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Doggin' the Velo

Bob suggested that I write a post concerning hideout revolvers, which are teensy tiny little wheelguns that are designed to be hidden away in some moist fold until the most extreme emergency. I thought it was a good idea, so I started to do some research.

One of the earliest hideout revolver that used cartridges (as opposed to a small cap-and-ball gun) was the "velo-dog". This was a .22 enterfire cartridge that was designed to be used as an extremely small self defense weapon, and it was enormously popular in Europe while being relatively unknown here.

The first part of the name, "velo", is a shortened form of the word "velociped". This is a fancy European name for "bicycle", and it shows that the gun was marketed as a go-anywhere self defense tool that was designed to be hauled along during the long bike trips that were all the rage at the end of the 19th Century.

There does seem to be some confusion concerning the second part of the name. Most people say that the "dog" part of velo-dog meant that the guns were supposed to be used on any enraged canine that might charge your bike as you pedal along some lonely country lane. Since we are talking about a really weak .22 handgun, it doesn't seem credible that it was supposed to be employed against human attackers.

But over the years I have come across one or two sources that insist that the VD round (heh! He said "VD"!) was a very popular self defense round in Europe for decades. They also claim that the only records which exist documenting the use of the round are autopsy reports of burglars, muggers and other bad guys who were ventilated with these tiny revolvers. The "dog" part of the name comes from the fact that most of the handguns chambered for the VD were bulldog type revolvers.

I'm really uncertain about these claims, and really can't bring myself to agree with them. It is true that the VD was a popular self defense round for a long time in Europe, but that is probably due to the fact that most of the guns using it were so small that they were perfect as hideout guns. I also don't find it to be all that difficult to believe that only the human targets were recorded by the authorities, since it is extremely doubtful that the cops circa 1890 would have bothered to fill out a report when someone shot a dog. It was a much less litigious time, even in lawsuit happy France.

I am also having trouble with the claim that most of the guns chambered for the VD round were bulldog type revolvers. As I understand it, the firearm had to meet two criteria before it was considered a bulldog.

The first was that it had to have a snub-nosed barrel of about 2.5 inches. The other was that the gun had to be chambered for a serious, large bore round.

I have no problem agreeing that the VD guns met the first criteria, but just can't agree with the second. After all, the velo-dog is only .22 caliber (or 5.7mm for the metric fans out there). I can't for the life of me believe that anyone considers that to be a hefty bore size.

I came across a few pics of a typical velo-dog revolver at one of those online antique auction websites. As per usual, please click on all images to see if there is a larger version available.

inconnu%20velodog%201895%20cal%206mm-01.jpg

inconnu%20velodog%201895%20cal%206mm-02.jpg

Isn't that cool? It has a little bitty loading gate on the right hand side! You have to remove the whole cylinder from most guns of this size, only replacing it after you have clawed out the spent cartridges and replaced with new. But this gun is built as if it was supposed to be a real fightin' tool, being reloaded on the fly. It seems rather pointless considering the underpowered round it uses, but it is a nice touch.

You can see how the gun was made to be as small and snag free as possible. The trigger folds forward up into the frame. You can see the little round ring on the end of the trigger peeking out, right under where the barrel meets the frame. Most guns of this type were double-action-only, with hammers either fully enclosed or shrouded. Getting the trigger flipped down to the ready position would be a pain if speed was called for, but then you could blaze away with one hand while the other steered your bicyle. All in all it is an amazingly well considered design.

I came across a post at a gun forum where a collector was nice enough to show off his latest purchase. There are some nice pics there, of the cartridge as well as two hefty pocket guns chambered for the VD. Click on over and give it a gander.

Like I said, the gun was extremely popular in Europe while being virtually unknown in the United States. It was so popular, and so many guns chambered for the VD were sold, that ammo is still being manufactured. In fact, you can find a few boxes being sold over at Sportsman's Guide.

velo.JPG

That image above is a screenshot I saved because something was bothering me. Take a look at the ballistic info on the 5.75mm Velo-Dog cartridges. The other three calibers listed shoot heavier bullets at a faster speed, yet the VD round is in the same ballpark so far as foot-pounds of energy delivered to the target? That seems to violate the laws of physics. In fact, the 325 ft/lbs that Sportsman's Guide claims the VD delivers to the target is similar to a military 9mm load. No wonder that little .22 was such a popular round!

So I crunched the numbers myself. The formula to find ft/lbs is ...

((velocity x velocity)/450400) x (bullet weight in grains).

The VD launches a 45 gr bullet at 750 ft per sec. Let me go to my computer's accessories, choose the calculator function, and punch in the values...

Hmm. I am getting 56 ft/lbs and some change, which is a lot less than the 325 ft/lbs listed. I'd better do it again just to be sure. (click click clackety click)

Yep, a little bit more than 56 ft/lbs. That means the VD was actually weaker than the .22 Long Rifle, which I'm pretty sure was around at the same time. It now makes sense as to why the Americans turned their nose up at the velo-dog, but it doesn't explain why the Europeans embraced the caliber instead of going with the more potent .22 LR.

Oh, well. There is no accounting for taste.

