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Future Classics

My local auctioneers, Brightwell’s have made something of a success of selling ‘modern classics’ in their car auctions. They even have sales dedicated to this particular type of car. Check over a catalogue and you will see 1980s hotties, like the  BMW 316, Ford XR2 and Peugeot 205GTI in the line up. 1970s Ford Escort Mexicos, Cortinas and Capris are all making very strong money in today’s market.

It is all about nostalgia. The cliche is that the ‘boy done good’ wants to buy the car his father lusted after but could never afford during the boy’s childhood. When I was a kid, it was all about Jaguar E-Type convertibles and MK2 saloons. Now, my generation is buying the cars listed earlier. In many cases re-living a youth spent tearing around the roads in the kind of hot hatch that modern regulations would make impossible to launch today.

What all these cars have in common is that they went through a period of being unloved and over-looked, changing hands for a few hundred pounds and ending up in the scrap yard. Those that survived now command high prices and undergo expensive restoration. Oh to have a crystal ball and be able to predict what current runabout will be the next classic.

As for cars, so with rifles. I just got back from Gavin Gardiner’s auction in Bond Street. Among the lost we watched a Rigby Mauser .350 made in 1927 sell for £9,500 plus commission. Another Rigby, a .470 double side-lock also performed well. It made £22,000 plus fees despite having a worn, horsehair stuffed pad for the cheek and a replacement forend wood that was not a perfect match. Rigby’s are performing much better than they did just a few years ago. The reason is largely because of the return of the company to London and the high-profile revival of its fortunes. As the modern company prospers, so the old examples of classic Rigby inflate in value.

Can we look around at what might be cheap now yet has the potential to appeal to collectors in the future? We can, but prediction is a game that few of us play with any degree of certainty. Certainly air-rifles followed the classic car pattern – in the 1980s people were collecting 1940s era service air rifles and the like. 

Today the air rifles of my youth, are sought after my men in their fifties hankering after the better models of their teenage years. The Feinwerkbau Sport, and the Weihrauch HW35 always attract bidding when they  appear at auction. However, there does not seem to be such a following for the .22 rifles of the era. The BSA Sportsman, the Voere, the Remington Fieldmaster and others are well-made, traditional rifles of various action type but they can be bought for a few pounds at auction. In fact, I have often thought that a collection of .22 rifles would be a very cheap way to build an extensive and interesting, not to mention practical inventory of interesting firearms.

One area I can see starting to move up is the classic mini Martini action rifles of the first half of the 20th century. They were sold by the likes of BSA, Greener and Francotte, in a range of qualities. They are lovely little things, often beautifully put together and they are both affordable and accurate.

Stalking rifles of the pre-war era are developing cachet on both sides of the Atlantic. Rigby Mausers lead the way, but the Mannlicher Schoenaur is rapidly gaining cult status. The 1906 stuzen version is the one to have but take-down models are also appreciated, especially those retailed and cased by prominent British firms. The larger calibre, later versions of the MS lag behind in price at present, the 1908 models are lovely and, in calibres like 8×57, are practical. Once you get past the 1950s they lose some of their elegance. On the upside, they are very cheap yet still very high quality.

Mauser versions of the Rigby Mauser, without the British name on the action, are a lot less expensive. They are always worth looking at, as they offer an affordable way into the classic club without the need to write a large cheque. 

Names that were once prominent amongst rifle aficionados are already falling from memory. However, what they left behind is a legacy of hand-built custom rifles, usually built on vintage actions. These were produced when people wanted something special and were looking for better accuracy than an ‘out of the box’ production rifle would deliver. Have a look for rifles, especially those built on Mauser actions, by T.T Proctor. also, pay attention to the work of Roy Wharton and that of Paul Roberts (J. Roberts & Son). People paid a lot of money for these rifles a few years ago and they will, I’m sure, be appreciated again.

Auctions and gun shops both work when searching for the ‘not quite classic’ rifle. I have Australian friends who seek out early BRNO bolt actions for use in custom rifle making. They cost hardly anything here but make a premium there.  This kind of thing often sits uncomfortably in the inventory of many gun shops and the owners will often let them go cheaply to get them off the shelf. They will often have been taken in as part-exchanges and are not really wanted.

There are no real rules for predicting what you should buy now to appreciate later. What seems to happen is that a particular kind of rifle will look cheap and unwanted for no apparent reason. But everyone goes along with it, until the price drops to a point at which someone decides a trick is being missed, he starts buying them and promoting them, then it gets infectious and everyone gets in on the action. So, keep your eyes open in the gun shop and if you see a rifle of obvious quality that has fallen out of favour with the general public, consider the reasons and compare what you get for your money. You might just start the next trend.