The Westley Richards “Highest Possible” (non-concentric) Air Pistol (c. 1907 to c. 1915) by Edwin Anson

In this article, we are going to discover one of the key contributors of the British air pistol revolution of the early 20th century. Standing on the shoulders of his father’s success, he helped to drive forward and perhaps single-handedly kick-started the British air pistol industry by developing an air pistol of such high standards that it possibly could no longer be considered within the realm of toys.

The Westley Richards “Highest Possible” was probably manufactured from 1910 and perhaps even as early as 1907 until production ceased in 1914. They continued to be sold during 1915 and it is estimated that around 1,200 were produced with three known variants. Designed and patented by Edwin George Anson in 1907, the Highest Possible marked the beginning of the British spring air pistol era of innovation and production. Prior to this, air pistols were imported either from Germany or the United States who had previously dominated the market for 30 years. [1]

Anson and Deeley Boxlock U.S. Patent [3]

Some readers of a shotgun background may have heard of the Anson and Deeley boxlock action, the world’s most widely used shotgun action commonly found on double-barreled shotguns. Their action introduced the design whereby the act of lowering the barrels in order to expose the breech for loading also served to cock the hammers which were hidden within the action. [2]

The Anson and Deeley boxlock design is described in British patent 1756 of May 11th 1875. At the time, William Anson was the foreman of the gun action workshop at Westley Richards and John Deeley was the “sole commercial manager and director of affairs” also at Westley Richards. Some say that the idea was William’s alone but lacked the finances to raise the patent. Others suggest that John Deeley was acting in the best interests of the company and filed a patent to protect the company’s intellectual property rights. Another source suggests it was Deeley’s idea and Anson merely realised the design. However, the patent was in fact licensed to Westley Richards by Robert Edward Couchman on June 22nd 1876 for 15 shillings per gun which indicates that both William and John retained ownership of the patent rights. [4][5][6][7][8]

William Anson 1830 – 1889 [13]

Originally, William followed his father “Edwin” into the locksmith trade and is listed in the 1841 England Census as a locksmith at the young age of ten! In the 1861 England Census, William’s occupation is listed as a cabinet locksmith. Then, by the time his first son, Edwin George was born on April 17th 1863 in Wolverhampton, he was listed as a gun sight maker. It wasn’t until the 1871 England Census that William’s occupation is shown to have changed to “gun action filer”. [9][10][11][12]

On December 14th 1872, William filed or was granted a patent titled “Improvements in Breech-Loading Small Arms”. The patent described a latch for securing the forend stock to the barrels of a break-open gun. It was operated, via a longitudinal rod with a pushbutton exposed at the very tip of the forend stock. At this time it is said that William was employed by Westley Richards and was the foreman of the machine shop. [14][15]

John Deeley and James S. Edge Jr Fore End Stock Attachment Patent [16]

Interestingly, on June 20th 1873, John Deeley along with James Edge also filed a U.S. application for a patent titled “Improvement in Means of Attaching the Fore End Stock to Gun-Barrels”. Whether they filed the patent in Britain at a similar time I am not aware and I am also unable to find a U.S. patent for William’s forend latch. Could this mean that William had not considered patenting his forend latch invention in the U.S.? Or perhaps he did not have the finances to raise a U.S. patent. Perhaps Deeley raised this patent in order to avoid purchasing William’s patent or to avoid paying any royalties at least for guns sold in the U.S. [16]

As mentioned earlier, we know that William Anson’s most famous invention, the boxlock, was patented in 1875 and was licensed to Westley Richards on June 22nd 1876. [7][8]

The following year in 1876, William Anson was granted British patent 4513 that described a safety catch. This, along with the boxlock patent, was licensed to Joseph Brazier & Sons also by Robert Edward Couchman for a total of 30 shillings per action. As a side note, Robert Couchman was most likely a relation, perhaps a nephew but certainly not a child of Charles Couchman. Charles Couchman was the husband of the niece of Charles Richards, son of William Westley Richards, who founded the company in 1812. Following the death of William Westley on September 14th 1865, Charles Richards and his half-brother, Westley Richards who both worked for their father at the company as co-partners, became senior partners of the company. When Charles died in 1871, John Deeley became the “sole commercial manager and director of affairs”. In 1872, aged 58, Westley retired due to poor health and John Deeley became the senior director. However, despite retiring, Westley remained in joint chairmanship of the company along with his friend Charles Couchman. [15][7][17][18]

