December brought to a frenetic end what was, to borrow a memorable phrase from HM The Queen, an annus horribilis for many sectors of the economy, especially retail and hospitality writes Diggory Hadoke.
To the extent that gun dealers and auctioneers are retailers, and much of the trade is driven by shooting parties, which are comfortably encamped in the hospitality industry, this means that we have been affected as much, if not more, than many industries in the UK by the ensuing drop in public confidence, restrictions in movement and monetary uncertainty.
Many dealers told me they were ‘doing OK’ despite the dire warnings earlier in the year. Pre-lockdown sales of air weapons in anticipation of bored afternoons being improved by a bit of back garden plinking helped with cash-flow and those shops with good internet sales platforms, like The Cheshire Gun Room, reported steady business.
Auctioneers also bucked the gloomy trend in the spring and summer. Some managed to dodge the bullet on the first lockdown, just squeezing the spring sale through before it happened. However, even during ‘mid-Covid’ the public seemed happy to make the switch to full internet and every auctioneer showed returns that would be good in a normal year. Some were better than they had been for a long time.
Brass in pocket
Is it possible that some of those furlough salaries, cash payments and interest-free loans to businesses found their way into the pockets of gun dealers and auctioneers, via a clientele with money to spend and time to peruse the internet auction sites and work up a fever over some coveted gun or rifle they now had the cash to splash on? In fact, I’d bet on it.
Given that shooting is closely aligned with hospitality, I would encourage anyone involved to take a moment to sign the petition started by Claire Bosi, of Chef & Restaurant Magazine, to demand a Minister for Hospitality to represent the interests of hotels, rural pubs and restaurants, B&B establishments and shooting party hosts at the seat of government.
You can sign it here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/552201
The target was 100,000, at which point the government has to debate it in Parliament. This marker has been passed but the more signatures presented, the more persuasive the case will be.
Wheels on the bus
Gavin Gardiner told me that the market today is teaching him the same lessons it has for several years now; that is, collector quality, condition and rarity are the engines driving strong sales.
Successful bids were recorded as going to UK private and trade buyers, European and American private buyers and trade buyers. Most of Gavin’s prominent lots sold mid estimate but one or two stood out. A 16-bore Westley Richards ‘drop-lock’ made £7,500 inclusive of premium. His notable Boss o/u 12-bore, made in 1927, made £40,000.
Several guns from the Keith Neil collection re-surfaced at Holts in December. This magnificent collection was originally disbursed through Christie’s at the turn of this century.
At the time it was a big deal, with something of a frenzied atmosphere, as buyers pounced on the finest examples of rare firearms likely to emerge for a very long time, the fame of Neil and his collection, enhanced by his publications in an area not well served with good literature, certainly helped.
Holts sold half a dozen ex-Keith Neil guns and rifles. Comparing prices realised twenty years ago with those achieved now sheds some interesting light on the long term investment value of antique guns of the highest condition and quality.
A Twigg flintlock 16-bore, which sold at Christie’s in 2000 for £4,935 inclusive, made £7,000 at Holts, on the hammer. A Mortimer 16-bore flintlock which made £3,055 inclusive at Christie’s sold for £1,200 hammer at Holt’s. An 18-bore Tatham single flintlock which made £8,813 inclusive at Christies made £6,000 hammer at Holts.
A Nock 15-bore single flintlock which made £3,048 inclusive at Christie’s made £5,000 hammer at Holts and a Durs Egg 10-bore flintlock that made £4,935 inclusive at Christie’s made £5,0000 hammer at Holts.
The most impressive of the cohort was an 1815 Joseph Tirebuck double flintlock, which cost a buyer £7,825 back in 2000 and this year hit £11,000 on the hammer, for a total of around £14,500; all from a low estimate of £3,000.
So, while it is hard to draw concrete conclusions from these sales, we can see that most of the guns from this collection held their value or made the owner a decent profit over the course of ownership.
What we can say for sure is that some changes have proven to be positive this year, even if they were reluctantly undertaken. Holt’s moving out of London and concentrating their efforts in the Norfolk HQ has been a success.
The location has not deterred buyers. Even the inability to view guns there because of lockdown has not deterred buyers. Chopping over £140,000 off the annual expenses by dispensing with rented London sales premises and all the associated logistics of security and moving to the capital for a week every three months must be a massive financial shot in the arm, as well as a welcome stress reliever.
Results speak for themselves. At close of play on 8 December, Holts had already netted £1.2 million, with significant additions expected in after sale deals and the sealed bids sale to follow.
Some auctioneers have been making increasing use of YouTube and Facebook to entice social media users into their sales. Gavin selects interesting examples of guns from his inventory and does mini tutorials, which are well received.
Holts have in-house gunsmith Scott Wilson busy showing snippets from his workshop, perhaps a Boss single trigger dis-assembled or a particularly high quality piece of lock-work from an upcoming lot.
Nick Holt himself is now selecting items and making presentations to camera in his own inimitable style. Simon Reinhold is also doing sterling work for Holts on social media and feeding stories into the mainstream, like the one of Lady Meux and her 28-bore Purdey hammer gun, which bust through the estimates to make over £11,000 on the day.
Netting a profit
David Williams, at Bonhams, has sold items from a number of large collections, including some from Keith Neil and D.H.L Back and Bonham’s December sale was a strong performer with just over 80% of lots offered being sold.
The figure for the sale, including premium, topped out at £1,120,000. Like other auctioneers, Bonhams noted that their buyers are also using internet facilities for viewing and bidding with a deal more relish than one might have predicted a few years ago.
The fact that valuable guns still turn up in attics was embodied in a Colt Paterson revolver, which netted the finder (via Bonhams) significantly more than the value of the small terraced house in which it was found, dismantled, wrapped in newspaper and stored in a cardboard box!
Of course, the end of a year causes us to look back at those who did not make it. The autumn was particularly cruel in this respect, with American dealer Glenn Baker passing, followed by Cyril Adams and then, just a couple of weeks ago, by Steve Barnett, who probably had the best inventory of classic sporting firearms in the US, if not the world.
We also have to remember our own Alan Myers, whose contribution to the cause of big-bore guns and their use should be respected.
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