Comments (11)

Mike:

'Moist fold'? Maybe that's why so many guns are made in stainless now.

Good post - you should have a look at the Apache version next.

As to the energy question, maybe they got confused and calculated kinetic energy instead? There's a v-squared in that formula, which can make small cartridges look big. I agree that a standard .22 seems to have more oomph, which would explain why these guns were never popular here.

Weren't many of the small hideout guns in the west chambered for .22 short? I'm thinking of the Smith #1 and the various copies of it.

As I recall, the main significance of the .22 VD in the US was that one of the earliest of centerfire wildcats, the Zipper, Bee or Swift, used a case necked down to fit VD bullets, which were readily available.

That reminds me of an advertisement for a hammerless .38 revolver that I saw in a Victorian-era magazine, The Youth's Companion, published around 1890.

Advertised to bicyclists, it was "safe in case of a header" [crash] and "always handy for dogs and tramps," or words to that effect.

Such an innocent, carefree time tht was.

Bob:

Thanks for taking the suggestion!

At least to me, velo dog revolvers strongly resemble the NAA 22 WMR mini-revolvers! Oddly, at least to my mind, the best thing one can say about an NAA revolver is that you can carry it concealed anywhere, but that would have seemed to be a smaller issue with 1890's clothing and social mores? I mean, what was the advatage to a bicyclist in carrying a velodog over a .442 Webley RIC or a Bulldog revolver?

There's a couple other wierd, oddly popular and relatively unkknown in the US, eurpean calibers besides velodog, off the top of my head, 9mm Rimfire Shotgun and 4mm Flobert.

Mike seems to have a good point to me, that VeloDog revolvers probably had better balistics than .22 Short revolvers. 22 Long Rifle didn't exist until 1887, and it didn't become instantly popular, so the velodog revolver would have looked pretty decent in, oh, 1890. I'd suspect that non-outside lubricated velodog ammo was prefered over .22 Short, espicially to be carrried in a pocket. (modern .22 LR is quite a bit less greasy on average than its predecessors).

James R. Rummel:

Oddly, at least to my mind, the best thing one can say about an NAA revolver is that you can carry it concealed anywhere, but that would have seemed to be a smaller issue with 1890's clothing and social mores? I mean, what was the advatage to a bicyclist in carrying a velodog over a .442 Webley RIC or a Bulldog revolver?

Those things are freakin' heavy! I wouldn't want to haul them along for, say, a nice summer picnic outing.

I have also heard that a marketing ploy accentuated the lack of recoil from a VD pistol. That way you wouldn't lose your balance and fall off your bike as you blazed away.

Sure, it is silly. But it's marketing! It just has to sound good, it doesn't have to make sense.

James

Bob:

Makes sense, and I suppose that a velodog was insanely cheap.

I don't know much about the prices of handguns from that era, but I know that the cheap .22" rifles and shotguns from Belgium, even with shipping and import duties were radically cheaper than the U.S. built competition. I have to imagine that a velo dog revolver was way cheaper than even the Belgian knockoff RIC revolvers, etc.

If we remember that the purpose of a self defense gun is to make the attacker stop, a VD makes some sense. Very few criminals will press home an assault in the face of gunfire. I might know it's a .22, but the assailan't, dog or man, won't wait around to measure the entrance wound.

Plus, a velo dog in the pannier beats a Montenegrin back at the chateau.

Ken:

I have (and plink with) a 5 shot 44 bulldog that looks pretty similar in design to the Velo (folding trigger), just a little bigger (about the size of a pack of cigarettes) and with an external hammer. I can't see choosing a .22 over a .44, or even a .380 revolver for carry for use against attacking dogs while bicycling. Anyone who has ever dealt with vicious dogs will probably be able to attest to just how much lead an attacking large dog can absorb. I know of cases of dogs being shot with .38 Specials and 9mms living long enough to chew up the attacker. Have dogs grown tougher since the late 1800s? I think not. I really stumble over this use for either the Velo Dog, or the equally ludicrous American Quackenbush .22 bicycle rifle. Even back then one wanted the most punch one could muster for dealing with something (or multiple somethings) with teeth. A much more practical use for the Velo Dog would be as a garter belt weapon for street walking ladies of the evening. Perhaps Velo Dog customers also included people who knew nothing about weapons, i.e., gentry and English professors and astronomers, or constables looking for a plausible throw away?

victor chang:

if you don't understand my english, is because i don't speak, i found a velo dog revolver in my grandmother house, she pastaway, and i'm loocking who, tellme mark, manufact, year, etc,
and how much its cost.
gracias

ctyheat:

I have two old velo dog revolvers that I am thinking of selling, what would be a fair price for the both of them, they are in real good sape, one in blue one is a stainless type finish with pearl grips, any info will be hepfull

Thanks

ctyheat

retired PD

Brian:

If you can send pic's of the cylinder chamber end and a slightly closer pic of the left side of the frame, I may be able to give you a maker and country of the guns.
As for a stainless velodog????? it is probably a worn out nickle plated. Stainless guns didn't come out til after the velodog had faded out, I beleave around the early 60's.
Please contact me, I'm always looking for the odd little guns.

Thanks

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