The latest from the gun auctions

Michael E Haskew’s magpie eye is attracted by the shine of an old Holland & Holland sidelock and a magnificent Mauser in our latest round-up of intriguing guns brought to auction.

He was a career soldier. Major George Stopford-Adams was, in fact, the scion of a military family, the son of British Army Lieutenant General Cadwallader Adams, CB, and his wife, Ann Catherine Elizabeth, who was the daughter of Brigadier General James Stopford, CB.

According to records, George was born in Belgaum, India, on 2 July 1872, probably while his father was serving there. Naturally, the boy gravitated toward the military and after graduating from Wellington College and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, he was commissioned second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers on 25 February 1893.

Promotion came regularly and he reached the rank of lieutenant in 1895, captain four years later and then major in the spring of 1913. He served during the Second Boer War (1900-02) and in the Orange Free State, receiving the Queen’s Medal with four clasps.

Sometime around 1905, the young officer purchased a handsome Holland & Holland 12-bore No 3 grade single-trigger, back-action sidelock ejector shotgun, complete with its lightweight double case and the Holland & Holland trade label prominently displayed inside.

No doubt, George was quite satisfied with the acquisition, and one can imagine hours spent hunting and shooting, enjoying the fine quality and craftsmanship of such a product from one of London’s storied gunmakers.

Well over a century later, the fine shotgun surfaced again during the December Holts live online and sealed bid auction. With 30in nitro barrels, rib gold-inlaid ‘2’ at the breech end and tubes engraved ‘HOLLAND & HOLLAND. 98. NEW BOND STREET. LONDON’, the shotgun features 2½in chambers, bored approximately true cylinder and quarter choke.

The top-lever is gold-inlaid with ‘2’, and the automatic safety is gold-inlaid with ‘SAFE’. The 6lb 10oz piece is well appointed with border engraving and retains traces of original colour hardening. The figured stock measures 137/8in, including the butt-plate.

An estimate of sale ranged from £2,500 to £3,500; however, the beautiful piece went unsold. Nevertheless, its prospects for a future owner remain robust, particularly considering its provenance. The story of its original owner, Stopford-Adams, is quite compelling.

Gallipoli offensive

With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the British military had mobilised for conflict. As the fighting in the West settled into stalemate and the agony of trench warfare, Winston Churchill, 40-year-old First Lord of the Admiralty and future Prime Minister, asked, “Are there no other alternatives to sending our armies to chew barbed wire in France?”

He proposed an offensive in the eastern Mediterranean, to seize the fabled Turkish Straits, the Bosporus and Dardanelles, with an amphibious landing at the peninsula of Gallipoli, supported by the might of the Royal Navy’s battleships.

Victory would knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war, open a clear channel of supply and communication to Britain’s Russian allies via the Black Sea, secure the Suez Canal and possibly persuade nations of eastern Europe to join the Allied war effort.

Instead, the result was a debacle. The Gallipoli offensive was launched in February 1915 with the Royal Navy’s unsuccessful attempt to bombard Ottoman Turkish defences into submission. Nevertheless, the amphibious phase began in April.

On the 25th, the Lancashire Fusiliers were among the troops from Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand who came ashore at several landing points on the Gallipoli peninsula.

From the beginning, the land effort was hotly contested by the Turks, who occupied high ground surrounding the beaches and poured small-arms fire on the men struggling in the sand and surf below. Soon enough, the contest devolved into stalemate and attrition, just as on the Western Front.

During the first month, the Allies suffered 45,000 casualties, and by the time the beleaguered invaders were withdrawn more than eight months later, both sides had lost 250,000 killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

Heroism

Among the dead was Major George Stopford-Adams, who was killed on 11 May. However, his heroism in the early hours of the landings at W Beach—later renamed Lancashire Landing in honour of those who fought there—was well remembered.

One witness recalled “a withering fire from right, left and centre was poured into them, and many were instantly killed, including the subaltern on his right, and the Sergt with the wire-cutter on his left. Major Adams at once seized the wire-cutter from him and cut a lane through the barbed wire, through which he and the survivors of his company rushed.

“Owing to submersion in the water the breech mechanism of their rifles had become clogged. Major Adams therefore gave the order to fix bayonets, and they charged up the height and drove the Turks from their trenches.”