By 1877, William had left Westley Richards and established his own gun-making company at Egyptian Hall, 77 Slaney Street, Birmingham. We may never know his reasons for leaving Westley Richards although it is possible that he believed he had enough ideas of his own and rather than see Westley Richards reap the rewards, perhaps he decided it was time to make his own legacy for his family. [5][14]

Anson and Deeley’s final joint patent – their improved boxlock design. [19]

Despite William Anson’s departure from Westley Richards, he and John Deeley continued to be granted patents for a number of years to come. On March 7th 1879, they were granted British patent 907 which described a safety mechanism. Also on April 11th 1883, they were also granted British patent 1833 “Breech-Loading Fire-Arm” which was an improvement on their 1875 boxlock patent. This really muddies the water considerably considering that William had left Westley Richards six years earlier! [18][19]

William Anson was granted a number of patents throughout the rest of his career as a gunmaker which he either sold or licensed to other gun makers. For example, on August 26th 1882 he was granted British patent 4089, “Breech-Loading Fire-Arm”, which described numerous safety mechanisms which, it has been suggested, that he sold or licensed this patent to Westley Richards. William clearly was not a stranger to the practice of licensing patents as his partnership with John Deeley showed. [6]

In all, William had nine children of which he had three sons and six daughters. Edwin George, born on April 17th 1863, was his first son. William Westley, born in 1874, was his second who it appears he named after Westley Richards. It is said that William Westley Anson died at the age of 23 from a decade of suffering from epilepsy. His third son, Claude, born in 1875, is said to have emigrated to the U.S. where he, and his son Wilfred, worked for Harrington & Richardson. Incidentally, Harrington & Richardson obtained a license to manufacture the Anson and Deeley boxlock on February 20th 1880. [10][12][20][21][7][8]

Edwin George Anson 1863 – 1936 [24]

Edwin is said to have started his career as an apprentice at Westley Richards during the time that his father also worked for the company. He later joined his father’s company at the age of 15 in 1879 in Slaney Street, Birmingham. [15]

In 1884, Edwin married Maud Kingham who was also known as Jane Elizabeth Maud Kingham. They had their first child,  Gladys Maud, in 1886. [22][15][23]

By 1887, Edwin was working with Edgar Harrison of Cogswell & Harrison. Together they improved the Anson & Deeley boxlock design and filed British patent 14,444 on November 24th 1887. One wonders why was Edwin working with Edgar Harrison? Was he perhaps sent there to help Cogswell & Harrison produce the Anson & Deeley boxlock and in the process developed an improvement? Or did he decide to leave his father’s business to gain more experience? We know that he was probably living in Harrow with his wife and family as his second and third daughters, Dorothy and Constance were born in Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middlesex in 1888 and 1890 respectively. [25][26][27][28]

William Anson’s final patent, 7274, was filed or granted on May 16th 1888. He died almost a year later at the age of 58 on May 28th 1889. He had an estate of £598, 6 shillings and a penny and left his entire company to his wife, Caroline. [15]

E. Anson & Co case label showing the Slaney Street address. [15]

Edwin and his family must have returned to Warwickshire not long after his father died, if not sooner, as the 1891 England Census shows he was living in the area once again. In the same year, aged 28, Edwin gained control of the company and changed its name to “E. Anson & Co”. Some suggest the company name was changed in 1897, just a year after its relocation to Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham in 1896. Yet there are company labels bearing the name “E. Anson & Co.” with the Egyptian Hall, Slaney Street address which indicates that the name of the company was changed before 1896. [29][5][15]

kick started the British air pistol industry

Edwin’s Highest Possible air pistol patent drawing [30]

