Issue 58 April 2024

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Destination Wolferton

Holt's will hold their December sale 'at home'.

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Auctions & Markets|December 2019

‘Here be dragons’ the old map makers used to write on the edges of the known world. Beyond the navigated shipping lanes and over the ocean seas to far-flung and mysterious lands, normal travellers never ventured and most of those who did never returned. So the prospect of visiting Norfolk must seem to the denizens of London today. Yet, visit Norfolk they must, as must I, to see the wonders collected by Nick Holt and his band of merry men, now offered for viewing and sale at Wolferton.

I live about five miles from the Welsh border. Wolferton is about five miles from the North Sea. Between us lie the sprawling conurbations of the West and East Midlands, Cambridge and then miles of ‘A’ roads across the fens. That translates into around five hours behind the wheel, traffic permitting.Nick Holt will now welcome customers to the Holt's base for viewing and auctions.

I’ll be making the trip in December, in time to see the Holt Hoard and bid on whatever I’m inclined to bid on for clients. Like many people I’m still working out how this compares as an experience with former visits to London venues for the same purpose.

Actually, in terms of time, five hours is what it used to take me to get to Blackheath from Ludlow. So, the cross-country trip may actually be more pleasant as we don’t have to endure interminable, crawling jams to traverse London. We’ll have to see what the bed and breakfast facilities in and around Kings Lynn are like, as an overnight stay will be required. I’m hoping this element of the process will prove more pleasant and less costly than the same deal in London. Who knows? perhaps this will become a regular and pleasant mini-break with some gun buying we can all happily look forward to every three months.

On a more serious note, Holt’s, like all auctioneers, has had to react to a market that is somewhat lethargic. The challenge to constantly come up with new and exciting guns every sale is a big one. Sales figures are down, new kit is drying-up and sellers are reluctant to liquidate collections in a depressed market. Website glitches have meant that I was unable to view the on-line catalogue through Safari or Firefox this month - indeed it has been an issue for me since the last sale. Holt’s are working to identify and fix the problem.

Meanwhile, Bonhams are moving ahead with a sale on 28th November under new Sporting Guns manager William Threlfall. The catalogue is now on-line and in a new re-vamped format, in common with other departments at Bonhams. This shows eight to twelve lots per page, with more details available at a click of the mouse. The sale includes a good number of pistols, including several broom-handle Mausers of the type that both Lord Kitchener and Winston Churchill both favoured, as active duty soldiers.Chris Beaumont and the regular Holt's staff will be in attendance for viewing.

One of the more eye-catching rifles was a very nice example of an Alex Henry .577 BPE, made in 1877. With Jones under-lever and cased with its accessories, this is a collector grade classic deserving of its estimate of £10,000 - £15,000.

Some big-bore single wild-fowlers featured, with examples by Holland & Holland, Horsley, Fletcher and Jackson. Big bores soared in price a few years ago before flat-lining. It will be interesting to see what these make in today’s market. with estimates ranging from £2,000 to £10,000 there was a good selection and estimates are reflective of the realities of the market. That means some good guns can be had for relatively modest money and they are again in reach for the enthusiast foreshore hunter.

A smattering of inexpensive boxlocks lead up to a MacNaughton 28-bore ‘Edinburgh’ gun, made in 1879 with 24” barrels. One of these appeared at Holt’s in the summer and I was told a story that the short barrelled small bore shotguns came about as a result of surplus double rifle barrels being in stock and converted to shotgun for the building of this range of 28-bores. With a resurgent Dickson & MacNaughton making wavs in the gun trade, the prices of these are likely to rise in the manner that Rigby shotguns and rifles have done in recent years.

Representing very good value were Holland & Holland ‘dominion’ models and Army & Navy side-locks, all estimated from £800- £1,500 and then there were some good Purdey single guns for under £10,000 and pairs of Purdey and Boss side-locks, the pick of which was perhaps a pair of Kell engraved 16-bore Purdeys, with an estimate of £20,000 -£30,000.

The Winchester collection that Bonhams is liquidising continues with some interesting vintage and modern Winchester and Marlin rifles, including obsolete calibre and deactivated examples, prices ranging from £100 up to £20,000. I inherited a mint .44-40 Winchester and sold it to pay for a new exhaust for my old Honda motorcycle, back in the 1980s, and always regretted it. Maybe this is my opportunity to fill that gap.

Bonhams new website has plenty of nice, clear images of each lot but on my country broadband (all be it supposedly ‘super-fast’), I had some issues with picture download speed and some freezing.Attendance in the viewing room has droppped so Holt's are responding to customer behaviour.

A fair selection of Browning and Beretta over & under guns finished off the sale, which had something for every taste and a price range from £80 to £30,000, making it well worth a visit, whatever your budget.

Gavin Gardiner follows holts on 11th December with a sale in London. The catalogue is now on-line and includes two lots with royal provenance. The first is a Purdey .360 double rifle made for the Nizam of the Deccan and presented to him by ‘Bertie’ the, then, Prince of Wales on his India tour of 1875-’76. It is estimated at £12,000 - £15,000.

The second is a pair of Charles Lancaster 14-bore percussion guns built in 1850 for HRH Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria and given by her as a gift. They are cased with accessories and expected to make up to £35,000.

Provenance continues to add value to collectible sporting guns and royal provenance is perhaps the most sought after; rivalled only by famous hunter/authors like Jim Corbett and W.D.M Bell.



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Auctions & Markets|December 2019

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