Diggory Hadoke reviews the latest sales across the popular auctioneers and shares his expectations for upcoming auctions 

The beautiful Bowcliffe Hall near Leeds hosted the first of Bonhams valuation days on 25 September, ahead of their Knightsbridge sale on 28 November

Southams kicked off September with a sale on the 12th at their spiffy new location in Bedford. The catalogue extended to 168 pages of nicely illustrated and well-photographed lots, all printed on quality matt-finish paper in full colour.

The range of items on offer included plenty of ammunition, vintage pistols and military rifles, a smattering of bayonets, swords and bowie knives and both vintage British shotguns, from muzzle-loaders to modern breech-loaders, and a final section of foreign over & under guns.

Of course, air rifles were in good supply. For some reason, Southams has always been a good place to pick up decent secondhand air rifles.

My particular favourite is the Weihrauch HW35 from the 1980s era, especially the ‘export’ version. They were expensive in their day, are very well built and accurate. I had one when I was about thirteen and it transformed my rabbit-bagging fortunes compared to my BSA Meteor.

When I put a ‘scope on it, I realised that, if I held steady, I would achieve a kill for almost every shot at sensible ranges. I bought one at Southams a few years ago for my nephew and he has accounted for an untold number of rats around his duck pond since then.

On to Holt’s and the long preamble to their sale ending with the 17 September event in Kensington. Holt’s have upped their game recently with the addition to the team of Simon Reinhold, the former editor of Fieldsports Journal and before that a BASC stalwart.

Simon has made Holt’s online presence, through social media platforms, more cohesive and visible. Facebook has featured regular slots of Nick Holt showing one of the upcoming lots, talking about it lovingly and encouraging punters to get involved.

Holt’s featured a lot of pairs in the sale. From AYAs to Boss and Purdey and everything in between. The US market for pairs seems to be a little soft right now but they can represent very good value if you have a budget around £15,000. A mid-weight 1930s pair of Purdeys caught my eye. With 29″ barrels and retaining a good bit of colour they were estimated at £12,000-£16,000.

My observations of the nearly-new best gun market seems to confirm my impressions, penned a few issues ago, that the market is not kind to people who bought them in the last twenty years. Despite the argument that, once a decade has passed, the makers can get your money back plus a small profit; these claims simply don’t add up. 

I noted one gun dealer advertising an ‘as new’ Steve Kelly engraved Purdey ‘extra-finish’ model 12-bore for £42,000. Despite now costing £180,000 it was not moving. Without auctioneer’s commission to account for, the asking price looks very reasonable yet these guns are not moving fast.

The asking price is basically what it would have cost in about 2000 – twenty years ago. For the price of a new example of this gun, Holt’s had a suite of three Purdey double rifles and shotguns (comprising a double rifle, a side-by-side shotgun and an over-and-under shotgun) made in 1986 to the very highest specification. The estimate was £150,000-£180,000.

Of course, many of us go to the auctions not to see the very expensive nearly new stuff, but to pore over the interesting examples of unusual patents or rarely encountered guns that turn up in every sale. Mannlicher-Schoenauer 1900 models lag behind the 1903 update but they are nice rifles. A very clean Harrison & Hussey retailed example was estimated at £1,200-£1,600 in .256.

There was also a converted Holland & Holland ‘Royal’ single barrelled rook rife in the unusual conversion of .223 Rem. Conversions to .22 rimfire or .22 Hornet are much more common. I love the quality of these little rifles, which take-down and fit into their case like a shotgun.

Something approaching modern performance can be had from these conversions, though I admit they do look a little odd when fitted with a modern high-magnification ‘scope. This one had a Nickel Supra-Variable fitted with quick-detach mounts. At £800-£1,200 it was a lot of fun for a relatively modest outlay.

Boxlocks continue to be ridiculously under-valued for the quality they offer. With even Greener’s best ‘G-grade’ guns on offer for around £2,000 and FH35 models for £500. If sentimentality is not your thing and you are simply shopping for quality and condition, a nearly new G.E Lewis 12-bore was in at £1,000-£1,500. It was in unused condition and of very high quality and finish. The build value of that gun in England today is well in excess of £20,000.

Bonhams had valuation days in September; one on 25th at Bowcliffe Hall, near Leeds, then in Manchester on 26th and Milan on 2 October. Their next sale is in Knightsbridge on 28 November, which will be an exciting day for their new specialist, William Threlfall, who took over from Patrick Hawes when he moved to Holland & Holland last month.

The Antique Arms & Armour department hold their sale on 27 November, which includes muzzle-loading sporting guns and older accessories.

The last Bonhams combined sales figure for the two related gun departments netted over a million pounds. They did especially well with a big collection of Winchester rifles that dominated one section of the catalogue.

Gavin Gardiner has viewing days all over Britain and Europe during September and October. His next sale is 11 December in London. With more and more people using online platforms to bid on sales around the country, the online bidding service provided by Invaluable has become quite a powerful tool. One should remember that, useful as it is, it does add a five per cent charge to the hammer price on top of the auctioneer’s fee and VAT.

All these increments add-up: a £1,000 bid at Holt’s, for example, will attract 25 per cent commission, plus VAT at 20 per cent on that commission and five per cent for online bidding payable to Invaluable. That amounts to £1,350 in actual money you have to pay for the item. If using thesaleroom.com for online bidding, the fee payable is 4.75 per cent.

Regarding commission rates, the major auctioneers seem to be shadowing each other quite carefully. in the most common price sector, of around £10,000 per lot, Holts, Bonhams and Gavin Gardiner charge 25 per cent. Southams are the least expensive, at 17.5 per cent – all plus VAT.

I was in attendance as Holt’s in Knightsbridge on Monday 16th for the viewing and at the sale on Tuesday 17th to make sure I had a front row for all of the live action. I would advise the same for punters looking to avoid the fees that are hidden on the internet. 

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