Some Provincial Success

Auctions deliver the odd win.

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Auctions & Markets|October 2022

Bonham’s, Holt’s and Gavin Gardiner are not the only auctioneers selling sporting guns and rifles. Smaller, provincial auctions are also worth a look, though now Holt’s and Gavin are no longer in London, are they now ‘provincial auctions’ ?

Does that term even mean anything in these days of internet viewing and bidding? To buyers, an action may as well be in Land’s End or John O’Groats as in London or Birmingham. They will view on-line, bid on-line and use a courier to deliver the goods.

Several lesser-known sale rooms offer sporting guns, militaria and related items at regular intervals. This month, those listed include: Wilson 55, in Nantwich, Cheshire, Claydon Auctioneers, in Buckinghamshire, David Duggleby, in Scarborough and C&T Auctioneers, in Kent.

I put in a couple of cheeky bids at Wilson55 and came away with a Mannlicher Schoenauer 7x57; probably converted from 6.5x54 but in very good order, with good mounts and a decent ‘scope. It cost me the reserve of £400 plus commission. To have the mounts made for a rifle like this costs £900, so it was a no-brainer, especially in this very practical calibre.

I was also tempted sufficiently to pay just £240 for a very good Webley & Scott model 700, 12-bore, made in 1963 (when it would have cost about £150), with 28” barrels, 2 3/4” chambers and half choke in both barrels. If someone is looking for a cheap side-by-side as a back-up gun that can digest standard steel loads without any need for alteration, this is surely it. I had no plans to buy this gun but the price was ridiculous.

I constantly hear people whine about the switch to steel - shell out for a gun like this and your problem is solved for less than the cost of a slab of bismuth. If the barrels get scored after 10,000 rounds you won’t need to worry about it. Meanwhile, save your Purdey for best days and use it with bismuth.

Holt’s just launched their catalogue so expect it to build during the coming weeks. The actual sale date is 21st November for the Antique Arms and 22 November for the Modern Sporting Guns.

Of the items already listed, of note is a British-made, 12-bore, side-lock ejector ‘in the white’. It has been barrelled, actioned, stocked and engraved. The scroll banner for the maker’s name has been left blank and the gun requires finishing. Work to date was completed in the 1980s and the maker was former Boss and Holland & Holland man Terry Smith, who died last year.

Estimated at £1,500-£2,000, the Achilles Heel of the project is the 1980s fashionable (but currently very unfashionable) 27 7/8” barrels. The gun realistically needs about £3,000 to finish off, maybe a bit less. The build cost of a similar thing today would be about £35,000-£40,000. If someone buys it for £2,000, spends £3,000 then they have a new side-lock ejector for £5,000, which is pretty incredible. They can even put their own name on it.

What about those barrels though? The gun is also a hefty 7lbs 7oz. Sleeve it to 30” or even 32”; with that weight, and its 2 3/4” chambers, it would be a credible high-bird, standard-steel-shot throwing, best English side-lock with your own name on it for £8,000. That has to make sense to someone.

The plummeting pound will be a boost for Holt's as Americans will smell bargains.

Elsewhere, in the sporting rifles section, I spotted something I have been looking for for some time: a good civilian Lee Speed .303. The one listed at Holt’s is a BSA-manufactured example sold by Alex Martin of Glasgow. Made in 1924 and perhaps re-barrelled (certainly re-proved) in 2022, it has all the original features, folding leaf sights, some scroll engraving and is a good quality example in fine condition. The estimate of £700-£900 is fair but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it make £1,400.

In the obsolete rifles section, there is a super example of an 1873 Alex Henry falling block (1865 patent) hammer rifle in .360 (2 1/4”). These smaller calibre versions are hard to find in good order and this is cased with all its accessories. It is also licence exempt, which in the current market makes it more valuable, as Section 58 kit is selling well. Priced at £3,000 - £5,000, I’d expect it to break the top estimate.

The .360 was a civilised little cartridge capable of effective dispatch of roe deer. The original Alex Henry loads were round ball and 14 grains of black powder. Later Eley cartridges fired a copper-tubed lead bullet of 190 grains in a drawn case. Cases and bullets are available so it could be used if desired; when held on a FAC.

We must not forget Southam’s on 15th September. It has become a good place to find brass and bullets for obsolete or hard to find ammunition, as this section is now almost its own sale on day two of the auction.

The Bedford auction house has also expanded beyond the usual low value stuff to encompass a fairly wide range of shotguns and rifles, which are worth perusing. They also have lower commission rates than the bigger auctioneers.

Enthusiasts for English guns are generally older men. Will a younger generation take over?

The Southam’s catalogue is due to show on-line ‘in the last week of August’, according to the website, which this is (at the time of writing) but so far no listing. It should be there by the time you are reading this.

The trade feels quiet and subdued at the moment. There is no doubt that Mr. Average is going to have fewer pounds in his pocket to spend in the months to come, with the looming spectre of winter and its associated and inevitable rising heating costs.

With the cost of electricity and heating oil expected to continue climbing, those of us selling guns for a living may find these, what are in essence, luxury purchases, slipping down the priority list of things to spend money on. It could be a rocky road ahead for many of us.

However, the auctioneers are selling worldwide these days and it has often surprised me how robust they are. There always seems to be somebody in the market and things sell at auction, as long as the reserve is not set too high.

The auctioneer still makes his margin, even in a depressed market. Holt’s posted a 1.7 million sales sheet in the summer, so we could see that success continue. It will be interesting to see.

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on

Auctions & Markets|October 2022

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