Early Year Auctions

Buyers are still active. Is transport the next issue?

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Auctions & Markets|February 2021

Many of us got to Christmas with a sense of achievement at having weathered the COVID storm and made it through, just about in-tact and ready to pick-up again, make good our losses and re-build our businesses. Then we got locked down again over New Year and it has only got worse since then.

The first reaction, early in January, was from Holt’s. They cancelled the March sale. Chris Beaumont told me it was just too much of a risk try and put together a sale in six weeks, given that their people can’t get out and collect anything and vendors are reluctant to travel to Norfolk to bring it in. That is the crux of the matter for many auctioneers and dealers. The government-mandated movement restrictions are hurting their ability to bring in new stock.

Paradoxically, sales have been healthy. People at home with computers, websites to search and on-line bidding facilities to use, perhaps with a few quid in the bank from furlough money, a grant or a loan, are spending freely.

Dogs, cars, guns; all are selling well. However, you can’t sell what you haven’t got and replenishing the gun racks is the name of the game now.

guns selling fast if they are priced correctly but there is a lot of expensive stock sitting on shelves

The market also seems price-sensitive, even if it is robust. I have noticed guns selling fast if they are priced correctly but there is a lot of expensive stock sitting on shelves that is priced too optimistically. Likewise, at auction, a lot of what is selling, is doing so at the lower end of the estimates. One colleague told me the last sheet of offers he left on a sealed bids auction all came his way at the reserve price.

David Duggleby Auctions in Yorkshire had a sale on 15th January and had a smattering of hammer guns, which looked worthy of investigation. however, with little information, no barrel measurements or bore size data, nor any specialist condition report to work with, bidding more than very low figures is a risk. Likewise, Stroud Auctions carried a few Victorian guns and some good lots of edged weapons.

The facility offered by The Saleroom makes all these provincial auctions far more accessible to buyers from around the country; indeed, from around the world. Stroud auctions carried a Dickson muzzle-loader in case with accessories that in the pre-Saleroom days would have slipped by un-noticed by me and many others. Now it is easy to spot and should, therefore, attract stronger bids.

It is possible to occasionally find collectable gun-maker ephemera, as well as guns, in these sales but it is surprising just how many people are searching for them and watching every lot of interest.

Gavin Gardiner has a sale planned for April 21st and tells me it is building steadily. He said January is always quiet so it is not unduly worrying that activity is curtailed this year. He has a private collection submitted for the sale and more expected, so is relatively bullish about the prospects for spring.

With the British Shooting Show cancelled and the Game Fair in doubt in the minds of many, despite the confident marketing campaign the event is pushing, it looks like 2021 may not prove to be ‘back to normal’ as we all had hoped. It may not be until next year that we actually see twelve months of unaffected business and event organisation begin for real.

New stock needs open access channels to facilitate every auction. Brexit and COVID are combining to block them.

So, we have Gavin with April looking solid and Holts with June in their sights for their next sale. That leaves Bonhams, who had a good sale to finish off 2020 and, of course, Southams, in Bedfordshire. They carried on impressively through the 2020 disruption and may actually prove to be the first to deliver a Sporting Gun auction this year.

Entries for the March sale close on January 27th and if sufficient lots have been gathered by then we can expect the Southams March Sporting Gun sale to take place on the eleventh, as a live auction, with Shooting Equipment following on the twelfth, as a timed auction.

Bonhams have a sale of Arms & Armour scheduled for May 26th and one for Sporting Guns the next day. In line with government guidance, Bonhams are carrying on business as fully as they can, while implementing the safeguarding procedures necessary to keep staff and customers shielded from risk of infection. Should you wish to visit Bonhams in Montpellier Street to consign or view, one benefit of the pandemic is that London is now lovely to drive around and parking is easy!

Like other auction houses, Bonhams report huge increases in communication with buyers. Condition reports and pre-sale conversations have increased, as the freedom or inclination to travel has waned.

Since Patrick Hawes moved to Holland & Holland (which we have just learned was sold to Beretta Holdings, by Chanel this week), his role in charge of Sporting Guns at Bonhams has fallen to William Threlfall, who, by all accounts, is doing a very good job and should become a familiar face on the auction scene to those of us who frequent the major gun sales.

As we go to press, Scotarms website is still showing details of the 27th October sale from last year, So, I’m unable to advise readers as to when they will next hold their popular Newark Showground event.

Brexit, now that it has finally been dragged across the finishing line, will go from being a theoretical impact on business to an actual one. It is hard at times to accurately assign the cause of any given effect to either Brexit or COVID.

Among the challenges to auctioneers (and to many dealers actually) currently manifesting themselves is the lack of freight transport. The limited numbers of passenger jets flying between countries means that a lot of the space used on those planes for freight has been lost. That has created increased prices for getting guns on planes and sent to Australia, New Zealand and other far-flung destinations. That is mostly down to COVID.

However, the Brexit effect of road freight disruption and changes to the paperwork needed to take various goods across borders and what, if any, new tariffs are to be imposed, is making gun transport by road unattractive to hauliers.

few hauliers want the added complication of carrying firearms across European borders

As one agent told me recently “Imagine you have a million pounds worth of goods in the back of your lorry, then you have two or three guns as well. If the customs authorities get stuck on the status of the guns and the permits needed, under incoming restrictions, it could hold up the entire load”. That being that case, few hauliers want the added complication of carrying firearms across European borders at the moment. In a simple cost-benefit analysis, there is not sufficient value in the few hundred pounds offered to carry a firearm given the risk it poses to the safe and speedy delivery of the rest of the load.

This in turn, places more demand on air freight as the only viable alternative and, as I mentioned earlier, that is reduced in terms of availability and elevated in terms of cost because of COVID.

Getting overseas collections in to the British auctions now becomes more complicated too. Any firearms coming from European collections for sale in the UK will now attract import tax of some degree. I’m not sure everyone is yet sure what the import taxes are for various classes of firearm or what sales taxes might be added.

It is easy to see why someone with guns to sell in Germany or Holland may prefer to offer them to Springer in Austria, rather than send them to Holt’s or Bonham’s, in England, despite the fact the latter are more experienced and likely to showcase them more effectively.

So, the early part of the year is not much different to the late part of the last one. Auctioneers tell me they can smell the pent-up demand for travel and interaction and the traditional cut-and-thrust of gun trade business. Once we are un-leashed, business will, I’m sure bounce back with vigour.

Until then, enjoy your isolation, splendid or otherwise. Hopefully, for just a few more weeks.

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on

Auctions & Markets|February 2021

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