Let’s roll forward 20 years to November 9th 1907.  It was on this day that Edwin applied for his first air pistol patent which kick-started the British air pistol industry. This air pistol became known as the “Highest Possible” and is arguably the first British produced spring air pistol to have been sold in any sizable quantity in Britain. The patent, British patent 24,837 “Improvements in or relating to Air Pistols or Guns”, described a pivoting pistol grip that was used as a cocking lever. Remarkably, this sounds very similar to the Haenel Mod 26/28 design produced by Hugo Schmeisser about 20 years later. [30][31]

Hugo Schmeisser’s pivoting grip air pistol design [30]

However, the Haenel used an inline barrel rather than a superimposed barrel but more importantly, the pivot point of the grip was positioned at the rear of the handle rather than at the front. This design enabled the piston to be pushed rearwards rather than forwards. Schmeisser’s design wasn’t specifically original either as a similar (at a stretch) design had been previously suggested by C. Hamilton in 1888 for his Daisy air rifle which used the stock as a cocking lever to pull the piston rearwards. Anson’s design pushed the piston forwards which allowed for a longer compression stroke and thus should deliver more power.

Anson’s design was later reproduced a number of times as seen in the Tell II, the Acvoke, Frank Clarke’s Thunderbolt Junior and Anson’s later pistol, the extremely rare concentric Highest Possible. All of these pistols are concentric whereby the barrel passes through the centre of the piston leading to a very compact design. [32]

The B.S.A. / George Norman concentric pivoting grip air pistol that didn’t reach the shelves. [33]

There is another British air pistol of the same period that used a similar pivoting grip cocking method as that of the Highest Possible. It was developed by B.S.A. and George Norman for which British patent 5,283 “Improvements in and relating to Air Pistols or Guns” was raised on May 26th 1911. There were actually two patents for this air pistol. The first described the firing mechanism and the second described the cocking mechanism. The pistol employed a concentric barrel and piston design but unfortunately, it never made it into production. Perhaps it was just too complicated and therefore too costly to build. Or perhaps it lacked enough power due to the short compression stroke and therefore would not be appealing to buyers. [33]

I had originally thought that Anson’s Highest Possible was the first British designed and produced spring air pistol. That was until I discovered an 1876 British patent by George Gibson Bussey of Peckham, Surrey. Bussey’s design, registered on February 9th 1876 as British patent 526, is clearly based on the Pope rifle air pistol and a Belgian air pistol that he was familiar with according to his statement in his patent. [34]

Bussey Spring Powered Air Pistol Patent of 1876 [34]

Bussey’s design is very reminiscent of the Quackenbush Model 1 air rifle that uses the barrel to cock the rifle by pushing the barrel in and hence the piston backwards against the spring. However, Quackenbush’s patent, which was also originally for an air pistol, was registered in March 1876 just one month later than Bussey’s. However, despite the Bussey patent clearly using the term “pistol” and a rifle case label also using both the terms rifle and pistol, there are no known examples, so far, of that particular Bussey air pistol. [35][36]

Bussey Air Rifle Case Label [36]

However, a recent discussion with John Griffiths, author of the Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols, has revealed that a Bussey spring air pistol from the late 19th century has been found in Germany. This particular model would have used a sliding barrel not to cock the pistol but to reveal a slot in which to load a pellet or dart. The pistol is cocked by pulling a handle at the rear of the compression chamber. There is, however, an undated German advertisement illustrating the Bussey air pistol. Thus we can say that it was indeed Bussey who developed and produced the first British spring powered air pistol. [37]

Late 1870s German Bussey air pistol advert [37]

It appears though that Bussey’s spring air pistol was not popular in Britain and there seems to have been no interest from other British manufacturers to develop spring air pistols until Anson developed the Highest Possible some 30 years later. Therefore, I believe we have Edwin Anson to thank for kick-starting the air pistols industry in Britain.

