As the COVID crisis moves out of its limbo phase, with the bulk of businesses shut down, and trade begins to stretch its limbs and stir into wake-up mode, the corpses of a few casualties of this enforced hibernation are there for all to see. One notable West End name is prominent among them.
William & Son succeeded Asprey in selling British guns and luxury goods. The beautiful store in Bruton Street is now empty and stripped of fittings. They weathered the lockdown but once doors opened and staff came back to work, it was clear that footfall was insufficient to make the company viable. William Asprey did not get to the financial position he now enjoys by habitually losing money and apparently saw no short-term mans of cutting of the flow of expenses while accepting that turnover was badly down.
William & Son guns were built in the trade by UK gunmakers, under the direction of Paul West...
William & Son guns were built in the trade by UK gunmakers, under the direction of Paul West, a great gunmaker and a friendly, knowledgeable ambassador for his company and his trade. Paul was open, funny and approachable. Many customers, old and new, have said how grateful they were for his advice and assistance over the years. The over & under gun they sold was a Boxall & Edmiston platform. That firm, of course, closed its doors about a year ago.
Sales were handled by Ian Andrews, whose experience and contacts from his previous stints and Purdey and Christies were a real asset to William & Son in establishing a following among shooters in the UK and overseas. Clothing was headed up by another ex-Purdey man, Chris Hunter and the William & Son shooting suits and coats had a reputation for being of the highest quality, yet more sensibly priced than some other West End brands.
Holt’s have a sale on September 7th and 8th and it includes a pair of William & Son guns and a single. They might just prove to be very good value if you are looking for high quality guns to use rather than to invest in.
Holt’s have been gathering lots for the auction by getting vendors to come to see their regional agents and then conducting valuations by video link with Holt’s specialists in Norfolk. The system has been ‘working brilliantly’ according to Chris Beaumont. The sale has been brought forward slightly as Holt’s intend to have another one in December.
Viewing is by appointment and, as with any shop, masks must be worn. Gun dealers are often accused of having business practices akin to those of Dick Turpin, so it may be that more than one has a mask hanging on the back of the door that can be pressed into service.
Gun dealers are often accused of having business practices akin to those of Dick Turpin...
Meanwhile, auction houses have been cracking along with internet sales. Mitchell’s had a three day sporting sale, which included shotguns, rifles, air weapons and taxidermy. I thought I spotted a new toy in the shape of a full-stocked Martin-Henry converted to .22 by Bonehill but I dropped out at £250 and saw it sell for £260. Some of the higher value side-locks did not sell but the sub one-thousand-pounds kit was selling briskly.
While buying guns remotely is tricky, gun cases and accessories are rather a safer bet, if well illustrated, as they often are nowadays. I spotted a full length canvas rifle case that would do for a customer looking for something like it to house his new Rigby Highland Stalker.
It is worth noting the risks of buying guns unseen - one client sent me three guns that he had bought and when measured up turned out to be enlarged in the bores beyond proof tolerances. Provincial auctions and private sellers on Guntrader do not always have the tools nor the expertise to properly assess and measure proof status. I’m now preparing them all for re-proof, which is both costly and risky.
Thomas Del Mar has a sale on July 30th with some historically interesting lots, including a flintlock goose rifle by Edward Bate. It sold t Sotheby’s in 1971 for £460, which was the price of a new Mini back then. The current estimate is £12,000-£18,000 and with the new Mini range starting at £15,000, the gun’s value seems to have kept pace with inflation.
Gavin Gardiner has valuation days listed for September and October and a sale on September 2nd, which he will conduct from his West Sussex offices in a live auction format with internet bidding. His catalogue is not yet available but check his website for details as they emerge.
One recent development that may impact auction prices is the introduction by Eley of a true 2 1/2” (65mm) cased steel shot cartridge with a bio-degradable wad for game shooting. This is a Standard Proof steel load that we are advised may be used in guns proof tested with lead after 1954 and with barrels in good condition and chokes of not more than Half Choke constriction. This may serve to reassure users of British game guns that they can hang on to their old favourites and carry on shooting should a lead ban be introduced in the future, as seems likely.
There was some speculation earlier this year, on the announcement by shooting organisations that they favoured a withdrawal of lead for live quarry shooting within five years, that owners would dum their British gun in a frenzy before they became useless. There is to date no sign of this happening and the prospect of a steel alternative to lead that costs a similar amount will be comforting to many.
That said, there are no supplies available as yet. I contacted Just Cartridges for a likely arrival date as I need to do some serious testing of these in a coupe of Damascus barrelled boxlocks that I’m donating to the cause to provide real feedback on their suitability for older guns. Just Cartridges are awaiting notice of delivery and expect a big demand.
The cost of the new ammo is about the same as premium lead cartridges - a bit over £300 per thousand. The explanation for the high price (given that the raw material is a lot cheaper) is that there are only two current manufacturers of steel shot and they are struggling to meet demand. I was told to expect the cost of steel shot generally to rise in the short term.
...none of the auctioneers report large intakes of British guns...
Despite the rumours, none of the auctioneers report large intakes of British guns and dealers are telling me sales have been steady over the period of disruption caused by the virus. It may be that the fuss about the demise of lead shot will be seen as a storm in a teacup when we look back at it twenty years from now. That is certainly what many of my continental shooting friends tell me was their experience when it happened in their countries.
It looks like shooting will be in short supply and big demand this coming season, as many shoots managers tell me they put down fewer birds or mothballed the entire shoot for twelve months due to uncertainty. I’m hearing good reports from the moors about grouse numbers. An old hammer gun and a pointer or two make a great team for some old fashioned sport.
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