Auctions Review

June perspective

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Auctions & Markets|June 2024

March seems barely to have passed and we are in June. With Holt’s results still ringing in my ears: they topped £2,200,000 again, once all the bids were processed across the Main and the Sealed Bids sales.

No sooner had the March sale concluded, than the previews of the next one, in July, began to appear on line. More of that later. In the meantime, Gavin Gardiner held his May sale, which coincided with my birthday and a flight to Botswana, so I was mid-air and out of touch when the bidding took place.

I used Invaluable as a bidding platform and pitched a £1,400 maximum on a Thomas Bissell 12-bore hammer gun. Bissell was the man behind the ‘Rigby Rising Bite’ and I was after a good, early example of his work to put in a display I’m curating for Rigby’s new show-room, which we hope will be built and habitable by early 2025.

There is quite a bit of information pertaining to Mr. Bissell in Rigby’s ledgers, spanning the years 1871 to 1892 and the two gunmakers clearly had a long and mutually beneficial relationship. This particular gun was a rotary under-lever 12-bore and by my reckoning, the earliest gun by Thomas Bissell yet to emerge on the market.

It pre-dates the 1879 ‘Rising Bite’, which in point of fact was never called that by the maker or the patentee. The patent refers to it as a ‘Vertical Bolt’ and the Rigby records mention ‘R&B Action’, ‘Bissell Action’, and ‘Vertical Bolt Action’, never ‘Rising Bite’.

I have yet to trace the origins of the, now commonly used term. Paul Roberts, one time owner of Rigby, tells me it has been in use in the London trade for at least 70 years.

As I was over the Atlantic, eating vaguely tepid airline food at the time that bidding took place, It was not until I landed in Johannesburg the following day that I gathered that I had bought the Bissell, for a bid of just £800, which made me happy. With Gavin’s fees and those of Invaluable added, the total bill came to £1,088. That breaks down to a bid of £800, plus a Premium of £240 and a charge from Invaluable of £40, plus £8 to the VAT man. Still, all below the £1,400 that I was prepared to bid, so a good result.

Pairs that sold looked very good value

Pairs that sold looked very good value, with a 1947 pair of round body assisted openers from Boss netting £17,500 plus Gavin’s 25% commission. A pair of Purdey 16-bores made in 1938 made £16,500 plus £4,125 commission, which, at a fraction over £10,000 each is a steal for best quality small bore side-locks by Purdey.

As Gavin observed, English side-lock prices have fallen steadily but unusual collector-grade guns and rifles are in demand and make good money. Interest from the US was stronger than it has been for a while, perhaps due to the good economic figures coming from the country recently.

Back to Holt’s with their mid-year sale on 29th & 30th July. A few interesting bits caught my eye. A Wilkinson & Son Harvey patent hammer gun with self-retracting strikers is like one I have but it has a Jones lever, rather than a side-lever, though it is also a 16-bore.

An unusual Dickson hammer gun from 1879 with wood bar action is listed along with a Rigby, Jones under-lever, gun dating from 1872. Checking this one confirmed what I had long suspected, that Rigby often recorded the Jones under-lever guns as ‘Lefaucheaux’ in the order books. That explains why so many ‘Lefaucheaux’ guns appear in the records well after the original system was obsolete. Rigby used the term to cover any action with a rotating lever. At £600-£800 as an estimate, it will attract a fair bit of attention.

Another interesting gun is an Adam’s Patent Small Arms Company converted pinfire, built on Horsley’s 1863 pull-back lever patent. It is a pretty gun in good order and shows that it is still possible to collect interesting hammer guns for a thousand pounds or so, if you avoid the ‘big names’.

Magazine rifles from the 1920s and ‘30s are collectable but still good value compared with new prices. For example, a Rigby Highland Stalker is currently priced from around £8,000 to £10,000 depending on specifications, with a ‘London best’ version at over £35,000. Westley Richards only build best quality and a new one in .318 Accelerated Express (a proprietary Westley Richards cartridge) will be upwards of £65,000.

watch out for the added 20% on the hammer price

Holts have a 1925 Rigby .275 Mauser Sporting model made in 1910, fitted with its original ‘scope, estimated at £1500-£2,000 and a Westley Richards .318 made in 1935, estimated at just £1,000-1,500, complete with Zeiss ‘scope.

Be careful to watch out for the added 20% on the hammer price that is now being applied to guns and rifles imported for sale from overseas. This is only payable by us in the UK, so it makes our bids uncompetitive compared to overseas buyers. If you voted for Brexit, pat yourself on the back; we have you to thank for that.

Another rifle in this category, though attracting only 5% extra VAT as a pre-1939 rifle, is a Holland & Holland .240 Apex. With .240 being the minimum deer legal calibre for all UK deer species, this would be a classic rifle you could hunt with, if you can find or load ammunition for it. It dates from 1925 and has a period ‘scope fitted. The reserve is £1,000.

Other auctions over this period included Bonhams, at the end of May which, as I wrote last month, is dropping Sporting Guns as a dedicated sale category and will include any in future sales of them under the Antique Arms & Armour banner.

The summer’s approaching sales definitely contain some worthwhile lots and in a buyer’s market there are good deals to be had, if you happen to be lucky enough to have some spare cash to splash.

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on

Auctions & Markets|June 2024

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