Webley & Scott is a company famous for their revolvers. The top-break Webley is as much an icon of the British Empire as the Colt Peacemaker is of the Old West. What many are not aware of is that Webley also manufactured autoloading pistols, beginning with an attempt to interest the British army in one 'way back in 1905. That attempt failed, and Webley contented themselves with turning out a line of pocket autoloaders before making another attempt at a military contract with a new .455 caliber self-loader in 1913.
common find, these pistols were used by the Royal Navy during the Great War, as well as being fielded in small numbers by the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Horse Artillery. The RN discontinued their use shortly after the end of WWII, and many made their way through the usual surplus channels to the US, but their small numbers ensured that they would never be a common sight, even on the collecting scene. When one came into the shop as a box of parts and was revived by Shannon, such a rare beastie naturally caused a bit of a stir. Standing around with my gunsmith and a gentleman from one of the more active firearms importers, with probably sixty years in the gun biz between the three of us, not one of us could recollect having seen one in the steel before.
I had to have it.
Unusually heavy, yet with an awkward grip angle, the pistol points like you're holding a t-square and may be the homeliest non-Japanese handgun I've ever seen. Oddly for a gun so rare, repro grips are available, and Triple-K has catalogued magazines. Cartridge cases can be made by trimming .45 Colt brass to length, turning the rim down somewhat (the .455 Webley Automatic is a semi-rimmed cartridge) and machining an extractor groove. The barrel rides in two angled mortises in the frame, and locks up very much like a SIG: a squared shoulder atop the chamber mating into the ejection port atop the slide. Everything is intricately machined from big chunks of steel and fitted together to a fare-thee-well.
Other odd features abound: The lockwork is assembled to the grip safety, and the whole mechanism pivots when the grip is squeezed. The pistol has dual ejectors, as well as two different methods of disconnecting (should one fail, the gun won't run away.) The recoil spring is a massive v-spring under the right-hand grip panel ("If the recoil spring breaks, you don't know me," said my gunsmith.) The slide stop is activated not by the magazine follower, but by the absence of a cartridge in the feedway. You don't need an empty magazine in the gun for the slide to lock back, it knows when it's empty. (I think that's a little presumptuous of it, but that's just me...) The drift-adjustable rear sight has little micrometer hashmarks to help line things up. All in all, a piece satisfying both in its historical provenance and in its mechanical quirkiness; I couldn't be happier to add one to the museum.
Values on these things are all over the map, but a firing example would seem to be at least an $800-$1000 proposition pretty much regardless of finish. The much rarer Royal Horse Artillery model, with its exotic rear sight and slotted for a shoulder stock, commands prices well north of $2k on the infrequent occasions when one comes up for sale.