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Which is the Best Gun Auctioneer?

Choice has never been greater. What are the advantages of the major players today?

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Auctions & Markets|February 2020

The British gun trade is blessed with several auction outlets for guns that are not the usual retail fodder. We take a look at each of the major players and try to explore which is the best, if such a determination can be made.

Many generalist regional auctions feature a few sporting guns in country house sales, or sporting sales but there are some auctions that specialise in sporting guns and it is these on which we shall concentrate.Specialist gun auctions have been very successful in galvanising a niche market that has a passionate membership.

In alphabetical order, auctioneers actively seeking consignments of guns in the UK include: Bonham’s in London, Gavin Gardiner, in London, Holt’s in Norfolk, Scotarms in Newark, Rock Island, in the USA, Southam’s in Bedford, Springer’s in Vienna.

Contact: William Threlfall
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7393 3815
Buyer’s Commission: 27.5% up to £2,500, 25% up to £300,000 +VAT
Frequency of Sales: 2 per annum
Location of Sales: Knightsbridge, London.

Gavin Gardiner
Contact: Gavin Gardiner
Telephone: +44 (0) 7831645551
Buyer’s Commission: 25% up to £100,000, 20% above £100,000 +VAT
Frequency of Sales: 3 per annum
Location of Sales: Sothebys, London and Gleneagles, Scotland

Contact: Nick Bongers De Rath
Telephone: =44 (0) 1485 542822
Buyer’s Commission: 25% up to £50,000, 20% over £50,000. +VAT
Frequency of Sales: 4 per annum.
Location of Sales: Wolferton, Norfolk

Holt's, once a headline London destination for gun sales, has opted to change venue to Norfolk; so far with very good results.

Rock Island
Contact: Howard Dickson Associates
Telephone: 44 (0) 7752 344 865
Buyer’s Commission:15% plus local sales tax
Frequency of Sales: Regular on-line auctions plus 3 ‘Premiere’ auctions per annum.
Location of Sales: USA

Contact: Mike Scott
Telephone: 44 (0) 1636893 946
Buyer’s Commission: 15% +VAT
Frequency of Sales: 4 per annum
Location of Sales: Newark Show Ground

Contact: Nigel Croskill
Telephone: +44 (0) 1234 269 082
Buyer’s Commission: 17.5% +VAT
Frequency of Sales: 4 per annum
Location of Sales: Bedford

Contact: Tristan Breijer
Telephone: +43 1 8909003
Seller’s Commission:
Buyer’s Commission: 24%, including VAT.
Frequency of Sales:
Location of Sales: Vienna
Sale Type: Live and on-line.

The scene has changed over the past twenty years, In 2000 Christie’s was still a major player, perhaps the biggest player, in fact. Christopher Austyn was the dominant figure in the industry and the auction landscape looked quite settled.

Smaller auctions can be good places to buy but the internet is even making these more widely discoverable to distant buyers.

However, Holt’s came along and changed all that with an aggressive strategy of making the auction more of a retail environment and acting quickly to make full use of the emerging internet as a means of getting the guns for sale in front of an ever increasing number of potential buyers. Over the next few years, Holt’s made auctions an environment for the average end-user, not just the trade and specialist collectors.

Sotheby’s allowed their Sporting Guns department to detach from the company and act independently, under Head of Department, Gavin Gardiner. Christies stopped Sporting Gun sales, only to re-instate them under Howard Dickson in around 2010. They again ceased their involvement a couple of years ago and Howard now runs Howard Dickson Associates, which acts for Rock Island as a collector of items for its sales in America.

Springer’s in Vienna is a long-established sporting store with excellent contacts in Russia, Europe and America. They claim to have ‘The largest international platform for selling firearms in Europe’.

They recently ran their twenty-ninth sale and are currently working to take advantage of any post-Brexit problems in the UK by targeting lots that would otherwise be destined for one of the resident auctioneers. With very ‘gun friendly’ import and export policies in Austria, they can move firearms of any type, including Section Five with relative ease.

Trade and private buyers rub shoulders at London auctions but attendance figures have been falling in recent years.

Rock Island has the most frequent sales, Scotarms has the lowest commission rate but is simple evaluation on these terms actually an accurate measure of overall best service and results? Probably not; it is rather more complicated than that. For example, if an auction house offers a buyer’s commission rate of 15% and sells your gun for £1,000, you get less back than you would from one that charges 20% but gets £2,000 for it.

Seller’s commissions vary a lot. Auctioneers know that sellers are very unwilling to pay these, which is why buyer’s commissions have gone up so much in the last twenty years. The reals seller’s commission figure is arranged privately between auctioneer and vendor; it typically comes in at around 10% but is often zero.

The idea of ‘best’ auction house also depend on whether you are a buyer or seller. If an auctioneer famously gets high prices for certain items, buyers will be looking elsewhere to find one that is less well supported or visible in the hope they can buy the same things for less money

From a buyer’s perspective, there is an argument that some of the provincial generalist auctions are better places to find and buy the occasional ‘sleeper’ at a low price. Specialist actions draw specialist buyers and there are rarely many bargains.

The Sale Room is a search facility that has made it easier to find the odd interesting lot in generalist and smaller auctions all over the country. You simply type in the word that covers your interest; ‘pin-fire’, or ‘flintlock’ or ‘sporting gun’ etc and every linked entry in any sale listed will filter out all but your results and display them on your screen. You can also bid through the site, though it will cost you an additional fee.

All the auctioneers are working had to keep themselves relevant and stay abreast of the constantly shifting technology. There was a time that local auctions got local goods, then specialist London auctions came in for the better stuff, now it may be more advantageous to sell you guns in Austria or the USA than to consign them to your nearest generalist or even the national leaders in the field.

Buying or selling - there is no substitute for up-to-date knowledge of the important players and their activities. We try to keep you informed, here at the VGJ.

Not just shopping opportunities, gun auctions give visitors the chance to see and handle a huge variety of rare and unusual sporting guns.

Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )

Auctions & Markets|February 2020

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