgun dynasty along with stripped-down photos of the MKI, patents and so on. However, first I have a lot more ground to cover with other inventors that have a part to play in the development of Webley and Scott airguns.
Until next time, happy shooting!