In all, Edwin developed quite a few air pistols including the extremely rare concentric Highest Possible in 1921, the guarded and unguarded Firefly in 1925, the concentric underlever Star possibly in 1922 and the Warrior in 1930. Both the concentric and non-concentric Highest Possible air pistols were manufactured by Westley Richards. Half of the rights of the Warrior patent was assigned to Frank Clarke and it was subsequently manufactured by Accles and Shelvoke bearing theirs and Frank’s name but not Anson’s. Whereas the Star air pistol, either marked “Star” or “Anson’s Star”, used the grip plates from Frank Clarke’s Titan. Thus there is clearly some involvement from Frank Clarke in the production or development of the Star. However, there is no evidence so far that the Firefly was produced by anyone other than Anson. [1][38][39]

Edwin produced his final patent, the Warrior, at the age of 67. Throughout his career, he relocated the company a number of times within Birmingham. It was eventually moved back to Steelhouse Lane in 1923 which is opposite the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. [15]

Edwin died on August 29th 1936 aged 73. His effects are recorded to be just £507. It doesn’t sound much for such an inventive man whose career spanned 57 years. Following Edwin’s death, the business was purchased by Curry and Keen who subcontracted the assembly of the components of the Star air pistol that were found in Edwin’s workshop to A. A. Brown and Sons. [40][1]

three variants

There are three known variants of the non-concentric Highest Possible air pistol. The first two are more common, however, they are still very rare. All three variants were produced in blued and nickel-plated finishes although only blued examples of the third, heart-shaped variant are known to exist today. It has been suggested that Edwin Anson may have manufactured some of the early Highest Possible pistols himself in Birmingham as the Westley Richards name did not appear on some early examples. Perhaps he later sold or exclusively licensed the design to Westley Richards for them to manufacture and thus the Westley Richards mark was probably applied to each pistol that they produced. [1]

Westley Richards used a full-page to advertise the Highest Possible. They suggested that air rifles required less skill and the air pistol would be more of a challenge. Not only that, in typical optimistic marketing fashion, they suggested that it would “provide amusement in which ladies can join”. Any such statement would be ridiculed today! [1]

Westley Richards Highest Possible Advertisement

The advertisement showed that the pistol cost 30 shillings in the “black” finish and 35 shillings in the nickel-plated finish. That’s about £500 in today’s money! It’s no wonder not many were sold! The advertisement also showed that a “combined pistol case, target holder and bullet catcher” was also available for 12 shillings and 6 pence or about £180 in today’s money. That’s quite an expensive target holder and considering that the case was clearly made of wood I doubt that many, if any at all, survived the trauma of being shot!

There are actually two other known variants of the Highest Possible, however, they are considered prototypes. One has an extended compression chamber that runs all the way to the end of the barrel. The other is very similar to the usual Highest Possible but has an octagonal barrel that is soldered to the compression chamber. Also, it doesn’t have a folding cocking aid. Only one of each of these variants are known to exist and thus they could be considered prototypes that didn’t make it to production. [1]

The pistols are all similar in construction and all have rifled steel .177 calibre barrels. Interestingly, the barrel of the second variant in the collection has anticlockwise rifling. I am not aware if this is the same for all second variant Highest Possible air pistols or whether some first variants may have also been fitted with anticlockwise rifled barrels.

Judging by the roughness of the internal surfaces, the grip and side cover/breech components appear to be cast. The barrel is attached to the pistol with a pin through the foresight and a pin through the rear sight. The side cover/breech is also attached to the compression tube using pins. By the looks of it, none of these pins were intended to be removed.

All three variants have a square aperture in the threaded compression chamber end cap. A square cross-section tool would be inserted into this aperture so that the end cap can be unscrewed and removed to replace the mainspring and piston seal.

Smooth horn and flat chequered vulcanite grips of the two variants.

The first variant generally has smooth black grips made from horn with the Westley Richards logo embossed at the top. The second variant was usually fitted with flat black chequered vulcanite grips with no logo. There is a period of overlap where the smooth horn grips and flat chequered grips are seen on either variant of the pistol. According to the Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols, this period of overlap is observed from known examples of serial numbers 109 to 387. Following serial number 387, only the flat chequered grips appear to be fitted. [1]

Despite the Westley Richards advertisement stating that different patterns front and rear sights could be supplied to order, it would appear that all three variants have similar if not the same front sights. However, the rear sight of the first and second variants differ significantly. The first variant rear sight is a simple blade slotted into a dovetail fitting. As such it can only be adjusted for windage. From existing examples, it appears that the second variant rear sight was introduced from serial number 204 onwards. It is constructed from a sliding curved plate that provided elevation adjustment. Whilst there is a small amount of transversal play, I doubt it was intended to offer any practical windage adjustment. [1

The rear sights of the first (left) and second (right) variants.

