The customer is always right; right? Not in my experience. Many people buying British guns need advice, they need help and they sometimes need a cup of cold water poured over their head!
Now, that is going to get some readers thinking I mean that the gun dealer should be like used car dealer, trying to ‘move metal’ at all costs. Not so. A good dealer should be the client’s educated eyes, ears and safety catch. The dealer should also know the market and should be honest with his client about his prospects within his budget.
Here are some very common areas in which the client asks for what he can’t have and needs guidance. He should get it from a good dealer:
“I want a 15” stock but it has to be all wood - no extensions. And it must be all original.” If you are shopping for a classic British gun, it is unlikely to have a 15” stock originally. Most Victorians and Edwardians were shorter than us. Their guns were shorter too. If you want length, chances are you’ll be looking at a horn plate, leather covered pad, wood extension or a re-stock. All these work well if carried out to the highest standard.
“I want a pre-war, 12-bore sidelock-ejector with case, great barrels, in very good condition and with nice engraving. I have £4,000.” Fine, we can go shopping! However, when the gun arrives with the name of a provincial maker, the bottom lip comes out “but I wanted a well-known maker”. Well known to whom? The gun described above had name the client did not know on the locks. If the same gun had Joseph Lang on it, it would be £6,500! I’m using my expertise to buy you quality and condition within your budget. If you insist on a ‘name’ you will have to accept less quality and/or worse condition for the same money. I always advise ‘buy the gun, not the name’.
“That Grant hammer gun is exactly what I’m looking for but it is £200 more than I want to pay. Find me another one just like it for £200 less please”. Bite the bullet and buy the gun. You can have it now and it is what you want. Instead, this client will spend more fruitless months dithering over scores of other guns that are not quite right. He may well never buy one because he was too keen on getting a ‘bargain’.
“I’m looking for a 28-bore Holland & Holland ‘Cavalier’. They only made one, on a 20-bore action sometime in the 1980s. The chances of me finding it and the price being OK, and it fitting the client are close to zero.
“Here are my dimensions from my shooting instructor, can you bend this gun I bought from another shop so that it fits me?” You can’t bend a gun in eight different directions and make a gun which was made for a slim, long necked six-footer with high cheek bones, fit a muscle-bound chap of five-foot seven with no neck and shoulders like King Kong. Often, a gun needs a comb profile raised, length added, or drop alterations beyond what can be achieved with a jig and hot lamps. It is wood, not play dough!
“Can you sell this gun on commission for me? I bought it in a gun shop two years ago and paid £3,000 for it. I need £3,500 back, but feel free to sell it for as much as you like.” If you bought it recently, full retail from a dealer who had to make a profit, you can’t expect another dealer to give you back what you paid, plus a profit for you and sell it for a profit himself.
“I’m looking for a £2,500 hammer gun but I’m only interested in a Purdey, Boss or Holland & Holland. They don’t exist unless they are so awful that you would be a fool to buy one. Either up your budget or get over the fixation on a ‘name’. I see far too many people spend stupid amounts of money on clapped out Purdeys.
“I’m delighted you found the 29” barreled, 15” stocked, cased Boss 20-bore single-trigger side-lock ejector I was looking for, but I would prefer one with game scenes”. This is the gun the client wanted. Boss guns fitting this description with game scenes will not turn up next week, if at all. Buy the gun. Sometimes, clients don’t actually want to buy, they just like talking and looking and getting you to run around for them.
“Lovely 1930s Purdey, just what I’m looking for, but it not having 70mm chambers is a deal killer for me”. English game guns before WW2 were almost always made with 2 ½” chambers. The typical 30g load they were built for is ideal for shooting game. Modern 2 ½” shells like Hull High Pheasant and Gamebore Pure Gold are the equal of any 70mm shell on the market, for practical purposes.
The majority of people who come to dealers looking for English guns are would-be enthusiasts and it is our duty to help them understand the many and complex historical and mechanical issues that lay so many pitfalls in their way. With patience and kindness, we make friends and form lasting business relationships. We are fortunate to make our living working with the beautiful old objects that we love so much. Buyers should not be afraid talk to their favoured dealer about all the issues they are curious about. That way, the hunt for the right gun becomes collaborative and more rewarding for both parties.
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )