The British Bulldog Revolver: The Forgotten Gun That Really Won the West?

by George Layman, Mowbray Publishing,Woonsocket, R.I., 2006, $34.99.

As famous firearm collector Norm Flayderman reminds us in the introduction to George Layman’s 192- page guide to an often-overlooked handgun, the so-called British Bulldog was not manufactured only in Great Britain. American gun makers turned out many variations, and Bulldogs sold well in the American West in the second half of the 19th century. Layman, himself a collector since 1962, found early on that these revolvers were readily available because “the world seemed more concerned with Colts and other popular wheel guns.” Once viewed as cheap handguns of little value to antique firearm collectors (who could get them for about $20), Bulldogs have picked up in popularity over the last 10 years (and are now selling for $175 or as much as $1,800). It’s about time. “The British Bulldog was as well-known in the Old West as the Colt, Remington and Smith & Wesson and was probably made in larger numbers than all three of the ‘heavies’ combined,” Layman writes.

The Bulldog became the nickname for a double-action six-shot revolver, the Webley R.I.C. (Royal Irish Constabulary Model), first produced in 1868 by Philip Webley & Sons of Birmingham, England. Belgian gunsmiths began copying the fast, sturdy, powerful weapon as early as 1873. Before 1875, U.S. arms dealers began advertising a .44 Webley that was cheaper and more powerful than Smith & Wesson’s .38-caliber 1st Model single-action revolver. The most notorious use of a British Bulldog, says Layman, was the 1881 assassination of President James A. Garfield. The John Henry Tunstall (of Lincoln County War fame) British Bulldog is one of Layman’s prize possessions.

 

Originally published in the October 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here