The exceptionally rare third variant has the same design features as the first variant with respect to the dovetailed rear sight. However, the main distinguishing feature is a heart-shaped cut-out at the top of the grip frame. It is not known if this was a special aesthetic feature or whether Anson was attempting to reduce the weight of the pistol. Either way, it did not become a mainstream feature and as such a pistol with this design is very sought after by collectors. The grip plates of the third variant have been seen to be either the smooth bone type from the first variant or the chequered black flat grips from the second variant. It is said that the third variant has not been seen above serial number 204 and was interspersed amongst the serial numbers of first variant pistols. [1]

The heart-shaped cut-out of the third variant.

The grips on Jimmie Dee’s third variant have been embellished with ivory and glass with red base circular inlays. Whether these were original and added to embellish this particular variant or whether they were added later is not known as other third variants do not have the inlays on the grips.

The first and second variants were both marked in the same manner. Along the left-hand side of the compression chamber is stamped WESTLEY RICHARDS, “HIGHEST POSSIBLE”, AIR PISTOL, each on separate lines. Above the trigger, on the sear cover plate is stamped WESTLEY RICHARDS & CoY, LONDON W, again, each on separate lines but not on the heart-shaped variant. Above the grip on the sear cover plate is stamped PATENT 24837, 1907 also on separate lines on all variants.

Manufacturer and patent stamp markings

It is believed that all known examples are marked with a serial number on the front of the sear plate on either the left or right-hand side. Each individual component is also stamped with a number that may correlate to the serial number of the pistol. For example, the first variant in the collection is stamped with serial number 113 on the right-hand sear cover plate and 3 on the lower frame between the breech and the pivot pin, 3 on the trigger blade, 3 on the sear lever, 3 on the inside of the trigger guard cocking lever and 3 on the inside of the breech release lever. The lower grip extension handle is not stamped on this particular example.

Heart-shaped serial number split over both sides of the body.

The heart-shaped variant in the collection is stamped with serial number 3 on one sear cover plate and 1 on the other which is particularly confusing. It is stamped with 3 on the lower frame on the breech face and the frame between the breech and the pivot pin, 31 on the trigger blade, 31 on the sear lever but 3 on the inside of the breech release catch and on the lower grip extension. Is this pistol serial number 3 or 31? I’m inclined to think it is serial number 31.

The second variant in the collection is stamped with serial number 850 on the left-hand sear cover plate. It is stamped with 850 on the lower frame between the breech and the pivot pin, 50 on the trigger blade, sear lever, trigger blade, the inside of the trigger guard, the lower grip extension and the inside of the breech release lever.

It is clear that the numbers were applied during the final stages before the finish was applied to the pistol. This would ensure, as we have seen from other manufacturers, that components that were specifically made to fit each other would be reunited when they were returned in batches from the finishing shop. But why do they not have the full serial number stamped on them? If you consider the low production rate, it is unlikely that there would be more than one set of components with the same number sent to the finishing shop at the same time.

The first and second variant pistols measure approximately 12 inches / 30cm long with a 9 ¼ inch / 23 ½ cm barrel. The early heart-shaped model is approximately 11 ½ inches / 29 cm long with an 8 ½ inch / 21 ½ cm barrel. The compression chambers of the first variant and the heart-shaped variant are approximately 6.9 inches / 17.5 cm long and the second variant compression chamber is longer at 7.1 inches / 18 cm. It is unknown why these variations exist or whether they are consistent amongst each variant.

The Westley Richards / Edwin Anson “Highest Possible” (second variant).

