Or­der of the Phoenix

It may not go with a bang but the un­fired, Mal­colm Ap­pleby-en­graved “Phoenix Gun” is sure to make sparks fly when it en­ters the auc­tion room this month, says Roger Field

The Field - - Country Estate Under The Hammer -

The in­ter­net may be tak­ing over – “spoil­ing” is an­other word that leaps to mind – the glad­i­a­to­rial thrill of a visit to an auc­tion but there are still times when those in the room can gain dis­tinct ad­van­tages over their wired-up com­peti­tors. When ev­ery­thing is sell­ing then it is prob­a­bly im­ma­te­rial whether you are at home, cof­fee or drink in hand, tap­ping the “Buy Now” but­ton, or sit­ting on a hard chair in an air­less room wav­ing your mitt at the ros­trum.

how­ever, it is when things are not sell­ing that the buyer in the room can some­times get the drop on those on the in­ter­net, es­pe­cially with more es­o­teric “col­lecta­bles”. It just takes a few key buy­ers to be ab­sent or ex­tra choosy for that sec­tion of an auc­tion to fall flat and bid­ders to switch off. This is when an auc­tion­eer re­ally earns his salary as the pri­or­ity is no longer about beat­ing high es­ti­mates and ful­some af­ter-auc­tion PR puffs, it be­comes about en­sur­ing things just get sold. The auc­tion­eer’s min­i­mum aim is to whip up enough en­thu­si­asm to get some­one to bid up to the re­serve, bid­ding even on the ven­dor’s be­half; le­git­i­mate as long as the bid­ding only reaches the re­serve – any higher and it be­comes il­le­gal.

A “re­serve” is dif­fer­ent to the low or bot­tom es­ti­mate stated in the cat­a­logue. It is the min­i­mum, con­fi­den­tial price at which the ven­dor has agreed that the auc­tion­eer can sell – al­beit with, some­times, a mea­sure of “auc­tion­eer’s dis­cre­tion”. Con­versely, the bot­tom es­ti­mate means ex­actly that. It is what the auc­tion­eer thinks (or says he or

she thinks – not nec­es­sar­ily the same thing) some­thing should sell for. The re­serve could be the same as the bot­tom es­ti­mate. Some auc­tion houses seem to run this as a house pol­icy. How­ever, it must never be higher than the pub­lished low es­ti­mate. At many auc­tions the re­serve seems to be about one bid (about 10%) be­low bot­tom es­ti­mate; more rarely, sig­nif­i­cantly be­low or, even, with no re­serve at all; the ven­dor need­ing to sell re­gard­less, for what­ever rea­son. Some – of­ten the more high fa­lutin’, spe­cial­ist auc­tion houses – may only agree to sell lesser items if they are at no re­serve as they do not want the ex­pen­sive has­sle of cat­a­logu­ing, dis­play­ing and of­fer­ing them if they cal­cu­late that they will not appeal to those at the auc­tion, whether in the room or on­line.

Per­haps a ven­dor has a good col­lec­tion of fine swords – or clocks or paint­ings or what­ever – with some third- or fourth-di­vi­sion items as well or, par­tic­u­larly in “the re­gions”, it is an es­tate clear­ance. “Take the lot or I’ll of­fer them to X in­stead,” says the ven­dor. The auc­tion­eer con­cedes (or not), so pre­sent­ing an op­por­tu­nity for bid­ders should the lesser items then fail to in­ter­est those fol­low­ing that spe­cial­ist sale. I sur­prised my­self by buy­ing an 18th-cen­tury In­dian khanda – a han­dand-a-half sword stand­ing al­most 4½ft tall – at Thomas Del Mar’s arms and ar­mour sale six months ago, In­dian kit not usu­ally be­ing my thing. Es­ti­mated at £150 to £180 it was an hon­est, al­beit Plain Jane, ex­am­ple in a tatty scab­bard. The price kept go­ing down as the room sat on its col­lec­tive hands. “Any of­fers at £80?” It was right there on the wall be­side me, giv­ing me the thumbs up. Quick in­spec­tion. Fin­ger up. Gavel down. Some­thing an in­ter­net bid­der could not have done.

