gun is worth its price tag What makes a gun out­per­form the mar­ket?

The right brand can re­ally in­crease the value of a clas­sic gun, notes Dig­gory Hadoke, but rar­ity and prove­nance can also play its part in ramp­ing up the price, as with this Scot­tish 16-bore

Sporting Shooter - - Contents - WITH DIG­GORY HADOKE

Brand value has al­ways held a key place in the likely cost one has to pay for any given gun, all other fac­tors be­ing equal.

The clas­sic re­quest from a caller is some­one want­ing a Hol­land & Hol­land, Purdey or Boss. Many of th­ese callers could not tell one from another at five yards, but the magic name has them cap­ti­vated. Other mak­ers, whose guns equal or bet­ter many of those by the ‘top tier’ names, just don’t ap­peal in the same way to a large sec­tion of the col­lect­ing fra­ter­nity. Mak­ers like Grant, Lang, Greener, Dick­son and West­ley Richards have al­ways sat back slightly from the ku­dos as­so­ci­ated with the big three.

How­ever, times do change, of­ten slowly, but there has been some­thing of a shift this past decade and the wares of Ed­in­burgh’s most fa­mous gun­maker, John Dick­son (now, sadly, no longer in the city), have be­come highly de­sir­able. We may be wit­ness­ing a surge, akin to that which pushed the prices of big-bore guns through the ceil­ing a few years ago (only to cor­rect it­self once the frenzy died down).

I have no­ticed a grow­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Dick­son guns, es­pe­cially from Amer­i­can buy­ers, for some time now. Twenty years ago, a good Dick­son round ac­tion cost £5,000, while a com­pa­ra­ble Purdey side­lock cost £10,000 to £12,000. The round-ac­tion guns be­gan to close the gap in the in­terim and are now clos­ing with London Best side­locks. They were once seen as some­thing be­tween a boxlock and a side­lock, but there is a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion for their qual­i­ties to­day. A de­cent 12-bore round-ac­tion Dick­son to­day will be be­tween £8,000 and £12,000.

Dick­son’s records are well pre­served and fairly de­tailed. That means quite a lot of fac­tual in­for­ma­tion can be laid out and that is ad­van­ta­geous to col­lec­tors – es­pe­cially Amer­i­can col­lec­tors, who like to deal in ab­so­lutes. If, for ex­am­ple, you know that a maker made five 16-bore ham­mer guns, and you are look­ing at one of them, you have some idea of the rar­ity of that item and there­fore a bet­ter idea of its trad­ing at­trac­tive­ness to other col­lec­tors. Of course, hav­ing ‘the only’ ex­am­ple of a par­tic­u­lar type of gun adds brag­ging rights and peo­ple will pay for those.

Such was the case with a Dick­son that sold at Holt’s in their June auc­tion this year. The gun was an un­usual ‘skele­ton bar’ ver­sion of the fa­mous trig­ger-plate gun, for which Dick­son is best known. Added to that, it was a side-lever, which is also very un­usual. Then, the gauge added more in­ter­est still: it was a 16-bore. Dick­son’s records in­di­cate that only 13 ‘skele­tal’ round ac­tion guns are known to have been made. Three of th­ese were 16-bores. How many of those were side-levers? One col­league thinks this is the only ex­am­ple. Another tells me that he knew of one that be­longed to a friend of his in the 1970s. So, there may be two of them.

So far, the rar­ity we have de­scribed adds points to the gun on the de­sir­abil­ity front. What also counts for a lot is orig­i­nal qual­ity, then cur­rent con­di­tion. Dick­son guns are in­vari­ably of very high qual­ity and this one is no ex­cep­tion. Grace­ful, well fit­ted in all the in­tri­cate de­tails, with dark, fig­ured wood, taste­ful en­grav­ing and a pleas­ing flow of lines, meld­ing metal and wood into a sleek, com­fort­able shot­gun.

