130-years of Revolver Speed Loaders

by Chris Eger,  |  published on April 2, 2013

Like most firearms, the revolver suffers from a very annoying limitation that affects virtually anyone using it in the field: once you fire every chamber, the gun needs to be reloaded.

Most of the time (meaning range time), reloading is a minor albeit sometimes irritating inconvenience and time is a no issue. Sometimes however, a bad person or animal is attempting to end your existence and, under the stress of this real-life situation, time is a priceless luxury. It was for just these occasions that the speedloader was created.

The Early days

The first revolver speedloader patented was that of William H. Bell in 1879. Bell’s device was a simple metal disk with a rotating locking mechanism that held six revolver rounds. When used with a top-break revolver of the time, such as the Smith and Wesson Lemon squeezer, the speedloader would drop six ready rounds in the cylinder extremely rapidly. It is unclear if Bell’s device ever was manufactured, but it certainly seems like the first of its species.

In 1893, one Mr. William de Courcy Prideaux, a subject of Queen Victoria, patented a device he referred to as a ‘cartridge-packet holder’. This device was a circular disc through which 12 spring-steel fingers protruded in six pairs. Each pair held one .455 caliber round for the British Webley style revolver. A later 1914 improved design added a bridge-like handle to the rear of the plate.

Prideaux’s device became popular with professional army officers and discerning Webley owners in the UK as they allowed the revolver to be reloaded very fast and very efficiently in a high-stress situation (even in total darkness). As you might expect, these neat little gems saw combat with British officers who bought and brought them to the Boer war and later WWI. Today if you are lucky enough to find a real one, they often run $300 or more with collectors.

Although Mr. Prideaux sold many of his devices and even experienced some competition from one Major Arthur Watson who produced a similar loader, by 1919, with the rise of the semi-automatic, revolver speedloaders entered a stage of hibernation.

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