And then there is the “af­ter sale” ac­tion with un­solds; a brief hia­tus that a per­son on the spot should be bet­ter able to ex­ploit than the in­ter­net bid­der. And this is where real bar­gains can be had. The ven­dor will be hacked off that their lot(s) failed to sell and will prob­a­bly pre­fer not to get it back; yet more has­sle, ex­pense and pa­per­work. Fur­ther­more, the auc­tion­eer will prob­a­bly de­mand a size­able per­cent­age drop in re­serve be­fore agree­ing to re­of­fer it. Put in a sen­si­ble of­fer now and, chances are, you can buy it be­low re­serve, some­times well be­low re­serve. Two caveats here, how­ever: in my ex­pe­ri­ence, the smaller houses tend to be more flex­i­ble on such af­ter-sale ne­go­ti­a­tions than the large com­pa­nies and, as with any sale, don’t buy some­thing just be­cause it looks cheap. Of­ten, but not al­ways, an­tiques fail to sell in a cer­tain price range for a very good rea­son. I’m de­lighted to re­port that the khanda still looks suit­ably im­pres­sive and men­ac­ing in my study. A steal at £80.

Hope­fully there will be no such af­ter­sales scram­ble for Gavin Gar­diner at his 27 Au­gust sale of vin­tage and mod­ern sport­ing guns at the Gle­nea­gles Ho­tel in Perthshire. A star among the 200 lots of “fine” things that go bang is the Mal­colm Ap­pleby-en­graved Phoenix Gun. This truly unique beauty is an un­used side­lock 12-bore ejec­tor – 28in bar­rels, 15in stock, weigh­ing 6lb 10oz – that was com­pleted by Matthew Lin­gard (gun­maker by Royal Ap­point­ment to HRH The Prince of Wales) in 2012. Ap­pleby, who is con­sid­ered by many to be the finest gun en­graver of this gen­er­a­tion, en­graved the “Raven Gun” for the Royal Ar­mouries while his “Crocodile Gun” was sold at Gle­nea­gles by Gar­diner in 2009 for £48,000. Nor­mally the en­grav­ing alone on a gun such as this would cost about £100,000. He ex­pects this mag­nif­i­cent ex­am­ple to sell for at least a sim­i­lar sum.

In May, Bon­hams had two glo­ri­ous days sell­ing things de­signed to kill and maim the quarry, whether hu­man or sport­ing. My son was on the River Oykel and, with the tem­per­a­ture hit­ting 28°C, the fish were clearly vis­i­ble in the pools, sun­bathing but not

tak­ing. Lot 518 was the so­lu­tion: a Kongs­berg­jar­mann Model 28 10.15mm x 61(R)mm Boltac­tion Har­poon Ri­fle mod­i­fied from an 1884 Nor­we­gian is­sue ser­vice ri­fle. Com­plete with four sharp-tipped har­poons and lengths of rope to at­tach to your reel – mustn’t cheat, af­ter all –this killer would have guar­an­teed de­li­cious, fresh-run sal­mon each evening. Ac­cord­ing to the auc­tion­eer, this ri­fle has a kick like a mule given the weight of steel har­poon it throws. Back in the day – it is an ob­so­lete cal­i­bre and so could be bought by any­one, just so long as you do not fire it – it was used for despatch­ing sword­fish and seals as well as throw­ing lines for res­cue work. Per­haps it was just too much ri­fle for most buy­ers as it only hit its £2,000 bot­tom es­ti­mate. With a trip to the Tay planned for July, I could not help but won­der…

An­other dev­il­ish in­ven­tion was the 1916 Pritchard-greener “Re­volver Bay­o­net”. The brain­child of a Lieu­tenant Pritchard, built by Greener, it was de­signed to clip onto the stan­dard is­sue Mark IV We­b­ley re­volver and was his so­lu­tion to find­ing him­self out of bul­lets at an in­con­ve­nient moment in the trenches. Won­der­fully bonkers but ut­terly evil, the steel is as bright and sharp as the day it was made; only 200 were ever pro­duced. This one be­longed to Ma­jor JS Cowan-dou­glas, High­land Light In­fantry. Given that we know from Dad’s Army’s Lance Cor­po­ral Jones that, “They don’t like it up ’em!” this bay­o­net most prob­a­bly did get right “up ’ em” as the good Ma­jor won a DSO and MC on the Western Front. Lit­tle sur­prise it quadru­pled its top £1,200 es­ti­mate to sell for £4,800.

