John Milewski is a fan of collectors fairs – and here’s why
John Milewski simply loves arms fairs, and tells us why he’s so keen
Of the various ways old airguns find their way into collections, my favourite means has been through an arms fair, ever since I attended my first one in Winchester on 26 February 1989.
Walking around the Guildhall, it struck me that I was surrounded by the kind of artefacts usually seen in museums, but with the one difference that attendees could handle and buy most of the stock on display. With my £100, I came away with a straight grip Webley Mark I air pistol, an oblong tin of pellets and two Tell 2 air pistols. I was bitten by the collecting bug after this life-changing event, and the dealer that sold me the Webley items is still attending fairs today. I didn’t buy anything from Connor Sandvoss at the recent Kempton Park fair, but over the years, Connor has been the source of my cased Webley Senior, a 1913 cased BSA Improved Model D, and a not inconsiderable number of other airguns and pellet tins.
As well as buying old airguns, arms fairs are a perfect way to obtain knowledge from specialist collectors and dealers. This knowledge is invariably freely provided and can save collectors from making expensive mistakes. Many established collectors tend to specialise in a single area, such as vintage Webley air pistols, whilst others will dabble across various themes from Gat-style air pistols to post-war match air rifles. Changing collecting direction can be daunting, but lots of advice and new additions can be obtained from the specialist traders seen at arms fairs, particularly if they know your interests and come across something you are looking for on their travels.
Mike Sharp recently told me he has been tinkering with old airguns for 61 years. Over the course of that time, Mike has learned an awful lot about a wide range of airguns, and his enthusiasm remains infectious. Mike has a knack of finding the impossible, and seldom a fair goes by that he hasn’t got a new rarity to show off. He will freely share his knowledge and I have learned a great deal from listening to Mike when he holds court at any arms fair he attends. For instance, Mike had recently bought not one, but two Exhibition Original 6 air pistols and was displaying them at Kempton. Made for an exhibition at Stuttgart, Mike showed me that both pistols had chequered walnut stocks and one had been fitted with a double set trigger. This meant the pistol could be fired with a conventional trigger
“I came across an updated airgun maintenance book by Quentin Cobham”
pull weight, or the second trigger set for a hair trigger release of just a few grams. I had never even heard of such a feature on an Original 6 and came away a little wiser.
A NEW AIRGUN BOOK
Browsing with my eyes focused at table level, I came across an updated airgun maintenance book by Quentin Cobham. The author has revised his 2006 edition by 61% and was selling copies at the reduced price of £20 at Kempton. The book is usually priced at £24 and can be obtained through Waterstones or on line. The ISBN is 978-0-9553131-1-0 and having referred to the original on many an occasion, I have no hesitation in recommending the revised edition to both collectors and those who like to tinker, restore old and not so old spring airguns.
Lawrie Armatruda showed me a butt reservoir air rifle of museum quality as a recent fair and generously allowed me to handle and photograph his prized collector’s item. The Viennese airgun looked to have been fitted with
the Girardoni breech block and magazine, which turned this 200-year-old airgun into a repeater, way before such features became standard on firearms. I have seen similar air rifles in museum displays and this brings me back to my earlier comparison of arms fairs with museums.
You cannot put a price on knowledge, but I have heard some collectors negatively comment on how prices at fairs are higher than those achieved in some auctions or private deals. This may be the case in some instances, but is it really unfair? When you consider the time, effort, fuel, and other overheads a dealer has to take into account to track down and obtain stock to tempt us collectors, paying a ‘finder’s fee’ might not be so unreasonable. In fact, in terms of saving the time and effort involved in viewing a number of items to then find they are not quite what you expected, many dealer prices are a bargain if they have something you want for your collection. Remember that a dealer must make a profit to stay in business, so won’t be able to buy an item from you at the price it is subsequently sold for, but often a desirable item can be traded for something the dealer has in stock.
Fairs such as those held at Kempton Park or Birmingham Motorcycle Museum are incredibly popular and if you haven’t yet, I would thoroughly recommend a visit. Be warned, you will be tempted by an incredible array of airguns and if you get talking to the trade, I can guarantee you will also add to your knowledge. I know I always do. The next Kempton Park fair is scheduled for Sunday 1st July. See you there!
The German ‘reverse’ Gat-style pistol shown cocked and with the long pellet probe removed for loading.
A very rare Original 6 with walnut stock and double-set trigger.
This 200-year-old airgun was made by Heiberger of Vienna. There’s not a lot Mike Sharp does not know about old airguns and his enthusiasm has always been infectious.
Vic Turner from Protek Supplies with a fine selection of airguns, showing off a Webley Supertarget.
Just some of the airguns Tim Dyson has for sale.
Quentin Cobham was selling signed copies of his new book at Kempton in March. He’ll be back at Kempton on 1st July.
Would you buy a used gun from them? Kempton allows private collectors like these Bisley shooters to sell off surplus items at bargain prices.