The trigger on all of the variants is a single-stage design with a spring-loaded sear lever. The trigger blade is not spring-loaded and has quite a lot of play although this is not noticeable in operation. The sear lever and thus the trigger let off point is adjustable on all variants. As was common of the period, the pistol does not have a safety mechanism. 

The Westley Richards / Edwin Anson “Highest Possible” (first variant).

The breech seal of the heart-shaped model appears to be different from that of the first and second variants. The first and second variants appear to have a piece of leather applied to the face of the breech cover with two holes to allow the air from the compression chamber to circulate up and back into the barrel. This would appear to be in keeping with Anson’s patent drawings which shows two 45 degree drillings forming the return air passage. The second variant leather seal appears to be held in place with a rivet whereas the first variant appears to be located over two tubes extended from the air passages. It’s quite possible that this is a single curved tube forming the air passage. The heart-shaped variant is quite different in that it has a leather-lined slot that forms the air passage and seal. The leather protrudes slightly to form a seal on the breech. It would be interesting to hear from other collectors to know if they have a similar slotted style breech air passage. On the other hand, it is possible that a curved pipe was originally fitted with a flat leather seal in the same manner as the first variant.

Left to right: first, second and heart-shaped breech seals.

Internally, all three pistols in the collection are almost identical. The pistons are fundamentally identical in design. They all have two cocking slots and notches which is strange as only one is required. The heart-shaped early variant (serial number 31) and the later variant (serial number 850) both have roughly finished pistons. However, the other early variant (serial number 113), has a finely finished piston. Neither the pistons nor the end caps are stamped. Therefore I assume that these are interchangeable between pistols.

The Jimmie Dee strip!

On the other hand, the piston seals of all three pistols are very different. The heart-shaped variant had a leather cup seal with a rubber insert and a very damaged screw. The screw thread was almost completely stripped, the shank was bent and the head was also bent at an angle. I’m not sure if it was hammered into the piston or damaged by hitting the end of the compression chamber! Luckily the compression chamber and the thread in the piston are ok!

The other early variant pistol was fitted with a piston seal that was fashioned from two leather discs roughly cut from a belt. The two discs were secured in place by a countersunk screw and a countersunk flat washer.

Left: rough machined piston with original piston seal design and plastic securing disc. Right: finely machined piston with leather cup and washer style piston seal.

However, the later variant pistol had a thick leather disc held in place under a red synthetic washer of similar thickness. The end of the washer is recessed to take the head of a wide flat slotted screw. Of all the piston washer screws, this one appears original and has a much smaller thread than the others. The other two securing screws are both countersunk and of similar thread size. However, all three screw threads are incompatible with each other.

The red synthetic disc serves three functions. First, it acts as a cushion to soften the blow of the piston as it hits the end of the compression chamber whilst the recessed screw hole prevents the screw from damage. The second function is to hold the leather sealing washer firmly in place whilst the third function is to compress the leather sealing washer. This causes it to bulge outwards and form a good seal against the compression chamber.

Discussing the piston seals with John Griffiths, he recalled that his early variant pistol also had a red synthetic disc although he can’t remember whether it also had a leather disc underneath it. He also said that he had heard of another Highest Possible with a red “piston seal”. Considering John’s early Highest Possible had a red disc and the Jimmie Dee late variant Highest Possible also has a red disc, it is possible that all of the Highest Possible air pistols were manufactured in this manner. Later, when the pistols required a replacement seal, owners or gunsmiths may have fitted whatever they had to hand at the time. It is also possible that the thread may also have required drilling and tapping to a larger size in order to accommodate a larger screw that is often supplied with replacement piston seals.

use and performance

The pistol is cocked in two stages. First, the spring-loaded lower grip extension lever is deployed. This is used to extend the handle to provide a longer lever with which to compress the mainspring. Next, the breech seal catch, which is also spring-loaded, is released by pulling up on the breech seal locking lever thumb plate. This releases the grip from the compression chamber allowing the mainspring to be compressed by pushing the handle towards the muzzle of the barrel. The Tell II copied this design to a degree but improved on it by incorporating the breech seal locking lever within the handle. When lowered, the grip extension lever of the Tell II also released the breech seal locking lever in the same movement. Anson’s patent drawings show neither the handle extension lever nor the thumb-operated breech catch lever. Instead, the base of the handle has a fixed protrusion and the breech catch appears to be a sprung loaded plunger mechanism. Thus it would appear that Anson had already refined his design before production started.