From the time our an­ces­tors first tied a stone to a stick to give it ex­tra heft on the down­swing, some bright spark was doubt­less try­ing to im­prove the de­sign, us­ing a big­ger stone or sharp­en­ing the end to make a dual-pur­pose bif­fer and pricker. The late19th cen­tury Liège Dolne Patent (Apache) Pin-fire Six-shot Knuckle-duster Re­volver is part of that end­less evo­lu­tion: a tri-combo, pis­tol, knuck­le­duster (dou­bling up as the pis­tol grip) and knife and, frankly, a con­fus­ing look­ing hor­ror – none of the three nasty bits do­ing the job as well as a sin­gle, wellde­signed blade, duster or shooter. How­ever, they do look the dog’s co­jones and, my

ex­pert tells me, they were par­tic­u­larly prized by Parisian gang­sters. And, as he also points out, if you found your­self mano a mano dis­cussing the price of crois­sants with an Apache-wield­ing hood­lum, the sen­si­ble move would be to back off at speed rather than point and gig­gle at how silly it looks. Al­ways de­sir­able, doubt­less be­cause they are so out­landish, it dou­bled its £800 es­ti­mate to sell for £1,600.

An ear­lier it­er­a­tion of that same weapons race is an al­to­gether more ef­fec­tive bit of killing steel: a late-16th­cen­tury, heavy, com­bi­na­tion horse­man’s ham­mer – with a beak for smash­ing through mail or thin plate ar­mour and a ham­mer for ad­min­is­ter­ing frontal lobotomies to the un­godly – it also in­cor­po­rates a one-shot wheel-lock pis­tol for punch­ing a hole through the first enemy to present him­self. This is an ob­ject of won­der and beauty that would have been car­ried by a great no­ble. It also dou­bled its top £12,000 es­ti­mate to sell for £24,000: rar­ity, qual­ity and sheer in­ge­nu­ity will nearly al­ways win out.

These days machismo is more a ques­tion of how big is your mo­tor than how deadly your steel and the buyer of the 2016 Van­quish 7,000cc (yes: 7,000cc) Pro-street 300 can cer­tainly claim more gal­lop­ing horses be­tween their thighs than other bik­ers. How you ride this brute I can only imag­ine but it is ca­pa­ble of 200mph, cost more than £100,000 new and, af­ter 130 hours in the work­shop, is now UK street le­gal hav­ing been im­ported – now there’s a sur­prise – from the US. It sold at Bon­hams on 21 April for £30,000, well under its £35,000 lower es­ti­mate: a throb­bing, snarling ex­am­ple of the dif­fer­ence be­tween es­ti­mates and re­serves. IN the sport­ing col­lec­tion of the Royal Ar­mouries is a most un­usual gun, one, more­over, that has a med­i­cal story at­tached, an un­usual at­tri­bu­tion for a sport­ing gun. The gun is Rus­sian and their sport­ing gun tra­di­tion is both fa­mil­iar and, at the same time, dif­fer­ent to that in Bri­tain.

This gun was made in about 1760 by

one of the best Rus­sian royal gun mak­ers, Ivan Per­m­jakov, who worked in the royal work­shops, ini­tially under the su­per­vi­sion of the Ober-jäger­mis­ter, the royal head hunts­man, and then as an Im­pe­rial gun­maker from about 1755 to 1773. He worked in St Peters­burg mak­ing tar­get and hunt­ing firearms for both Em­press Cather­ine II and her son, Czar Paul I. He also main­tained the hunt­ing weapons, which num­bered in the hun­dreds, that were orig­i­nally housed in Czar Peter III’S res­i­dence at Oranien­baum on the shores of the Gulf of Fin­land. Af­ter the death of Czar Peter III in 1762, the col­lec­tion was moved to St Peters­burg and the royal hunt­ing lodge at Gatchina palace.