The con­di­tion, for a gun made in Oc­to­ber 1883, is still re­mark­ably good. The che­quer re­mains

‘Times do change and the wares of Ed­in­burgh’s most fa­mous gun­maker, John Dick­son, have be­come highly de­sir­able’

un­mo­lested, there is no shrink­age of wood away from metal where the two join. While the ac­tion has no orig­i­nal fin­ish left, it is still sharp and has been spared the pol­ish­ing that so many old guns have suf­fered.

The Dick­son was built for Lt. Col. John F. Hathorn, of Castlewigg House, Wig­town­shire (now a ruin af­ter a cat­a­strophic 1933 fire). For­tu­nately, the gun was not in res­i­dence at the time! There are wit­ness marks in the wood over the bar, in­di­cat­ing that in­ter­nal screws have rusted and dis­coloured – and weak­ened the wood around their threads, though the wood is not cracked un­der the bar, where many wood-bar guns do crack along the grain. There is, how­ever, a crack in the hand, along the top strap, just be­hind the lo­ca­tion of the hand pin. It could be re­paired prop­erly by a good fin­isher. The gun is me­chan­i­cally sound and op­er­a­tional and would re­spond well to a sym­pa­thetic restora­tion.

The down­side, which I’m sure read­ers were an­tic­i­pat­ing, refers to the bar­rels. When David McKay Brown was work­ing at Dick­son’s in the late ‘60s, the gun came into the shop and found its way into his own­er­ship. The bar­rels are re­place­ments un­signed, which McKay Brown had fit­ted in 1970. The orig­i­nals were 27½", the re­place­ments are 28".

Gen­er­ally, in col­lect­ing circles, orig­i­nal­ity is an im­por­tant fac­tor. Re­place­ment bar­rels would nor­mally af­fect the value of a gun sig­nif­i­cantly down­wards. Bar­rels that are nei­ther orig­i­nal nor ‘by the maker’ will do so even more surely. The other fac­tor in the gun’s dis­favour is that it is not an ejec­tor model. Ejec­tor guns gen­er­ally do bet­ter than non-ejec­tors.

When the Dick­son ap­peared in Holt’s cat­a­logue, it im­me­di­ately started get­ting at­ten­tion from en­thu­si­asts. One Amer­i­can client was con­sid­er­ing buy­ing it to re­stock (which I ad­vised was un­nec­es­sary and un­de­sir­able). The es­ti­mate was £3,000 to £5,000. Auc­tion­eers are of­ten ac­cused of un­der-es­ti­mat­ing guns, but I think Holt’s got this spot on. If some­one had walked in and put it on my desk ask­ing to sell it, I’d have paid them £3,500, or £4,000 at a push.

In my es­ti­ma­tion, the gun needed £1,500 spent on it and when re­tailed in good or­der, cased, it would have gone up for £7,500. I would have thought a punter look­ing to buy it for him­self, rather than as a com­mer­cial propo­si­tion, may have paid more for it and then in­vested in the restora­tion.

In the event, I had one client who in­structed me to bid up to £7,000 in the room. That would leave him look­ing at a cost, over­all, of about £10,000 to get the re­stored gun in his hands, ready to go shooting.

The bid­ding even­tu­ally stopped at a whop­ping £20,000. That is £26,000 by the time you pay the auc­tion­eer. For a Scot­tish, non-ejec­tor with re­place­ment bar­rels! This shows the value of rar­ity and a healthy col­lec­tor mar­ket for a par­tic­u­lar brand of gun. It also shows the re­sults that can be achieved by auc­tion­eers be­yond what the pri­vate mar­ket can de­liver.

If you have very rare or unique items, the auc­tion room can some­times de­liver a bid­ding frenzy that seems out of step with what most of us would con­sider rea­son­able.

That is the way of it when two or more bid­ders des­per­ately want a par­tic­u­lar item and know that if they don’t buy it on the day, they will prob­a­bly never get the chance again. So, next time you hear Nick Holt telling peo­ple he has a small Dick­son, you can be sure he is do­ing so with a smile on his face.

The Dick­son fea­tured an un­usual side-lever 16-bore

The gun fea­tures taste­ful en­grav­ing

Rar­ity and prove­nance led to a huge fi­nal price

The crack in the stock should be re­pairable

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