Issue 58 April 2024

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Heading for Holt's

Norfolk hosts the latest in a flurry of gun auctions.

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Auctions & Markets|July 2023

Bonham’s auction at the end of May was a boost for the sector, with good results landing in most areas of the sale.

Small collectables and shooting ephemera offers collectors shooting related items that come without the inconvenience of licensing and they can make interesting ant attractive displays or talking points in a decor scheme.

Of those sold at Bonhams, we should perhaps take note of the price made by a ‘Norfolk Liar’ game counter. At £1,280, that represents quite a lot of money per square centimetre.

Cartridge magazines are attractive gunroom features and a few years ago they were at a premium. They have dropped somewhat and those sold in May did so for between £128 and £640. Given that a new one from aLondon gunmaker will set you back around £3,500, the vintage ones seem very good value.

I was surprised to see neither of the game books I featured last month found buyers. They did carry quite high expectations but these, to me, are fascinating snapshots of hunting history and deserve proper examination and appreciation. The India one, featuring photographs from 1940 to 1946 was especially noteworthy on a personal level as my grandparents were there for that entire period and I wondered if they knew any of the people and had been to any of those places.

£640 for the Lee Speed .303 rifle was a good buy, given the rising popularity of these of late but the stand-out single rifle must have been the Daniel Fraser .350 falling block in its case, which cost the buyer an impressive £11,520.

Hammer guns are not selling like they once did, with a shrunken pool of buyers concentrating on brand name, quality and condition. The right hammer guns will still command a strong price but anything overly done-up or unoriginal has dropped in interest.

That does mean there are again some good, shootable hammer guns coming into the sub £1,000 price range, which will be good news to some on lower budgets who have been priced out in recent years. A Boss hammer gun (with replacement Damascus barrels and a possibly replaced stock) for £786 shows that a best London name can be had for working man’s money.

Small bores still attract a crowd and the £5,760 paid for a side-lever F.T. Baker .410 sidelock non-ejector proved it. Of the 12-bore sidelocks; a stand-out Purdey pigeon gun from 1904, with beautifully engraved and carved fences sold for £19,200.

The 8th June sale was held over two days. Southams send out a nicely illustrated catalogue, as well as now having a very well organised and easy to use website. When bidding on-line there are two buttons to choose: The Saleroom, which attracts an additional charge of 5% on whatever you bid or Southams own facility, which adds 2.5%.

Now that internet bidding is easier than ever, it is equally easy to overlook the added costs of doing so. With commissions on sales varying from around 17% up to 30% and with VAT to pay on top of that commission at 20% and a further 5% for bidding on-line, it all heaps costs on top of the notional bid cost that can catch the bidder unaware.

This also should be kept in mind when considering the price of privately offered guns or those in gun shops selling at ‘retail’ prices. The idea that a customer may have in mind that a particular gun would make £5,000 at auction can overlook the real cost of that bid, which could well end up with an extra £1,500 in commission and VAT, plus £250 for bidding on-line. Suddenly that gun doesn’t look such a bargain when the notional cost of £5,000 is actually £6,750.

What auctions do have that shops lack is theatre. They also have novelty. Every sale features a hoard of guns that the viewers have probably never seen before, which will sell on a given day, at a price not yet known. That, undoubtedly, gets the juices flowing.


As Holt’s build their emerging inventory on-line, with new items added at regular intervals, the excitement also builds. Nick Holt’s regular, engaging, little films show-casing items as they arrive also serve to attract a Facebook audience to the sale.

The July auction, as usual takes place over two days, with the older guns and obsolete calibres as well as a lot of the ephemera selling on day one and a the modern sporting guns on day two. Bidding for the on-line auction follows after the main sale and is wrapped up a week or two later.

July promises a fair spread of interesting and rare items. One which recently arrived and started getting some traction on-lie is a Purdey 20-bore hammer gun with 32” Damascus barrels. This ticks tow boxes in the modern fashion; that for small bores and long barrels. It also has that magic Purdey name and it is cased nicely too.

There was something of a fad in the late 1870s/early 1880s for 32” 20-bores. William Cashmore made a speciality of them (I have owned two) and Purdey made several for various customers, including Oliver Robinson, the 2nd Marquis of Ripon.

The fad did not endure and in later years we see the vast majority of 20-bores being made with 30” or 28” barrels. Having spent two seasons shooting one of these, I did not get on with it, lovely as it was. I sold both of mine to American collectors. Nick Harlow, gunroom manager at Purdey, suggested that Ripon may have experimented with his in the live pigeon ring. I found mins worked quite well on grouse but was awful on driven pheasant.

Whatever the merits or otherwise of these guns, they are undoubtedly beautiful and unusual. Those attributes make them very attractive to collectors. Holt’s have theirs valued at £8,000-£12,000, with is even today, a very high price for a hammer gun without ejectors. We shall see how the bids of rival collectors affect the outcome in a month or so.

I do not want to finish this piece without honourably mentioning two of Holt’s personnel. The first, Scott Wilson, who was the Holt’s on-site gunsmith for several years until his untimely death earlier this year, following a long, brave fight with illness. Scott was a cheerful, personable and welcome presence and an invaluable resource for the auctioneer as well as customers buying guns that needed alteration or renovation.

The second is Simon Reinhold, who took an inexpensive hammer gun from Holt’s sealed bids auction and used it to win the British Open side-by-side category last month, in what was a fantastic effort, overcoming some very accomplished competitors.

As we head into the final leg of the run towards the Holt's sale, Nick flagged up a pair of rare Purdey 12-bore hammer ejectors. They have steel barrels and safety catches, and were made late (1898) for hamer guns. The estimate of £20,000-£25,000 will give a good indication of the strength of the hammer gun market at the high end, should it be realised.


Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on

Auctions & Markets|July 2023

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