Per­m­jakov’s weapons were highly prized and sought af­ter and this ex­am­ple is no ex­cep­tion. It is sur­pris­ingly sim­i­lar to sport­ing guns be­ing made in Eng­land at the time. It is pro­fusely dec­o­rated in gold-en­crusted ro­coco or­na­ments of sport­ing tro­phies and flower heads, the fur­ni­ture be­ing of sil­ver. The side­plate is al­most iden­ti­cal to ones made by the gun­maker Joseph Grif­fin in Lon­don. The bar­rel is dec­o­rated with gold line dec­o­ra­tion and is signed in Cyril­lic by Per­m­jakov in­side a golden rib­bon. Un­usu­ally, the bar­rel is made with an ex­ag­ger­ated oval bore, this style of bar­rel be­ing par­tic­u­lar to Rus­sian gun­mak­ers who made much use of the oval bore in the late-18th cen­tury. It is stamped on the butt with the Im­pe­rial col­lec­tion in­ven­tory num­ber of 30. This is of im­por­tance as it can be used to prove the sub­se­quent English con­nec­tion to this gun, as it was to be­come a per­sonal gift from Em­press Cather­ine to the English doc­tor Thomas Dims­dale.

Dims­dale (1712 to 1800) was a Quaker who was trained as a doc­tor at St Thomas’ Hospi­tal, Lon­don. He sub­se­quently be­came in­ter­ested in the dis­ease small­pox and how to in­oc­u­late against it. He wrote a trea­tise on the sub­ject in 1767, The Present Method of Inoc­u­lat­ing for the Small-pox, that was cir­cu­lated widely and was trans­lated into nu­mer­ous lan­guages.

As a re­sult, he came to the at­ten­tion of Em­press Cather­ine, who in­vited him, in 1768, to Rus­sia to in­oc­u­late both her­self and her son, Grand Duke Paul, against the dis­ease. The Em­press was so happy and re­lieved with his work that she ap­pointed him a Baron, gave him £12,000, a pen­sion of £500 a year and pre­sented him with a set of hunt­ing weapons by the court gun­maker Per­m­jakov. The set in­cluded a gun, a ri­fle, a pair of pis­tols and what was de­scribed as a “flat” gun, the one in the Ar­mouries col­lec­tion. Per­m­jakov was sub­se­quently or­dered to make an­other set to re­place the one pre­sented to Dims­dale. This set now re­sides in the Krem­lin Ar­moury in Moscow.

The Per­m­jakov sport­ing gun can be viewed by ap­point­ment at the Royal Ar­mouries Mu­seum, Leeds, the na­tional mu­seum of arms and ar­mour. The mu­seum is open daily from 10am to 5pm. En­try is free. For fur­ther de­tails, go to: www.roy­alar­mouries.org

The 12-bore “Phoenix Gun” by Michael Lin­gard has been pro­fusely en­graved with a mat­ted tex­tured feather de­sign, with tal­lons on the fences and eye and beak de­tail­ing onthe top-lever and ac­tion base

Teach those tricky sal­mon a les­son with this Nor­we­gian Kongs­berg-jar­mann bolt-ac­tion har­poon ri­fle, sold at Bon­hams for £2,000

This rare Pritchard-greener re­volver bay­o­net, de­signed by Lieu­tenant Arthur Pritchard of the Third Bat­tal­ion Royal Berk­shire in 1916, has an 8½in blade

A ride on the wild side: this 2016 Van­quish 7,000cc is ca­pa­ble of 200mph but was un­able to rev up enough in­ter­est to reach its lower es­ti­mate at Bon­hams in April, though it beat its re­serve price to change hands for £30,000

The “flat” gun pre­sented to English doc­tor Thomas Dims­dale by Em­press Cather­ine II as part of a set of hunt­ing weaponsA RUS­SIAN SPORT­ING GUNBY MARK MUR­RAY FLUT­TER

An ex­tremely rare late-16th­cen­tury Ger­man com­bined horse­man’s ham­mer and 50-bore wheel-lock pis­tol

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