At Southams, a takeover and a new state-of-the-art premises is boosting their profile and widening their appeal
Londons Auctions get most of the attention and the capital remains the international hub for quality firearms auctioneering. At least, that is how it looks on paper. In reality, what many consider to be London auctions are actually held by firms not based in the city.
Pulborough-based Gavin Gardiner benefits from a long association with Sotheby’s, which provides excellent facilities in fashionable Bond Street, surrounded by designer clothing and accessory shops. Meanwhile Holt’s have recently moved from Hammersmith to Blackheath, to conduct their sales, providing a convenient and well equipped MOD site, with excellent security and ample parking.
Billing yourself as ‘London’ is a good policy and has worked over the years. For many clients and dealers, flying or driving to the capital is a natural routine and London is well able to cater to the needs of these people. Bonham’s, of course, are based in Knightsbridge and operate both their administration and their auctions from their well- appointed and long established premises, a stone’s throw from Harrods.
It has to be admitted, there is a kudos attached to any gun business with an LDN postcode, even if it is subliminal. Somehow, it feels ‘establishment’. The long-held coveting of a ‘London’ gun by aspirational sportsmen may be some of the allure. London has traditionally been the centre of the ‘best’ gun business. However, outside the city, there are other auctioneers operating, many of them mixing a few guns into more general sales catalogues, some operating sporting and/ or militaria sales, perhaps once a year. One such auctioneer, which has stubbornly focussed on developing a provincial claim on the sporting guns and accessories market is the Bedford-based Southam’s, headed by Nigel Croskill and his colleague Edward Crawshaw.
This month is a special departure for the firm, literally as well as figuratively, because they are moving to new premises. Southam’s business was sold to W.H Peacock eighteen months ago and the takeover by this much bigger operator has provided the financial boost that has enabled the upgrade in facilities. Peacock’s are major players in a range of auctions including fine art, machinery and liquidation sales. Their new premises is purpose- built and includes a gun room and the necessary security for the effective delivery of the sporting auctions Southam’s deliver four times a year.
Only three miles from the former address in Bedford, which Southam’s retain for storage, valuation and administration purposes, the new centre has parking for two hundred cars, free customer wi-fi, a restaurant and excellent access. It will be the venue for viewing, which is now extended by an extra day, to the Tuesday and Wednesday before the sale, as well as sale day.
Southam’s tout their favourable commission rates, their nationwide appeal and central location as helping them compete with the dominant players in Modern Sporting Guns. Their new premises sends a clear message “Look, we are not standing still” Edward Crawshaw told me. He went on to mention some of the items in the June sale. A Holland & Holland 28-bore side-lock ejector, an early pin-fire Purdey, which featured in a Boothroyd article a few years ago and a fine pair of Bertuzzi over & unders.
There are still plenty of the usual, inexpensive, random, mixed boxes for everything from hunting knives to climbing ropes to pigeon decoys that bring in the local shooters and collectors, as well as a good selection of modern sporting rifles, especially .22 rim- fires. Shotguns from cheap single barrel knockabout guns that may sell for a tenner to more mainstream over & unders, right up to the more exotic and expensive, ensure there is something to suit every pocket.
Edward also told me Southam’s have been preparing a large number of deactivated machine guns for the September sale. Their gunsmith has been making the necessary updates to make the guns conform to the most recent specifications necessary, to enable them to be sold. As I have written in a previous article, the sales of deactivated guns and rifles has been complicated by changes in the law, which require stringent new deactivation procedures be applied.
Owners of deactivated kit can keep it, even under the old specifications, but they cannot sell it or give it away; making much of it worthless. Finding a Section 5 authorised gun-smith to handle the enhanced deactivation is difficult, but the only way to retain some value in the guns. Southam’s could find this becomes a good income stream if they are one of only a few sellers willing to handle the extra work, as well as the sale.
The new, improved, Southam’s sale is on 7 June, with viewing on the two preceding days. A lot of people may find a trip to London both lengthy and expensive, particularly the more northern- based of them. Now Southams have a convenient central England location, I think they should find attendance is an attractive proposition for anyone within a two-hour drive. For those operating from further afield, the website is fully illustrated online and there is an online bidding facility.
Self-Regulation or Bust
It is easy to become very micro-focussed, when stuck in your particular niche but shooting, gun collecting and firearms ownership are closely related in fortune. Damage to one will often have knock-on consequences. That is why the recently launched British Game Alliance aims to bring an element of tangible self-regulation to shooting and the processing of game for the table.
Launched on 21 May, after a year or more in the planning, the BGA was announced to the industry with a presentation at Westminster Kingsway College. While a lot of shooting people will resent the imposition of what they may see as a self- appointed body to tell them what to do, we do need to move with the times.
Any other meat going into the food chain is massively traceable and governed by stringent rules at every stage from feeding, to movement, to slaughter, transport; you name it, there is a regulation for it. Not so with game as many shoots handle it, it turns up in a truck from who knows where and someone processes it however they deem appropriate and sell it in whatever form they can. Modern supermarkets and modern game dealers can’t operate like that. If we don’t provide a professional framework for ensuring the game we shoot is fit for the table – to the satisfaction of the likes of Waitrose, not your local market stall butcher, then we will have it imposed by government sooner or later.
If game cannot be sold into the food chain, then shooting is in big trouble. If shooting is hit, then so are gun sales and auctions and gun shops and every business associated with the sport. So, in my view, we need to rally to the banner. I think the BGA will evolve and learn as it develops a role for itself and I think there will be positive unintended consequences of the momentum it creates.
The twin challenges to ethical sportsmen are the alleged issues of wasted game and topping up, so I applaud this initiative. It will help remove the he said/she said of finger pointing and denial that goes on between anti-shooting critics and the shooting industry. There will be proof, not ‘plausible deniability’.
I would urge readers to be aware of further BGA news and take a close look at all those involved in shooting to get behind the idea and help ensure it becomes the quality assurance stamp, with universal credibility that it needs to be in order to safeguard our sport. The summer is coming and we are in the mid-year busy period, Southams, Bonham’s and Holt’s all hold sales between May and June and then the Game Fair will get us all together for a bit of fun before the next lot of auctions are upon us in August and September – until then, happy bidding!