Cocked and ready to load!

Once cocked, a pellet can be loaded into the barrel and then the action closed. Although I tend to load a pellet as soon as the breech is opened as there is no risk of injuring a finger. The cocking aid can then be stowed back into the handle or left extended. Whether by design or not, an interesting feature is that when cocked, the trigger can no longer engage with the sear lever. This means that the trigger cannot be used to accidentally fire the pistol. Of course that doesn’t mean the pistol will not fire if the sear engagement hasn’t been set to a hair-trigger!

I fitted new piston seals to all of the pistols. However, I decided not to replace the breech seals. I also fitted a new mainspring to the second variant. The breech seal of the first and second variant pistols were actually doing their job quite well as I could feel the suction on the piston as I tried to push the piston out with the breech closed. The piston would actually retract back into the compression tube due to the vacuum. With the new seals, the pistols delivered about 2 ft/lbs or a velocity of 330 fps.

The sears of all three pistols were not polished and the triggers were heavy. I decided to polish the sear of the second variant using various grades of wet and dry paper from 100 to 2000 grit and finally stropped it with a piece of leather and some polishing compound. All this made for a significantly smoother trigger and once adjusted for minimal pull without being dangerous, it wasn’t too bad at all.

Weighing 1.2 kg or 2 lbs 11 oz, the pistol is heavy, bulky and doesn’t feel balanced at all. The handle is too thin for my liking. A wider grip would make it much better to hold. The adjustable sights are not particularly useful either. But let’s just remember that this air pistol is 109 years old and all of them function as though they are straight off the production line. Now that’s a testament to the level of quality that Edwin Anson and Westley Richards aspired to achieve and that Westley Richards still aspires to exceed today!

Webley & Scott Mark IV Service Revolver [41]

To finish off, I have always considered that this air pistol reminds me of the Webley & Scott Mark IV service revolver which also opens at the breech using a thumb lever. Funnily enough, I have just noticed that the Westley Richards advertisement states “It has been made to handle and balance like the officer’s model regulation revolver”. They must be referring to the Webley service revolver after all!

Until next time, happy shooting!

