A Revolver for Rover- The Velo-Dog

In 1894 Rene Galland, a Parisian gunmaker, patented a .22 caliber centerfire cartridge, the 5.5mm Velo-dog, and introduced a series of revolvers that chambered for it. The name combined the words Velocipede (bicycle) and Dog; his thought was that cyclists could use the revolver to ‘discourage’ dogs that plagued them. Indeed, packs of feral dogs seem to have been a real problem in Paris and its environs, and for some reason bicycles in particular excited their chase reflex.

Galand’s initial offerings included folding trigger and fixed trigger models, and there was a third model with a cylinder that swung out to the right when the loading gate was opened.

This was not as inhumane as it sounded; loads of Cayenne Pepper, lead dust, and wax, wood or cork bullets bullets were available. The cartridge was comparable in power to .22 LR loads of the time, but was substantially longer, with a brass case 1.12″ long.

.22 Long Rifle (top) compared to 5.5mm Velo-Dog. Despite the much longer case of the Velo-Dog the power of these two rounds was quite comparable when fired from a short-barrel revolver. The cartridge was referred to both as 5.5mm Velo-Dog and 5.75mm Velo-Dog, though as near as I can tell these are the same cartridge.

If buyers of these guns had been limited to cyclists these little revolvers would have quickly faded into obscurity, but given the high levels of urban crime in European cities around the turn of the century they had a much broader appeal.

There was no shortage of small revolvers available at the time; most countries produced them, particularly Belgium, where they never met a patent they didn’t want to violate. Most of the small revolvers they produced were ‘Baby Bulldogs,’ small versions of the British bulldog style revolvers in .320 Revolver, or ‘Puppies’ chambered in .22 Short. The Velo-Dog seems to have slotted neatly between these two; easier to conceal than the .320 revolvers, but enough larger than the ‘puppies’ to make it easier to handle, and significantly more powerful as well.

Gun makers in Leige, Belgium and Eibar Spain quickly produced their own Velo-Dog revolvers. These were similar in size to Galand’s guns, but very different in some details. Like the French guns they were all double-action revolvers, and initially were hammerless, though later guns with exposed hammers were made. Belgian and Spanish guns also frequently had a manual safety that prevented the trigger from moving.

A Belgian ‘Puppy’ chambered in .22 short, literally a miniature version of a ‘Bulldog’ revolver. These guns were so small that even persons with small hands found them awkward, and they were extremely difficult to shoot with any degree of accuracy even at very short ranges.

Belgian Velo-Dog revolvers were, for the most part, a fusion of the hammerless double-action-only French designs and the Bulldog-style revolvers they had been producing for many years. Mainly they retained the loading and unloading mechanism that consisted of a hollow cylinder pin with an ejector-rod running down the center of it and a loading-gate on the right side of the frame. The ejector pin would be drawn forward, then pivoted to the side to allow empty cases to be pushed out when the loading gate was opened. Bullets would then be loaded one at a time as the cylinder was rotated. There were other styles including top-break revolvers with auto-ejectors, but most of them operated like a Bulldog revolver.

Top-break auto-ejecting Velo-Dog made in Belgium.
Belgian revolver with a swing-out cylinder. When the loading gate was opened the cylinder would swing out to the right, and all six shells could be ejected at once. The the cylinder could be closed and fresh cartridges could be loaded one at a time. Of course there was nothing to prevent loading all six before closing the cylinder.

Many of these revolvers were the ‘Busso’ or hump-back pattern, with the concealed hammer covered by a squared-off rear end of the frame, usually with a safety lever on the left side that locked the folding trigger.

Busso or hump-back style Velo-Dog. Many felt that these guns were easier to grip than the more ‘streamlined’ designs.
Velo-Dog revolvers came in all levels of finish, from sometimes crude offerings from Eibar to fancy nickle-plated and engraved examples such as this one. Common grips were hard rubber, but silver, wood, antler, mother-of-pearl and ivory were also used.

Velo-Dog revolver by Jaques Mussen-Lallamand…

…probably. These small revolvers were made in such numbers and by so many makers that if a gun is unmarked (as many were) we must rely on features and fine details to identify the maker. After careful examination I am reasonably sure this one was made by Mussen-Lalleman between 1908-1914, and the Belgian proof-marks on the barrel, frame and cylinder support this.

My revolver, with an American Quarter-dollar coin for size comparison.

The revolver is, as one would expect, quite petite. Unloaded it weighs a mere 7.9 ounces, with an overall length of 5-1/4″ and a 1-3/4″ barrel. It has a folding trigger, ‘Bulldog’-style ejection and a manual safety located just above the hard rubber grips on the back of the frame. The barrel and cylinder still retain some of their original bluing, and the frame is color-case hardened, though little of the color remains.

This picture shows the safety lever on the back of the flame. Up is safe, down is fire.

