December Auctions Under Lockdown

Bonhams hold a big sale despite the travel restrictions.

Read Article v

Auctions & Markets|December 2020

The Bonhams sale on December 3rd combines items from their Antique Arms & Armour department with those from Sporting Guns, now under Will Threlfall, in order to present a comprehensive catalogue of items of interest to both collectors and shooters.

There is undoubtedly a degree of cross-over in interest, with serious arms collectors looking for rare and historic pieces and generalist interest from those perhaps simply seeking attractive decorative items for their hall or study.

Among the ephemera on offer, I noted a beautiful Mahogany gunpowder magazine by Thomas Conway of Manchester, it contained copper canisters with screw-down caps and handles. I very much doubt many of these items have survived to the present day and the estimate of up to £3,000 suggested that a clean piece like this will attractive to serious collectors.

The beauty of swords, knives and obsolete firearms is that they can be used for display without the worry of licence restrictions. Among the offerings I noted a John Manton & Son 20-bore percussion gun, made in 1841 and offered for the modest sum of £600-£800. It is easy to see why this class of gun is attractive to collectors, given the superb quality, the multitude of mechanism variations and the beauty they represent, as well as the ease of licence-free ownership.

Cased, clean examples of obsolete calibre pistols are also very attractive propositions and can attract significant sums. However, the range of options Bonhams had to offer in the price range from £600 to £3,500 indicates that this is a level of collecting attainable for many people. I noted a Deane-Harding patent .32 calibre revolver with both percussion and rim-fire cylinder options, cased with all accessories, estimated to sell for around £3,500. Buyers could expect to collect a good example of a Beaumont Adams 120-bore revolver for £1,200.

Flintlock target and duelling pistols can fetch serious money and a pair of 32-bore Mantons made in 1831 looked likely to sell for over £30,000.

There have been some changes to Section 58 of the firearms act, which is what provides the licensing exemption for this type of pistol. It looks almost certain that some chamberings that are currently considered ‘obsolete’ will be removed form Section 58. Notably, the .44 Russian, which is a big, impressive revolver popular with collectors, but also, unfortunately, favoured by criminals for the odd drug-related execution.

Good examples of .44 Russian calibre revolvers can run to several thousand pounds so there will be a number of collectors in the UK facing the prospect of losing their collections or seeing the value of them plummet.

This Bonhams sale is a really diverse one. If you wanted to display a deactivated L1N1 service rifle next to your Manton, then a bid of £250 might secure you one, or a .303 short Lee-Enfield, similarly deactivated, could be had for a reserve of £200. Remember, the law relating to deactivated forearms also changed in 2016 and unless the item in question conforms to the latest de-activation standards, it is illegal to offer for sale.

Attractively estimated rook rifles started for £200 and sporting guns ranged from a Griffiths 8-bore single hammer gun at £1,000-£1,500 to numerous pairs of 12-bore side-locks by Purdey, Boss and Dickson etc, with prices running up to £55,000.

Of particular note was a 20-bore Purdey single trigger side-lock ejector with 100% case colour and boldly engraved fences. It was made in the 1950s for a lady and carried an estimate of £15,000 - £25,000.

My era of interest is centre-fire hammer breech-loaders, so I could not help but be drawn to the historical curiosity of a 28-bore Purdey hammer gun with single barrel made for Victorian notable Prince Duleep Singh, ward of Queen Victoria and last ruler of the Sikh Empire in the Punjab.
Another interesting gun in this section was a .360 double hammer gun converted to .410 by Rigby. The sale also contains several historically interesting patent action guns from the 1860s and 1870s with proof exemption certificates.

Springer, in Austria held their thirty-second auction of guns and rifles on November 26th, which was fully on-line. Springer sells British sporting guns and rifles and appears to have a good clientele of European buyers for double rifles. Where the company holds a strong position is the sale of the more elaborate and expensive offerings of the big-name European sporting gun makers like Fanzoj and Hambrusch.

These makers and their styles of rifle do not generally appeal to British buyers. Springer also does well with what we would have to consider Section 5 prohibited weapons. With the more liberal laws in Austria regarding pistols of all kinds, Springer is a useful hub for sales destined for European and American markets.

Holts split their sale in December into three sections - Section 1 being sold on December 3rd, Section 2 on December 4th and the Sealed Bids auction concluding in January 2021.The sale included forty-one sidelock ejectors. Notable was an unusual, single trigger, live pigeon sidelock ejector by Westley Richards, with beaver tail forend and pistol grip stock.

It had all the hallmarks of a gun built for the USA, and sold through Abercrombie & Fitch. It has been Teague choked and would be ideal as a sporting clays gun but for the 28” barrels, which really need to be 30”, if it is to sell easily for that application. Heavy guns of high quality are in demand but shorter barrels make them very hard to sell.

Another interesting sidelock is one built by Paul Roberts. The J. Roberts & Son, 12-bore, Beesley-patent-action gun was made by some of the very best men in the London trade in the 1980s, including Terry Barrow and Ken Hunt. With 27” barrels, which were the fashion of the day when it was made, it will also find many buyers overlook it in the search for longer tubes.

In financial terms, not the top billing, but for many enthusiasts, the star of the show, is a Purdey 28-bore hammer gun of wood-bar type made for a prostitute turned lady-of-the-manor, by the name of Lady Meux.

The lady in question started her career playing the banjo and entertaining gentlemen at the Casino de Venice in Holborn. She was clearly rather talented and her charms proved sufficient to entice one of her punters, Sir Henry Meux, to marry her. She lived an interesting and singular life, apparently driving an open carriage drawn by a pair of zebras.

The gun was built in 1882 and is one of only a handful of this type of 28-bore hammer gun to have been made. Unsurprisingly, being made for a woman, it has a short stock of just 13 1/2”. The weight is a tiny 4lbs 6oz and it is cased, as original. The barrels have been sleeved to 29 5/8” but otherwise it appears in good original condition, without significant damage, especially to the wood.

Estimated at £3,000 - £5,000 it should attract a lot of interest from Purdey collectors.

Gavin Gardiner also has a pre-Christmas sale, on December 9th. Entries are now closed but the catalogue is not yet available.

The summer has been remarkable for auction houses and business has been very good indeed, with most businesses reporting new customers, high prices, increased participation and universal willingness to rely on the internet asa means of locating, assessing and bidding on sporting guns.

I spoke to a used car dealer this week, who was about to sell a Bentley to a man who was expecting an interest-free Business Interruption Loan from the Government. I would not think it unreasonable to surmise that quite a lot of this cheap money has found its way into gun purchases too.

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )

Auctions & Markets|December 2020

Vintage Gun Journal category advertiser: HGSS Shipping Services

Vintage Gun Journal category advertiser: Holt's Sealed Bids Sale

Vintage Gun Journal category advertiser: Merlin Unwin Books

Vintage Gun Journal category advertiser: John Dickson & Son Gunmakers