Webley serial numbers can be puzzling, as examples that appear identical may have numbers many thousands apart. The following conclusions are based on details of
1300+ The British Bull Dog examples, 1000+ from Army & Navy CSL records and the remainder from museum and private collections, sales lists, and gun shows:
Webley BBDs with three and four digit serial numbers were not the earliest produced, and number blocks were first used, rather than an unbroken sequence:
The oldest group have 20000-25000s serial numbers, followed by 50000-55000s, and dated examples indicate 1872-1876 and 1877-1880 periods. [a]
Smaller numbers then appear, and from late 1881 to early 1884, two concurrent series were made, one numbered 400 to 1600s, the other 4000 to 4600s.
In mid-1884, serial numbering was restarted at 60000, and the sequence then continued unbroken, reaching 100000s by end of production.
This chronology is supported by the following design and marking changes:
(1) The earliest 20000s are marked "Webley's Patent" on left frame, with caliber marked on the barrel, and "St. James's London" Webley address.
Then in early 22000s the frame marking was changed to "Webley's No. 2" and caliber, with "London & Birmingham" Webley address. [b]
(2) Numbers to at least 21356 have either a spur or hump in the upper backstrap, and slightly shorter trigger guards: examples.
(3) The lower front of frame is curved inward on earliest guns, but had been extended and squared by serial 20972.
(4) By serial 21500 a smooth curved backstrap was standard, and this style was shown in the 1874 article below.
(5) Numbers 20669 and 20682 have barrels threaded to frame, but 20845 through lowest 60000s have barrels forged in one piece with frame.
(6) The 20000s and lower 50000s have slotted cylinder axis pins with internal springs, but higher 50000s and later guns have pins with partial slots and external springs.
(7) Late 1881 ANCSL ledgers list 30 BBDs, 14 with 600s serial numbers and 16 with 4000s numbers:
Webley registered the winged bullet and British Bull Dog trademarks in Belgium early 1881, indicating they outsourced BBDs while retooling for hinged-frame models.
Both short and long grip styles were made this period, which included a few early 60000s with winged bullet trademarks but no caliber and No. 2 markings. [c]
Webley then introduced a new model early in the 60000s sequence, with longer grip, fluted cylinder, and barrels threaded to frame instead of forged as an integral part.
This also eliminated the reverse barrel taper of most earlier examples.
A few Belgian type BBDs with authentic P. Webley & Son markings but no serial numbers also exist:
They were probably a last-ditch attempt by Webley to compete with Belgium's lower prices. [d]
Note: Smaller scaled versions were introduced late 1870s in calibers .320 and .380 which shared above serial number ranges but were not marked The British Bull Dog.
Later examples of these also have fluted cylinders and longer grips, but retain the early cylinder axis pin design, and integral barrels.
[a] Some list 1878 as year of introduction, but the 1874 article below states it was "constructed about two years ago" and "has found a great demand in all export markets."
[b] Apparent reason for adding No. 2 label was mid-1870s introduction of The Pug, a short-lived model marked "Webley's No. 1" and given 26000-29000s serial numbers.
This model was a lower priced option, with simpler lockwork and a removeable ejector rod stored in the butt frame: examples
[c] Early examples with 23000s serials have been observed that Webley updated to later style by brazing extensions onto the lower grip frames and adding longer mainsprings.
One also has the later style fluted cylinder, and is from a group marked for "extra 5% discount" in ANCSL's first ledger.
[d] The 1880 catalog of Homer Fisher, New York, listed Webley's "45 Cal. The British Bull Dog old model" at $13.50, "44 Cal. The British Bull Dog new model" at $9.50, and "Imitations of Webley's Bull Dog" at $7.50. A new model is not usually 30% cheaper than the old one, and the "new model" Webley was probably identical to the Belgian "imitations" except for Birmingham proof marks and addition of P. Webley & Son name and address: example
Copies of Webley Bull Dog Webley's No. 1 "The Pug"
Warning to Shooters
Book: Webley Solid Frame Revolvers Nos. 1, 1-1/2, 2, Bull Dogs, and Pugs