Game Fairs are great fun, the soaring temperatures in Warwickshire this year were in marked contrast to the wash out of twelve months ago.
“Never mind the auctions, tell them about the guns we dealers discount at the Game Fair” said one chap as he proudly displayed an impressive array of kit on his stand: Anything from a black plastic AR15 look-alike to a Holland & Holland hammer gun, all done up and ready to go and carrying a slashed ‘Game Fair Special’ price tag.
His point was that a lot of people now look to the auction room for a ‘deal’ and think that, there, they can bypass the middle man and get a bargain. Well, a lot of dealers pick up kit away from auctions, fix it up, add a modest profit and sell it with a guarantee. An auctioneer adds no value, he simply munches a big chunk of cash out of the sale and walks away.
With auctions very much taking retail money these days, they can actually be an expensive, rather than a cheap, place to shop. A typical £1,000 auction purchase in London today will net the auctioneer £150 in seller’s premium, £250 in buyers premium and will attract VAT of £50. That totals £450 in costs on top of the £1,000 bid; and a cheque for the buyer to write of £1,300. You then need to pay for any work that is needed. Let’s say a minimum of the strip, clean and tighten, which is required of most auction fare. For this add, perhaps, £300. You now have a gun you can comfortably take shooting and you have hole in your wallet to the tune of £1,600. That auction bargain of £1,000 is not looking so clever now.
Conversely, let’s pretend the same gun comes into a busy gun shop, like The Cheshire Gun Room in Stockport and the proprietor gives the seller the same as he would receive from an auctioneer: £1,000, less 15% commission. So, he hands over £850. He then uses his workshop to do the required strip, clean and tighten, during slack hours, and at cost price to him. He may well find he now has £1,000 in the gun.
Off to the Game Fair he goes, a week later, and sticks the gun up at £1,500. You offer him £1,350, you shake on £1,400 and walk away with you new gun. John Farrugia is in the shop to deal with any surprise problems, like an unexpected crack emerging or you find the left ejector only works inside, at 28 degrees centigrade, on a Thursday. You just eliminated risk, paid less money and, shock, horror, the dealer made an honest profit.
I noticed a lot of guns on dealers stands, marked with useful discounts for the Game Fair. Generally, they were well refurbished and in good order. The real top-end kit was not there. This often sells with a phone call before it ever makes it onto a display rack. However, for punters looking for a good, honest and interesting English gun, there was a good choice at a realistic range of prices.
Of course, among the dealers, there are the chancers. Some guns, desperately over done-up and carrying hilarious price tags were clearly there to trap the unwary. Nicely displayed and boasting a famous name they may be, but many were sow’s ears disguised as silk purses. One very knowledgeable insider tried to negotiate a deal with a prominent member of what my gun maker friends refer to as the ‘posh bandits club’ only to be told he was not interested in selling the gun in question to someone who knew its shortcomings and real value, but to a mug punter who would be dazzled by the name and the shiny bits and hand over the eye watering asking price in blissful ignorance.
These are the exploitative tactics that have sent the public to the auction rooms over the last ten years, abetted by auction houses who are ever more public friendly and approachable. It is confusing for the average gun enthusiast. Pay over the odds to a persuasive dealer, risk the no-returns, ‘sold as seen’ policy of the auction room or try to find an honest dealer with a good gun, carrying a guarantee, at a fair price.
It is nice to see the appetite for English game guns remains at the heart of this nation of shooters and great gunmakers. The CLA showed specialist firms like Pantiles Vintage Guns doing good business and catering to the enthusiast. Our great gun making firms were all there: Westley Richards, Purdey, Holland & Holland, William & Son, William Evans and Watson Bros. They rubbed shoulders with newer, dynamic companies like Boxall & Edmiston and Longthorne and were well supported, in a long and exciting Gunmakers Row, by the trade at large, represented by Sportarm, Ladds and Giles Marriott, amongst others.
All the auctioneers were represented. Holt’s had their usual, well-presented stand with impressive tasters of the September sale. I noticed an especially mouthwatering, consecutively serial numbered, pair of Holland & Holland ‘Royal’ double rifles in .500 and .375. Gavin Gardiner seems to attract high quality side-opening shotguns and had one displayed in anticipation of his Gleneagles sale at the start of September. Patrick Hawes was on good form at the Bonhams stand and proudly showed me a nice MacNaughton trigger plate gun and a pretty pair of Lang side-locks with engraving by Kell. His sale follows-on, shortly after the Game Fair, on July 31st.
All things considered, the event this year was a display of all things good, bad and indifferent the trade has to offer and the people treading the dusty grass between the stands on Gunmakers Row were the players who flit between retail, auction and gun-smithing in the quest to furnish themselves with the next piece for their gun cabinet. As dealers, auctioneers and gunmakers vie for the customer’s next pound, the great game goes on. The atmosphere was optimistic, people were buying, dealers were selling, auctioneers were accepting commissions and I was smoking cigars and nattering with anyone who would talk to me.