Point and Click

Social Media has altered the way we do everything. Even the gun trade, the steeped-in-history, grizzled, old, gun trade has bent a knee to the new king. Frequenters of Facebook will know that there are interest groups of all kinds to be found within its virtual pages.

Gun interest sites abound and it is here you will see the auctioneers hard at work trying to get their wares and services in front of as many keyboard enthusiasts as possible. It is all about building brand value and awareness. Also in its favour is the cost – virtually nothing but a few man-hours.

There was a time when you had to take advertisements in print media or print leaflets and mail them to, likely, interested parties. Now, you just get your phone, take some photos on it and post them on your Facebook page of choice, or Instagram them into the ether and wait for the little pings of recognition that will surely follow.

I noted the concerted efforts leading up to Holt’s sale this month to shine a social media spotlight on important lots. They were being posted on Holt’s page and copied onto one of the more frequented gun enthusiast pages, bringing them to the attention of a good number of the kinds of people the sellers will want to engage.

A Worldwide Audience

Holt’s are increasingly direct with their own postings, engaging the lovely Donald Dallas to select guns from the racks and talk briefly about why he liked them, the resultant film being uploaded to Facebook for our amusement. It is a tactic Holt’s have used before and it all serves to bring the auction and the viewing to the front of the potential buyer’s field of view. It also helps remind casual observers that Holt’s is where the action is, providing constant reinforcement of their activities.

It is a valuable exercise and a cost-effective one too. When I saw one of the guns Holt’s had for sale at the Game Fair, I took a snap and posted it on my own Facebook page (the business one) and it received 38,000 views. There is power in that kind of communication ability. Having noted Donald’s showcase of an Alexander Henry 20-bore hammer gun – which, incidentally, went on from its high estimate of £2,500 to make £4,000 on the hammer – I popped in to the viewing room.

I was chatting to Gavin Gardiner about WWII-era Jeeps and how much his kids enjoyed being ferried to school in one on special occasions (lucky kids). It was here that I was tapped up by Nick Holt to select a gun from the inventory and do a short piece to camera about it.

I selected a Fred Baker, built with Needham ejectors and Whitworth steel barrels to talk about. A really interesting gun for any collector, being the first workable ejector to break into the market in Britain, back in 1874. So, before realising it, I had become one of Holt’s marketing tools, along with their regional reps and various other people who were showing the world the delights of selected items from the sale. Surely better than just posting photos?

Little innovations like this can add up and lead to a long-term success. Holt’s have done extremely well since they started in the late 1990s and this is a tough market, requiring constant work to stay ahead of the competition. With Holt’s over, and Eric Clapton £155,000 better off than he was the week before the sale, having been divested of his pair of Purdey over & unders, we can look ahead to the next major sale at Bonhams.

I am perhaps guilty of often overlooking the older firearms when I check each sale, my main interest being in the post 1860 era, but when I do get a chance to peruse the Antique Arms and Armour section at Bonhams, I’m always impressed with the sheer quality and craftsmanship of the muzzle-loader. The grace of line and proportion and the attention to detail of every part of the gun making process in the days before even the most basic machinery was in general use is really special.

We often marvel at the ‘pointability’ and pleasing handling characteristics of well-made modern guns but they really have nothing on a bet English muzzle-loader. I can see why many find them so beguiling. I don’t know how they do it but Bonhams generally get the best of the older collections to sell, so, if you get the chance, take the time to spend an hour in the viewing room and I challenge you not to be tempted to invest in a real quality muzzle-loader by one of the better British makers.

Patrick Hawes was flying the flag at the Game Fair or the Modern Sporting Guns sale and he had a very nice looking Boss side-lock that excited one of my overseas clients who was visiting. Patrick always produces some eye-catching headline guns for each sale and I look forward to seeing what he has this winter in Knightsbridge.

Away from the showcase of London and delving into the world of online auctions, I found myself bidding remotely in a provincial auction in Cheltenham for a Royal Warrant awarded to Stephen Grant in 1873 and for a lit display sign for Grant’s wares, apparently once displayed in the shop. These were hidden away in a mixed sale with an estimate of £30. I joined the action with the highest bid at £20. It looked promising. By the time I stopped, I was up to £400 on each lot.

You can sometimes find a hidden gem in these generalist sales around the country but ‘the saleroom’ is a website which allows quite detailed searches of every registered auction and getting set-up and bidding online is straightforward, even for a technophobe like me. The only difficulty is when you buy something big and then have to wrestle with the inconvenience and added expense of having it sent or carried to you. Best not to bid while drinking wine late in the evening!

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