Top guns with Jonathan Downs

Jonathan Downs feels the need – the need to look ahead to the next set of antique firearms auctions 

Mikoyan and Gurevitch MiG-21 fighter-interceptor, designated ‘Fishbed’ by NATO, primary Soviet and Warsaw-Pact fighter aircraft from 1961, for sale Rock Island this May

Rock Island

Moline, Illinois, USA, 3-5 May

Rock Island has regular sales throughout the year but the big ones are the quarterly Premiere Auctions – and the next one is coming up in May.

Not only will RIA feature possibly the largest collection of firearms for sale by any auction-house anywhere, but they’ve also begun to offer other types of ordnance, usually the preserve of the armed forces from around the world: one such lot this May is a MiG 21. Re-read that.

Yes, a MiG-21, NATO deignated ‘Fishbed’. 

For those not familiar, this was the primary Soviet and Warsaw-Pact fighter-interceptor from the height of the Cold War, used from Libya to Vietnam, engaging Israeli Mirages across the skies of Golan and Sinai, and US Thunderchiefs and Super Sabres over Tonkin and Danang.

Historic World War II J.P. Sauer & Son Luftwaffe Model 30 Survival Drilling with Case, Accessories and Original Capture papers

Sam Shepherd aside, the ‘Balalaika’ called for pravil’nyye veshchi – the Right Stuff, so hats off to you, comrade. Not exactly firearms, but gosh who wouldn’t want one for the weekends. 

After that, the sale is still a gun spectacular, with an original Hiram Maxim presentation DWM Model 1902 Luger carbine, this one gold inlaid from the iconic Ralph Shattuck Collection, as well as an Imperial German Army Maxim M1908 (DWM) heavy machine-gun, with a rare ZF-12 optical sight, marking it as an anti-aircraft gun, possibly sited in a nest around a rearward observation balloon. 

Rare World War II engraved chrome-plated Walther PP, inscribed Third Reich SS presentation semi-automatic pistol

There are gold and silver-encrusted antique miquelets, flintlock pistols, a dragoon percussion Colt, and of course Winchesters, the most outstanding a rare Winchester Deluxe First Model 1876 “Centennial Model” lever-action rifle with factory letter.

Another hit will be a presentation Singer M1911A1 Semi-Automatic Pistol, with documentation, and at the other end of the spectrum, an exceptionally rare engraved chrome-plated Walther “SS” presentation PP semi-auto pistol (Polizei Pistole, the larger precursor to Bond’s shortened PPK, ‘Kurz’ – ‘short’). 




Historic “Hiram Maxim” presentation DWM Model 1902 Luger carbine with gold inlaid chamber. Ralph Shattuck Collection

As with so many of Rock Island’s pieces, these are often in mint or even museum condition, and can come with impeccable provenance, such as handwritten letters and presentation certificates, or, for example, as with an unheard-of Second World War Luftwaffe Sauer ‘Survival’ Model 30 rifle, complete with capture papers.

Always astounding, always worth a visit, at www.rockislandauction.com, wherever you are in the world.

Gavin Gardiner

Mayfair, 1 May

For fine English sporting guns however, head to Gavin Gardiner/Sotheby’s in the heart of London’s Mayfair, just a step or two off New Bond St. Among the notables this spring will be a fine pair of 12-bore single-trigger sidelock ejector guns by the ever-desirable London thoroughbreds Boss & Co, built in 1923.

Good news is the guns have replacement 28” barrels fitted in 1990 by the makers, and remain virtually unused since. Consequently they carry an estimate of £25,000 to £35,000. 

Another fine pair on offer is a set of 12-bore MX12 SCO single-trigger over-and-under ejector guns, built in 1991 by the renowned Italian gunmakers Perazzi.  The guns have shorter 26” barrels and remain little used from new, carrying an estimate of £15,000 to £20,000. 

Built by John Wilkes, a .358 Win Mag boxlock non-ejector rifle from 1923, replacement 26” barrels by John Slough of London, refurbished and refinished, est. £3,000-£5,000

One of my favourite guns, a hefty John Wilkes .358 Win Mag boxlock non-ejector double rifle – one of the big game hunters, and not unlike the great Rigby or heavy Jefferies tiger-hunt guns.

Built in 1923, the gun is fitted with replacement 26” barrels refitted by John Slough of London, and was extensively refurbished and refinished at the same time. Little used since, this piece from a bygone era carries an estimate of only £3,000 and £5,000.

And, dating from 1939 will be a fine lightweight 12-bore single-trigger ejector, another boxlock gun, by Westley Richards, with longer 28” barrels, the frame and patent top-lever complete with fine scroll engraving. Retaining much original hardening colour, it is estimated at only £1,000-£1,500.

Lightweight 12-bore single-trigger boxlock ejector gun by Westley Richards, 1939, 28” barrels, fine scroll engraving, much original hardening colour, est. £1,000-£1,500

Overall, the auction of more than 200 lots of vintage sporting guns, rifles and shooting accessories, is the only sale of Sporting Guns to be held in the heart of London and promises a strong selection of 12-bore Sporting Guns by England and Scotland’s finest makers. 

For more information visit gavingardiner.com or call 01789 875300.

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