The gun locks up properly, and everything works as it should. The trigger pull is short and smooth but very stiff. The front sight is pretty decent, but the shallow notch of the rear sight is not particularly useful.

The method for unloading: the ejector pin is withdrawn from the center of the cylinder pin and rotated to the right, then slid into the front of the cylinder to eject the empty cartridge, then withdrawn and the cylinder rotated to the next chamber to repeat this process until all five chambers have been emptied.
To load the revolver you swing open the loading gate, then insert cartridges one at a time as you turn the cylinder. The cylinder can rotate freely unless the trigger is pulled.
The folding trigger is quite long, and the pull is very stiff.

5.5mm Velo-Dog Ammunition

The ammunition for these guns is no longer in production, though you might find a specialty maker producing limited quantities to order for a princely price. Once widely made by Kynoch, Remington and others, it was most recently produced by Fiocchi and one can sometimes come across a box of this with prices ranging from ‘steep’ to ‘outrageous.’ Another option is buying brass for .22 CCM (Cooper Centerfire Magnum) which often fits 5.5mm VD chambered guns and loading it to replicate the original Velo-Dog loads. Reloading dies are available, though they are rather more expensive than more common calibers.

If you have some tools and are a handy sort you can make your own from .25 ACP cartridges and 1/4″ brass tube. Stuff a bullet into the case so it doesn’t collapse when you chuck it up in a hand-drill, then use the drill and a file to recuse a section at the base of the cartridge just ahead of the rim to about .220″.

Using a hand-drill and file to cut down the base of a .25 ACP cartridge. After reducting the section just in front of the rim to about .220″ you can cut it off with a small saw or a diamond saw mounted in a Dremel tool.

After your reduced a section in front of the rim you can cut it off, leaving a rimmed section that will hold a small-pistol primer. Coat this section with soldering flux and gently tap it into a section of 1/4″ diameter thin-walled brass tube. This should be a force-fit. Cut a 3/16″ long section of silver-bearing plumbing solder into the tube and push it to the bottom rimmed section with a rod, then heat the area with a torch until the solder flows and then allow to cool. Make sure the ignition-hole is clear, drilling with a 1/16″ drill if needed, and cut the tube to produce a cartridge 1.12″ long including the rim.

I find cutting the cartridge with a diamond-saw then carefully filing it to length works well.

After the case is cut and trimmed to length carefully clean the interior with a small patch soaked in acetone to remove residue from the soldering flux.

This is pretty labor-intensive, but you can produce small numbers this way without too much of a problem. I only wanted a few cartridges for test purpose for the moment, so I made seven cases this way.

Home-made 5.5mm Velo-Dog cartridge. The outside diameter is 1/4″, it is 1.12″ long and the rim is .308″ diameter. Using a 29gr RNL bullet this yielded an overall length of 1.35″

The original load used a 43gr. copper-jacketed round-nose bullet, which when fired from a short-barreled revolver made about 650-700 fps., pretty much replicating the performance of standard .22 LR of the early 20thC. when fired from a similar gun.

I don’t have reloading dies for this caliber yet, and since I was firing an unfamiliar antique gun I opted to make a ‘Gallery Load.’ I inserted magnum small pistol primers (I haven’t been able to get the regular ones for many months now) and tapped them into place with a wooden dowel. I used a charge of 1.6gr of Universal powder, based on my experience loading .251 TCR and .25 ACP. For bullets I pulled the 29gr. RNL bullets from some .22 Short cartridges, and simply pressed them into the cartridge with my thumb until they were firmly in place. This proved sufficient given the almost non-existent recoil of this load.

A string of five shots yielded an average velocity of 430fps. and 12 ft/lbs of energy, with an extreme spread of 21 fps., just about right for close-range indoor target shooting. When I get the reloading dies I’ll see about working up some loads that mimic the performance of the original cartridge.

Another example of a Mussen-lallemand revolver in very fine condition, shown with the sort of purse-holster favored by women for carrying these little guns.

Shooting the Velo-Dog

No target to show this time- at five yards a dinner-plate would have about covered the ‘group.’ I didn’t hit the chronograph, so I called it good enough. There is, of course, no perceptible recoil and with these low-powered loads the report was quite mild.

The lack of accuracy was not an issue with the gun, despite the aforementioned stiff trigger and miserable sights. The bottom loop of the trigger kept hitting my knuckle just as the gun fired, throwing off my aim. I attributed this to my large fingers, but later realized I was holding the gun wrong, and by shifting my grip upwards slightly it would not longer do that which will doubtless improve my accuracy. I’ll revisit this later when I have more proper ammo.

This is a fascinating little gun and an interesting look into history. No doubt I’ll have all sorts of fun developing loads for it and trying to coax unrealistic levels of accuracy out of it.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 1 November 2020

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