Jimmie Dee


  1. The Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols by John Griffiths, pg. 286. ISBN 9780955951602
  2. Boxlock Action, Wikipedia
  3. U.S. Patent 172,943, “Improvement in Breech-Loading Fire-Arms”, William Anson and John Deeley, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  4. Anson of Anson & Deeley – The DoubleGun BBS
  5. Guns Dictionary, John Walter
  6. In Pursuit of the Best Gun: Westley Richards 1812-2012, ISBN-10: 0957108516
  7. Joseph Jakob, Philadelphia gunmaker, The DoubleGun BBS
  8. Westley Richards, A quantity of hand-written, signed, sealed and witnessed ‘Licences to Work Patents’ and ‘Assignment of Letters Patents’ from the last quarter of the 19th century, Sale A1048 Lot 135 – Main Sale – December 2010, Holts Auctioneers
  9. 1841 England Census for Edwin Anson, Staffordshire, Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton Western, District 19, Ancestry
  10. 1861 England Census for William Anson, Staffordshire, Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton Western, District 18, Ancestry
  11. Douglas Tate, Editor at Large, Shooting Sportsman, The Magazine of Wingshooting & Fine Guns, DoubleGun BBS
  12. 1871 England Census for George Edwin Anson, Warwickshire, Aston, Duddeston, District 8, Ancestry
  13. Portrait of William Anson, Ancestry
  14. The London Gazette, July 18, 1879
  15. William Anson, The Internet Gun Club
  16. U.S. Patent 140,482, “Improvement in Means of Attaching the Fore End Stock to Gun-Barrels”, John Deeley and James S. Edge Jr, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  17. Memorial to William Westley Richards, Birmingham Cathedral
  18. Westley Richards SXS, The DoubleGun BBS
  19. U.S. Patent 297,907, “Breech-Loading Fire-Arm”, William Anson and John Deeley, United States Patent and Trademark Office
  20. 1881 England Census For William Hanson, Warwickshire, Aston, Aston Manor, District 56, Ancestry
  21. 1891 England Census for Caroline Anson, Warwickshire, Aston, Deritend, District 36, Ancestry
  22. Edwin George Anson in the England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915, Ancestry
  23. Gladys Anson in the 1891 England Census, Ancestry
  24. Portrait of Edwin George Anson, Ancestry
  25. Cogswell & Harrison BLNE 12b, The DoubleGun BBS
  26. London, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1965 for Edwin George Anson, Harrow, Harrow, 1889, Ancestry
  27. 1891 England Census for Dorothy Anson, Warwickshire, Aston, Deritend, District 57, Ancestry
  28. 1891 England Census for Constance Anson, Warwickshire, Aston, Deritend, District 57, Ancestry
  29. 1891 England Census for Edwin G Anson, Warwickshire, Aston, Deritend, District 57, Ancestry
  30. British Patent 24,837/07, European Patent Office
  31. British Patent 277,265, European Patent Office
  32. U.S. Patent 390,297, “Air-Gun”, Clarence J. Hamilton, United States Trademark and Patent Office
  33. British Patent 12,692, “Improvements in and relating to Air Pistols or Guns”, Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited Manufacturers and George Norman, European Patent Office
  34. British Patent 526/76, Courtesy Professor John Griffiths
  35. Henry Marcus Quackenbush and the Quackenbush Model 1 Air Rifle (mfd. 1876 to 1938), Jimmie Dee’s Airguns
  36. Bussey air rifle case label, Trev’s Airgun Scrapbook
  37. Discussion with John Griffiths the author of The Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols,
  38. British patent 178,048, “Improvements in or relating to Air Pistols”, Edwin George Anson, European Patent Office
  39. British patent 351,268, “Improvements in or relating to Air Pistols”, Edwin George Anson and Franke Clarke, European Patent Office
  40. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, 1973-1995 for Edwin George Anson, 1936, A’Ababrelton-Cyples, Ancestry
  41. A Webley & Scott MKIV .38 Revolver, Lot 291, May 5th 2018, Whyte’s

4 thoughts on “The Westley Richards “Highest Possible” (non-concentric) Air Pistol (c. 1907 to c. 1915) by Edwin Anson

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  1. I found your blog when searching for info regarding an old leg o’mutton shotgun case displaying a very worn out E. Anson & Co label inside with the Egyptian Hall, Slaney St. , Birmingham address.
    It also has “Late W. Anson Established 1869” (even though the 69 is a bit difficult to make out).
    Thank you for publishing the information above which helped me make the connection between E. Anson from Slaney Street and the Anson & Deeley shotgun patent!

  2. You probably get messages from people who are direct descendants of the men who designed guns all the time but I wanted to thank you for writing this article. I’m a direct descendant of Edwin Anson and am in the process of finding out more about my descendants so I’ll be keeping your article somewhere safe. Very proud to know he “kick-started the air pistols industry in Britain”. (William Anson is my great-great-great grandfather.) I already knew about William Anson’s and Deeley’s boxlock invention. I’d love to see some of these guns in real life. Unfortunately no one in our family owns any.

    1. Hi Dawn. It’s always a pleasure to hear from relatives of the great airgun pioneers! What a pity you don’t own any of his work. Keep an eye out on the auctions. Such as “the saleroom” and Holts Auctioneers. The “Highest Possible” often come up for auction a few times a year. Another airguns he has made or been involved with is the “Warrior”. These also come up for auction now and then. Also, the Firefly sometimes makes an appearance. Rarer guns such as the Star and the concentric Highest Possible one can only dream of owning due to their rarity. Have a look at J.C. Militaria and Tim Dyson’s websites. There are a few of those I’ve mentioned for sale there. Also

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