The tribute continued with a letter to the family.  “The Colonel-in-Chief wrote: ‘I have heard from many in the regt of the particularly fine behaviour and leading of your son, and I know that in his case the VC was thoroughly deserved.’”

He continued, writing of the officer’s death: “It is far the worst loss we have suffered, and has cast a gloom over the whole bttn, as he was so popular with all ranks.”

The Major had married in 1905 and left his wife, Muriel Ada, and eight-year-old son, Derric John.

The storied shotgun is accompanied by a letter that reads: “My Paternal Grandfather, Major George Stopford-Adams, XX Lancashire Fusiliers had only a few years of use of the Holland & Holland, serial 24837, single trigger back action sidelock, as after service in South Africa, he fought at Lancashire Landing, Gallipoli. He was killed by a sniper on May 11th 1915, aged 42 years.”

Highly acclaimed

At the December Gavin Gardiner event, a Model 1900 Steyr Mannlicher bolt-action sporting rifle sold under the hammer for £850. Chambered in 6.5mm and serial numbered B3431, the rifle was one of the most highly acclaimed sporting shoulder arms of the early 20th century.

The rifle carries a 26in barrel with raised foresight, folding leaf sights and the receiver is dated 1901. Bolt with flag safety, rotary magazine, half-length stock with semi-pistol grip and steel butt-plate highlight the rifle, while the trigger-guard is engraved with retailer number A901. Nitro proof, comb mounted with folding aperture sight, 14in pull and sling eyes, the rifle weighs 7lb 8oz.

The Model 1900 Steyr Mannlicher bolt-action sporting rifle was highly acclaimed.

An interesting footnote reveals that the serial number indicates stocking and supply by the firm of George Gibbs in co-operation with Österreichische Waffenfabrik-Gesellschaft Steyr.

The Gibbs company, founded in Bristol in 1830, is also famous for partnerships that have yielded other landmark firearms through the years, including famed hunter and explorer Samuel Baker’s first four-bore heavy charge rifle; hugely successful falling-block blackpowder rifles during the 1870s and 1880s; and the first commercially successful breechloading shotgun, the Gibbs & Pitt, patented in 1873.

Today, the company is owned by Mark Crudgington and headquartered at Nursery Farm near Marlborough, in Wiltshire.

The original Mannlicher Model 1900 was introduced at the world’s fair in Paris that year, and its design was versatile enough to allow the company to produce either a military or civilian sporting variant depending on the initial response to the offering.

In the event, the Model 1900 was the precursor to the perhaps better-known military Model 1903, which was ordered in substantial numbers only by the Greek army, which made it standard issue during the first half of the 20th century.

The armed forces of Austria-Hungary deployed it in relatively small numbers. Several variants were designed through the years, but the rifle suffered possibly from the lethal plague of simply being too good. Its production cost was high compared with other contemporary military rifles.

Smooth mechanics

Designed by the legendary Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher, the Model 1900/1903 was the last major project he undertook prior to his death in 1904.

The early Model 1900 rifle incorporated a round bolt handle, while those produced under the 1903 moniker featured a butter knife bolt handle design. The rifle is also distinguished with its rotary magazine, which could be loaded with single rounds at a time or via stripper clip.

The rotary magazine was designed by Otto Schönauer, the Steyr Armoury general manager at the time, to accept the 6.5x54mm Mannlicher–Schönauer cartridge.

Thus, the later rifle is also popularly known as the 1903 Mannlicher–Schönauer. The sporting Model 1900 is renowned for its smooth mechanics and was also produced in carbine form with 18in barrel.

The Steyr firm traces its origins to Leopold Werndl, a blacksmith in the Austrian village of Steyr, famed as a settlement on the Iron Road that leads to the nearby Erzberg mine, where ore has been extracted from the earth since the Middle Ages.

It follows that edged weapons and subsequently firearms have been forged and manufactured in the area for centuries. Werndl undertook the production of weapons parts in his shop in 1821, and Steyr has survived two world wars and the Great Depression to produce iconic firearms such as the Mannlicher Model 1901 and Steyr-Hahn Model 1912 autoloading pistols, and the innovative bullpup design assault rifle StG 77 of the 1970s. 


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