In Chapter II of The Maltese Falcon — Death in the Fog — Sam Spade describes the gun used to bump off his partner Miles Archer: “Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver. That’s it. Thirty-eight, eight shot. They don’t make them any more.”
With some time to kill during COVID our longtime pal Bill Arney decided to look up some info on the gat in question:
A bit of trivia I found while doodling around the interwebs:
Webley’s surviving production and sales records show that only 107 of these revolvers in this caliber [.38] were sold, the remainder of the total of 417 originally produced in the period 1902-1903 being converted to .455 caliber or scrapped for parts before 1914: only 39 examples are currently known to have survived. Of these, few survive today with high original condition and very few are found in the United States.
It occurs to me that, in order to “convert” an eight shot .38 into a six shot .455, the entire cylinder would have to be scrapped and replaced. The barrel could simply be bored out. I found an auction ad for the .38 version on sale for $31,625, but the more numerous .455 I found on auction for $8,500 – $13,000 — one comes with the original holster, so that would definitely be the way to go.
I always wondered why W-F bothered to make the thing in the first place, since a double action revolver also fires as fast as you can pull the trigger, just like automatics. The story is that double action revolvers were kind of a new thing (W-F started making these in 1902), and a lot of extra pull was required to work the double action, as opposed to the lighter triggers on single action revolvers.
That extra pull threw the aim off. Still does, I suppose.
One more detail — in order to make the recoil work properly, you had to keep your wrist and elbow very stiff when firing. Any movement would throw off the recoil mechanism. Basically, that would cause the recoil rack to not make it all the way back, and the damn thing would jam. The whole reason for using a revolver instead of an automatic is BECAUSE AUTOMATICS JAM AND REVOLVERS DON’T.
Geez, what a hair-brained scheme.
I spoke to a guy has the largest Webley collection in the world — or so he says — with his dad. Dad died 15 years ago and the son has finally decided to sell off the collection. The .455 version that he has is yours for $12,500. He’ll do lay-away!
He reminded me that it is an investment that will NEVER devalue.
If you want the authentic Hammett .38 for over $30,000, start saving your pennies. They may also do lay-away.