November Auctions

From Southam's to Holt's

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Auctions & Markets|October 2023

The auctions coming into view this issue are Bonham’s (23rd November), Holt’s (27th & 28th November), Gavin Gardiner (15th November) and Southam’s (14th September).

With the dominant auction houses settled on November for their last sales of the year, the bidding action this month fell to the Bedford auctioneer, whose fabulous modern premises and forward thinking department personnel have made Southam’s increasingly relevant and influential in recent years.

Located in the heart of England, the Eastcotts Park Auction Centre is accessible, well designed and nicely appointed, with ample parking, good refreshments and a well-lit viewing room.

The part-illustrated, colour catalogue arrived in good time and listed 2904 lots, starting with a book on Winchester by James D. Gordon and ending with ‘Three large boxes of assorted heads for re-loading’.

In between, there were cartridge magazines, rifle cases, micrometers, shotgun cleaning kits, air rifles, stalking rifles, .22 rim-fires of all sorts, English boxlocks, English sidelocks, Browning semi-autos, Lee Enfields, heritage pistols and every imaginable shooting related item you can imagine in between.

This is now a significant auction and well worth one’s attention. The auction is actually over two sites, with an additional event taking place at the old Newnham Street, Bedford HQ of Southam’s, where the sales were held before the new premises opened.

That one concentrates on sales of ammunition and lower value items, where, like Holt’s sealed bids sale, quantity and variety makes up for big ticket commissions and the money is accumulated in small increments, yet adds up to a significant pay day. It also makes unusual and niche items available to a wide rage of lower budget buyers.

our auctioneers should take bow for their example

This kind of recycling is something the gun trade has got very good at: The auction houses acting as useful intermediaries and making sure nothing gets wasted. Recycling, up-cycling and re-purposing are buzz-words these days in so many areas of life and I think our auctioneers should take bow for their example in this respect.

When the results came in from Southam’s, it showed an impressive sales percentage, with very little unsold. A Lee Enfield No.4 sniper rifle made £3,200 from a reserve of £2,400, while a .22 BSA training rifle from the RAF made £3,300 from a reserve of just £750.

The highest priced shotgun was a Boss side-lock 12-bore, made in 1919, which sold for £4,300; £300 over high estimate. However, this was not generally a ‘big ticket’ sale, with the majority of lots selling for a few hundred pounds and most making mid-estimate.

Southam’s have another sale on 7th Deccember at Bedford Auction Centre and one Newnham Street on 9th December. These are now well established as useful places to pick up hard to find or unusual guns, accessories and ammunition and the on-line catalogue is well worth putting in your ‘saved’ menu to check regularly.

Holt’s, at the time of writing, were adding new lots daily and they now include in their website a guide to sending guns from the UK to the USA, which shows how important the American market is to our auctioneers.

There is a new list of updated lots, listed as they are loaded, making it easier to see exactly what is new each time you look at the website, without having to go through things you have already seen in order to find out if any more has been added.

While shotguns may be suffering from a period of hand-wringing as owners agonise over the lead shot issue and whether that is a reason to un-load their older guns before they are forced to use ammunition that is either expensive or unsuited to old guns, the obsolete rifle sector is in rude health.

With the benefit of not requiring a FAC, collectors of obsolete rifles can indulge their passions unhindered. Security is not a problem and there is no need to trace the movement of these guns and involve the police in any way.

For some collectors, shooting the gun or rifle becomes increasingly less important. They do eventually, become like art collectors, finding enough satisfaction in the beauty, rarity or provenance of their collection above its actual suitability for any of the sporting or target disciplines that interest others.

This area of collecting still offers items in the sub £1,000 range, many only a few hundred pounds each, which are all interesting, functional and mechanically attractive to the enthusiast. Rook & Rabbit rifles feature strongly, with £400-£600 still a realistic budget.

For example, Holt’s have a .297/250 sidelever rook rifle by G.E. Lewis at that exact estimate and a very similar one by E.M. Reilly priced the same. However, it also encapsulates bigger, especially black powder, cartridges, like lot 721, which is a Westley Richards contract .577/.450 (2 1/4”) falling block rifle, estimated at £600-£900.

Within the obsolete rife category I counted lever-action, falling block, bolt-action, Martini action, percussion, single and double barrelled hammer centre-fires and all kinds of variants of the above. The most expensive estimate topped out at £6,000.

readers should remember that registering with the auctioneer direct can make a difference

There were 38 side-lock ejectors listed when I last checked and they ranged from modern Italian guns built for British gun shops to all the best-known English and Scottish names from the early 20th century.

Purdeys and Holland & Holland ‘Royals’ starting at around £2,500 up to £25,000 for a relatively new Holland & Holland. However, most of the stock was in the £3,000-£9,000 range.

The sealed bids sale is yet to be listed on-line but should be up shortly. This is planned for 7th December, giving bidders a good period of reflection time after the main sale to decide where to put their bids.

Bonham’s were still not listing any lots for sale on their website in mid September, but I expect them to do so in the next month, or so. Gavin Gardiner was putting out his final call for entries for the 15th November sale, so his catalogue will be arriving through letter boxes in a few weeks.

With the increase in internet bidding, readers should remember that registering with the auctioneer direct can make a difference to your final invoice of up to 5%. That may not matter much if you are buying £30 or £40 items but if you bid £6,000 on the Henry Atkin rook rifle at Holt’s, it could mean £180 remains in your pocket if you cut out the independent on-line platform.

My season begins with a couple of days on the grouse in Cumbria this week. The weather is not promising to be too kind but I will enjoy every minute of it, nevertheless.

Wherever you may be in the coming weeks, enjoy your sport, look after your old guns and keep them in the field.

I missed the annual British side-by-Side Championship this month at Atkin, Grant & Lang, for the first time in as long as I can remember. Like the Vintagers in the USA, which some of our gun makers and dealers attended in early September, and the Southern Side-by-Side Championship in North Carolina, there are enthusiast groups and events which make ownership of our treasured sporting gun heritage more involving and fun.

To keep interest up and bring in that all important ‘new blood’, we need to support them and get the age of licence holders down from the 67% over fifty that it currently is.

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on

Auctions & Markets|October 2023

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