We look back on a summer of deals, and with business deals signed, sealed and delivered at the Game Fair, Diggory Hadoke shares a refreshing take on the industry

Bonhams were among the exhibitors attracting the attentions of visitors to the Game Fair in July

The Game Fair

The weather was varied, the crowds reasonable and the organisation and facilities adequate. I heard a good bit of griping from trade stands about a raft of issues but, in general, I think most people found it worthwhile attending.

I certainly enjoyed it and did a little business too. I sincerely hope it continues to build momentum as it is the one event we have where every facet of the shooting community and gun trade get together. Without it, for all its faults, we would be more fragmented and worse off. 

All the major auctioneers were there: Southams, Bonhams, Holt’s and Gavin Gardiner. The Game Fair is an opportunity for the auctioneers to engage with the public and show off some of the lots in their upcoming sales and perhaps pick up some business from people who would not otherwise come face-to-face with an auctioneer to discuss the possibility of buying or selling. 

Holt’s were kind enough to provide refuge and refreshment for me and my band of stragglers every evening, before we wandered off to our ‘glamping’ spot, which was not at all ‘glam’ but served its purpose and avoided drives to and from outside accommodation each day. I’d do it again, although I’m not sure my companions would! 

Credit to Nick Bongers and Josh Povey for their cooking prowess on the BBQ and to the younger members of the Holt family  – and Donald (Don Juan) Dallas – for providing the entertainment. My indelible memory of this year’s Game Fair was Donald taking a swig from his lager and saying to one of the girls, across the table; “You know, if I was fifty-four, I’d ask you out”. 

Gun dealers who reported a slow start to sales were generally happier by the end of Saturday. There was certainly some horse trading going on over beers behind the scenes most evenings and I came home with three new guns for clients. 

The mood around the stands was besieged, as we reeled from multiple attacks on our sport: lead shot, grouse shooting, pheasant releasing and food marketing all took flak in the media during the Fair.

The Fieldsports stand provided a welcome respite with awards recognising the good work being carried out on our behalf and in our defence by the likes of The British Game Alliance and Owen Williams. It was pleasing to see bit of well-deserved recognition being given.  

It was good to see the efforts of the GTA, notably hosting a stage at which Gavin Gardiner talked to the audience about buying guns at auction and Simon West gave a fascinating demonstration of canon casting, with actual molten metal and sand-casting moulds. I presented a case for customising vintage guns by starting with a very high condition action and re-stocking and re-barrelling it as a bespoke project. 

The Holt’s team enjoyed a successful weekend of trade and discussion at Hatfield House

As it happens, I later found a perfect candidate (an 1894 Purdey) at Elderkin’s and took it back to base to re-build for an American customer. It really is a good way to buy a bespoke Purdey for thirty grand, instead of a hundred-and-forty.

If you think about it, most people who buy a new Purdey opt for the classic rose and scroll engraving and a standard game gun configuration. That being the case, only the stock dimensions, barrel length and choke vary much from one gun to the next.

Auctions have often been very good places to source actions for these projects, as they frequently contain guns with thin walls or damaged stocks.

Gavin Gardiner at Gleneagles

26 August was Gavin Gardiner’s summer sale in Scotland and he catalogued 165 lots to offer for sale.

Among them were some really interesting patent guns for the collector, including a Scott & Baker patent by Cogswell & Harrison, a Bentley patent ‘semi-hammerless’ gun, a Gibbs .256 bolt-rifle and a pair of ‘Twelve Twenty’ lightweight Lancaster side-locks.

Two almost unused over & under 12-bores caught my eye; one by ex-Purdey duo Symes & Wright and another by Purdey, made in 1991. Both were expected to make less than a third of the cost of a new Purdey. 

My pick of the sale was a Holland & Holland ‘Royal Brevis’ that looked mint. The ‘Royal Brevis’ was a short barrelled gun in concept, built to challenge Churchill’s ‘XXV’, which was selling every well in the 1930s.

The ‘Brevis’ (short) usually had 26 1/2” barrels but, for some reason, a few were made with 28” barrels, like this one. It was in as good a condition as you will find a gun of this period and I noticed Gavin was giving it a good deal of praise via his social media campaign, which features him showing and talking about some of the guns he is about to sell. 

Despite recent media attacks, the industry received some well-deserved recognition

It has been interesting to watch the auctioneers embrace technology and increasingly use filmed excerpts describing guns from the catalogue. We have come along way since printed paper catalogues, often without illustration, simply listing guns for sale with a line or two of basic information.

In those days it was a given that a buyer would be at the viewing to look at the gun and at the auction to bid for it. Online sales are now common and buyers seem willing to take a punt from afar. 

A Change at Bonhams

Patrick Hawes is moving on after several years in charge of Sporting Guns at Bonhams. He has been replaced by William Threlfall and I wish him every success.

Landing your first job as the head of the Gun Department of a major auction house is a dream job for a young man with a passion for the subject.

In David [Williams] and Patrick, William has had excellent mentors so I’m expecting a seamless transfer and look forward to seeing him put his own stamp on the department. His first sale will be in Knightsbridge on 28 November. 

The internet auction service ‘The Sale Room’ has become a viable option for people to tune-in to provincial auctions around the country and bid on various things.

For items like taxidermy, gun cases and other non-lethal equipment, it can be a really useful tool and allows people to buy one or two items from a sale miles away that would not warrant a long car journey to attend.

A word of caution; make sure the auction house in question has a packing service or you may not be able to get a courier to collect what you have bought. I have been stuck in this respect a couple of times. 

There will be another Holt’s auction in September, so I look forward to meeting readers in Kensington for the viewing.

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