Jonathan Downs is slightly overwhelmed this issue, as sale after sale of dizzyingly good guns gets underway and the auction houses really start to hit their stride again

Wolferton, Norfolk September 2-3
Forthcoming: December 7-8

Before the second wave of Covid hit, Holts held their two-day September auction and bucked the trend of economic gloom, realising a total hammer value of £1.1 million.

Held behind closed doors, Holts adapted their systems for heavy internet and phone bidding, and initiated a prototype Zoom bidding facility, now more widely available for their forthcoming December auction.

In September, good quality English sidelocks sold particularly well, Holts seeing this as evidence that the move towards steel shot is not hampering the market for quality English guns. Other shotguns sold well above estimate, such as Lot 1553, a fine and rare Portsmouth-engraved Asprey 28-bore pinless sidelock ejector, hammered down for £22,000.

English 20-bores also sold well, Lot 1650 a William & Son Cusack-engraved over and under, selling for £26,000, above its top estimate, and a pair of Churchill ‘Premiere’ over and under 20-bores, which sold for £30,000; Lot 1355 a pair of William & Son ‘Deluxe’, self-opening sidelock ejectors, also engraved by Cusack, went for a very good £42,000. 

Antique guns continue to thrive in a strong market; two lots formerly in the world-famous collection of W. Keith Neal sold for over four times their top estimate: Lot 412, a 16-bore single-barrelled flintlock by Edward Newton of Grantham, and Lot 413, a similar 16-bore single-barrelled duck gun by John Twigg of London.

A superb cased Westley Richards from the same collection went well past its estimate eventually selling for £20,000. A scarce Howdah Pistol by Wilkinson of London in near mint condition also sold well for £13,000.

Holts believes the American market and the domestic market in the UK are showing a resurgence even under the new trading conditions. With bidding in person no longer an option, buyers looked to improved technical options that the Holts team has put in place: live internet bidding, zoom bidding, commission bidding via the website, together with traditional phone bidding. 

All of these systems will be in place for the forthcoming sale on 7-8 December. The Live Auction is split into two days, day one antique arms and accessories, day two modern arms and accessories.

The first day will include some real gems, such as Lot 450, a magnificent pair of 25-bore flintlock silver and gilt-decorated double-barrelled holster pistols by Royal Armouries, St. Etienne, est. £10,000-£15,000. 

The second day will include Lot 1355—a lightly-used pair of lightweight 12-bore self-opening sidelock ejectors by J. Purdey & Sons, estimate £25,000-£30,000.

All these and more, including accessories and accoutrements as ever. And after the December sale, Holts will be holding its Silent Auction on 8 January, where only previously sealed bids will be accepted. 

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Gavin Gardiner
Mayfair September 2
Forthcoming: December 9

Despite the cancellation of the annual Gleneagles show, Gavin Gardiner’s September sale brought in some excellent prices on top-quality sporting guns, such as Lot 87, a pair of 12-bore self-opening sidelock ejectors by J.  Purdey & Sons, realising £37,500. Built in 1980 they’d been overhauled by Purdey and sold at the top of their estimate of £30,000-£35,000.

Selling for the same price of £37,500 was Lot 89, a pair of vintage 12-bore single-trigger sidelock ejectors by Boss & Co., from 1928, since rebarrelled and restocked by Boss in 2006 and fitted into their current case. These fine guns went to a private buyer in the USA, estimated at £18,000–£24,000.

Also of note in the sale was Lot 83, a pair of 12-bore self-opening sidelock ejectors by Symes & Wright. Built in 1992, they were little-used, and sold for £31,250 to a UK private buyer against an estimate of £25,000-35,000. Two examples by William & Son achieved strong prices.

Lot 185 was a pair of 20-bore round-body single-trigger over and under ejector guns, decorated with bold foliate scroll engraving signed by Peter Cusack. Virtually unused, they sold to a UK trade buyer for £30,000 – against an estimate of £20,000-30,000. And Lot 184, a single 20-bore sold for £17,500 against an estimate of £10,000-15,000 to a private collector in the USA.

Other star lots included Lot 93, an exceptional 12-bore self-opening sidelock ejector by J. Purdey & Sons, built in 1922, the heyday of British gunmaking; owned by Mark Barty-King, the dynamic publisher behind Frederick Forsyth, Jilly Cooper and Catherine Cookson to name but a few, this was sold in aid of the Gunmakers’ Charitable Trust for £17,500. This particular 12-bore had been estimated at £14,000-£18,000 and was bought by European private buyer.

The sale on 9 December will include a set of 12-bore “Royal” Model self-opening sidelock ejector guns by London maker Holland & Holland, estimated at £25,000 to £35,000.

Also on offer is a 12-bore sidelock ejector over and under gun by Boss & Co. from 1927—examples of the classic Boss over and under are difficult to find, and are sought after by shooting enthusiasts and collectors alike. It is estimated at £30,000 to £40,000. 

The sale will include over 200 lots of sporting guns, rifles and shooting accessories, and will follow the successful live and online format. 

For further information, see 

Knightsbridge December 3

Bonhams has trimmed its operations to two major sporting gun auctions a year, and manages to pack in a cornucopia of fine English and European guns into the schedule.

On offer this Christmas will be a lovely pair of 12-bore self-opening sidelock ejector guns by J. Purdey & Sons, built in 1968 and engraved by the renowned Ken Hunt, on offer for £35,000-£55,000, with the traditional Purdey essentials; brass-mounted oak and leather case, canvas cover and trade label. 

The smaller bores are also popular at this time of year, and Bonhams has the best: a 20-bore self-opening single-trigger sidelock ejector gun by J. Purdey & Sons, made in 1953 and refitted in 1975 by the maker. It comes complete with brass-mounted oak and leather case and Purdey label, est. £15,000-£25,000.

Another is the even lighter antique 28-bore single-barrelled hammer-gun by J. Purdey & Sons; this was made for Prince Duleep Singh, who became the last Maharajah of the Sikh Empire at the age of five. He was brought over to England at the age of fifteen and grew very close to Queen Victoria. This fine piece of Raj history is asking only £1,000-£1,500. 

Another excellent lot will be a pair of Sumner-engraved 12-bore sidelock ejector guns by John Dickson & Son, in their leather case with canvas cover, est. £18,000-£20,000.

For the antique collectors there can be no better entrée into this robust market than an extremely rare 4-bore chamberless sidelever boxlock non-ejector wild-fowling gun by Frederic T. Baker, estimated at a good £8,000-£12,000.

More flamboyant and with the inimitable style of Italy, comes a pair of Marc Newson-engraved 20-bore Parallelo 486 boxlock ejector guns by Beretta. These come in their Beretta ‘486 by Marc Newson’ case, and are estimated to fetch £15,000-£25,000.

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