Where’s the smart money go­ing in the cur­rent mar­ket?

Sporting Shooter - - Contents - WITH DIG­GORY HADOKE

As we ap­proach the end of 2018, it might be a use­ful ex­er­cise to re­flect on the state of the mar­ket for vintage guns. The sec­tor has stag­nated of late, cer­tainly since 2012, but there was some hope of re­cov­ery this year and one or two signs that there are ar­eas where prices are in­creas­ing.

A notable sale in the sum­mer was a fairly tired Dick­son 16-bore round-ac­tion with side-lever. De­spite a cracked stock and re­place­ment barrels, it ex­ceeded its £3,000 low es­ti­mate to make a fi­nal sales fig­ure of £26,000, once all fees were in­cluded. Rar­ity and col­lec­tor value can still carry the day.

Col­leagues have re­ported a gen­eral down­turn in the turnover of English side­locks and boxlocks. Some are mov­ing their busi­nesses to fo­cus more on for­eign over-and-un­der guns of high qual­ity. As ever, price is a fac­tor, as is avail­abil­ity.

My busi­ness strug­gles less from the need to find buy­ers than it does from the dif­fi­culty in find­ing good, fresh to mar­ket, qual­ity stock at the right price. Auc­tions are no longer a good sup­plier of guns to the trade as the com­mis­sion taken by the auc­tion­eers al­lows very lit­tle mar­gin to make any profit.

There is still a strong mar­ket for Best-qual­ity, rare and high con­di­tion guns, ham­mer guns es­pe­cially; cer­tainly among my cus­tomer base. A good ex­am­ple of the type of gun in de­mand is the Purdey il­lus­trated here. It was made in 1880 for an Amer­i­can buyer, with very low comb and a pis­tol-grip stock.

It has a set of Whit­worth steel barrels and a set of Dam­as­cus barrels (which have been blacked). One set is choked Full and Full, the other Quar­ter and Full. The gun was re­turned to Purdey in the first five years of the 20th cen­tury and was re-stocked to more usual di­men­sions and with a straight-hand stock, be­fore be­ing resold from Aud­ley House.

As a gun des­tined for the USA, it was sup­plied in a case with a full set of load­ing tools and in­struc­tions for pow­der and shot charges. The ac­tion is a heavy ver­sion of Purdey’s solid bar (not bar-in-wood) ac­tion, ham­mer gun. It weighs 7lb 8oz and was orig­i­nally made with the longer 2¾" cham­bers nor­mally re­served for pi­geon guns or wildfowling guns.

In field tests, it han­dled 36g loads with­out un­due dis­com­fort, though 32g may be bet­ter as all rounders, with the 2¾" cham­bers en­abling shoot­ers to­day to load with 70mm case car­tridges, like Game Bore ‘Dark Storm’ or Eley ‘Zenith’, which are hard-hit­ting shells de­signed for high birds. Heav­ier guns with tight chokes like this are cur­rently in de­mand from high-bird shoot­ers. This con­trasts with the mar­ket of 20 years ago, when ev­ery­one seemed to want very light­weight guns and heavy guns were very hard to sell.

The Purdey sold to the first in­ter­ested client to whom I showed it, for the full ask­ing price. Ear­lier

‘Buy pro­vin­cial mak­ers’ wares of the high­est qual­ity and in the best con­di­tion you can find. You can get very good value in the £5-8k end of the mar­ket’

in the year, I sold an­other Purdey ham­mer gun, this one a bar-in-wood ex­am­ple, within three hours of get­ting it home. Good Purdey ham­mer guns are easy to sell (at least, I have found them so), as are Wood­wards, Stephen Grants, Hors­leys and Dick­sons. The dif­fi­culty is find­ing them.

The mar­ket cur­rently re­in­forces what I al­ways ad­vise cus­tomers: don’t buy guns as in­vest­ments. Buy them be­cause you like them and buy the kind that you have a use for or an in­ter­est in and en­joy them. If you keep them a few years, you should come out of it well, if not, at least you have the plea­sure of own­er­ship.

An­other sec­tor that seems to be do­ing solidly is the good qual­ity boxlock ejec­tor for un­der £2,000. It helps if they have 30" barrels and stocks of 15". Cham­bers of 2¾" are a bonus. Cus­tomers are see­ing the value in these and at this price point they are wise to do so. Stick to An­son & Dee­ley mod­els with sen­si­ble ejec­tor sys­tems and dou­ble trig­gers for re­li­a­bil­ity.

My col­leagues State­side re­port sim­i­lar sen­si­bil­i­ties, with boxlocks in the £1,500 range sell­ing very well. The old ‘mid­dle ground’ of side­locks and boxlocks in the range of £2,500 to £6,000 is stag­nant. Peo­ple seem to be wor­ried about the econ­omy and sit­ting on their money un­til some sign of sta­bil­ity emerges. This is de­spite the US econ­omy be­ing touted as very ro­bust at present.

Per­haps the Trump pres­i­dency is cre­at­ing a sense of cau­tion among mid­dle in­come earn­ers that be­lies the bel­li­cose state­ments of the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Talk of trade wars and un­cer­tainty about the out­come of mid-term elec­tions for the Se­nate and the House may be fac­tors in the cau­tious ap­proach to the mar­ket many seem to be dis­play­ing. For buy­ers here, side­locks are of great value. Buy pro­vin­cial mak­ers’ wares of the high­est qual­ity and in the best con­di­tion you can find. You can get some very good value right now in the £5,000-£8,000 end of the mar­ket. For the long term, Best-qual­ity ham­mer guns look the best place to have your money. Re­cently, I was quoted £40,000 to buy a pair of orig­i­nal cased Purdey ham­mer guns. No good to me at that price, but it shows what level of in­vest­ment own­ers of the very best kit can de­mand.

With all this talk of money, let us not for­get the real rea­son we love these old guns: for their in­trin­sic qual­ity.

I have just come back from Combe in Devon, where I had the priv­i­lege of spend­ing the day in the woods, shoot­ing some very chal­leng­ing pheas­ants and par­tridges with my Stephen Grant 16-bore side-lever ham­mer gun, while my friend swung his new pur­chase – the Purdey in these photos.

There are, in my opin­ion, no bet­ter guns with which to en­gage in our won­der­ful sport.

The Purdey was sup­plied in a case with a full set of load­ing tools and in­struc­tions

This Purdey is a fine ex­am­ple of the Best-qual­ity ham­mer guns still in de­mand

The Purdey will take a 32g 70mm car­tridge like the Eley Zenith, per­fect for all-round shoot­ing

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