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At Gavin Gardiner’s (25% buyer’s premium) sale of sporting guns at Sotheby’s in London on December 14, a pair of 1990 vintage Holland & Holland 12-bore Royal Deluxe self-opening sidelock ejectors, above, produced the auctioneer’s top bid of the year when they sold to a UK private buyer for £70,000.

It was a spectacular price, but as the auctioneers pointed out, a pair of Holland & Hollands to similar specifications would cost around £250,000 to commission new today.

In for a duck

The most interesting of the vintage sporting guns in Holt’s (25-15% buyer’s

premium) London sale on December 8 was a 4-bore single-barrelled rotary underlever hammer duck gun, below, by the pre-eminent Edinburgh gunmaker John Dickson & Son, at £10,000.

Despite the heavy and unwieldy appearance – with a 3ft (91cm) barrel, this example weighed nearly 14lbs (6.5kg) – high-quality wildfowling guns of this type will usually command a good price, especially if their ownership can be traced back to a well-known sportsman.

In this case the original owner was a man who is now renowned for rarely, if ever, using his guns, of which he is thought to have amassed more than 300. Charles Gordon was a reclusive Scottish landowner who was obsessed with collecting firearms on a massive scale, commissioning guns that were of the highest quality but often already outdated or obsolete at the time of purchase.

The year 1893 was Gordon’s most prolific as a collector. As well as this fourbore he is known to have ordered 26 firearms from Dicksons alone, accounting for a quarter of their output.

Another gun from Gordon’s collection, a heavy 12-bore under-lever hammer gun by Purdey, purchased in 1899, made £11,000 in the same Holt’s sale.

Little was known about this prodigious but misguided collector until Donald Dallas published his biography with a sub-title, Magnificent Madness, that sums up the life of a man who eventually died alone, bankrupt and insane.