The autumn season opened with a bang at Bonhams (27.5/25/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) on September 23 with a 362-lot, £1m sale of arms and armour featuring two spectacular armours and a host of good English pistols.

After the sale Bonhams’ expert David Williams said that he was not surprised to see such strong bidding and high prices for the armour, but he must have been quietly delighted that modern technology and buyer enthusiasm had combined to keep the market buoyant in troubled times.

The auction was not half over before the two armours transformed the sale total in a matter of minutes.

Baronial halls display

The lots turned heads for quite different reasons. The first to appear was a display piece of the kind that was de rigeur in new-build baronial halls a century more ago and which evidently still commands respect today.

Bidding reached £55,000 for the full equestrian armour for man and horse, a 19th century reconstruction of period originals that are now found only in museums and royal palaces.

Only the breast and backplates were 16th century originals, around which a complete ensemble had been created. The barding or horse armour also incorporated some older elements to make up a complete chanfron and neck guard, a peytral to protect the mount’s chest and the crupper over the hind-quarters. These were fitted over a full-size fibreglass horse with a velvet-covered saddle and caparisoned in red velvet with brocade trimmings.

Pure appeal

Much more to the purist’s taste was the following lot – a composite German full armour in fluted Maximilian style of c. 1520.

While this too incorporated some later and matched parts, it was a known suit with a long provenance including the Hearst Collection at St Donat’s Castle and The Tower of London. With this pedigree it rose to a price of £100,000.

Cased pistols

The sale closed with a series of good English pistols, cased and in crisp condition. Such fare has been the mainstay of so many London sales.

As always, a famous name is the extra ingredient that brings a premium price and here it was James Purdey who topped the bill with a pair of percussion target or duelling pistols, retaining much original finish and in their original mahogany case with full accessories. These reached £28,000.

Among the flintlocks, two pairs of cased Regency duelling pistols each made £17,000.

Joseph Manton was the maker of a pair of 40- bore pistols with conventional round butts made c.1807. HW Mortimer produced a pair of 32-bores made two to three years later with the saw-handled butts and trigger guard spurs that came into vogue as aids to more accurate shooting.