Monday - 22 September 2014

Sharpe’s the word: TV exposure and changes in rules raise sights of arms buyers

31 March 2004Written by ATG Reporter

NOT every auctioneer, and certainly not every dealer, is happy with the coverage given to the antiques trade on television, but Norfolk auctioneers Holts (15% buyer's premium), who hold their specialist sales of antique and sporting guns in the suitably militaristic Duke of York’s Headquarters in Chelsea, have cause to be grateful for one TV series.

It seems that every time the Napoleonic Wars hero Sharpe returns to the screen the value of the Baker rifle increases by £1000.

Sean Bean, who played the famous but fictional soldier, carried one of these 'new' more accurate rifles in his battles during the Peninsular War. Two or three years ago it was an exceptional example that reached £3500-£4000, and with a Baker rifle and bayonet selling to a private buyer at this latest March 10 sale for £6000, it left little room for the trade who would probably retail it at a touch over £8000.

This particular rifle, in excellent condition inside and out, was originally made for the Ayrshire Rifles, a volunteer force formed when invasion by the French appeared a real danger.

It had the characteristic stock typical of rifles made for the Volunteer Regiment by the gun-maker Ketland, and was made without the usual patch box in the butt. The AR and rack number were both removed from the butt-plate, possibly done by the armourer or perhaps a local gunsmith when the weapon, having ended its service, was sold on.

After the sale, the buyer revealed that last year he had decided to invest in antique firearms instead of a pension scheme. He may not be alone in deciding that antiques are, at the very least, a more enjoyable and tangible way to invest.

Two flintlock pistols, a Long Sea Service pistol, from the Napoleonic Wars period and a rare George II Land Service pistol were consigned by the same vendor.

They were each in similar untouched and original state, requiring little effort to bring them up to first-rate condition. Both had the stamped double broad arrow mark, placed point-to-point, denoting that they had been officially sold out of service.

The .56 Pattern 1801 Long Sea Service pistol, sold at a respectable, if fairly average £1100. The .56 Pattern 1756 Land Service pistol, however, is a much scarcer piece and trade and private bidders in the room battled it out before a trade telephone bidder came in at the last moment with a winning bid of £3800.

With regulations on modern collectable firearms becoming ever more stringent, it seems that many collectors are turning to antique arms as a method of continuing their interest without the need for the restrictions of certification. This is pushing up prices and can be plainly seen in the reaction to pin-fire guns.

A few years ago these needed a firearms certificate and they attracted few buyers. When this need was removed, pin-fire guns suddenly became more and more collectable.

There were several examples in this sale, most notably a 27-bore pin-fire double-barrelled rifle by W. R. Pape. Made c.1863, with a 2ft 5in (74cm) browned twist rifled barrels and four folding leaf sights calibrated from 100 to 200 yards.

In its fitted mahogany case, it was in particularly good condition and went to a private buyer at £3100 against an estimate of £1500-2000.

Although this report is concerned with the antique part of the sale, comment must be made about the effect of the US dollar on this and the modern sporting gun section.

Holt's, along with other auctioneers selling antique and modern guns, have reported a noticeable recent absence of American bidders.

This was illustrated by the sale of a Purdey 20-bore sidelock ejector shotgun, 20-bore being the favoured American calibre. It sold to a Scottish buyer for £19,000 and had no American interest whatsoever.

Twelve months ago it would have undoubtedly sold to a buyer in the States and probably for a higher amount.

However, on a more encouraging note, there was a considerably larger than normal Continental presence in the room, the strongest bidding coming from Italian and Scandinavian buyers.

As viewing is by ticket only, the auctioneers are able to keep a close eye on the numbers of potential buyers attending.

They sent out 704 passes for this auction compared to around 600 for their sale in December. Despite the largest percentage of bidders being trade, it can be seen from the buyer of the Baker rifle, that there was enough private interest in the sale to have a significant impact on prices.

Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.

Back to top