By Bill Elderkin
Wednesday, 09 June 2010
The CLA Game Fair is not only the world’s greatest game fair, it is also the greatest gathering of best quality guns outside of a specialist auction, and as such, is a great place to make an investment.
Best English guns are undoubtedly the most desirable shotguns available to the driven game shot.
Not only do their names carry the weight of history, but the guns themselves are of unparalleled quality, being constructed from the finest materials and refined over hundreds of years of careful development.
But buying an English gun should be about much more than badge snobbery or an attractive appearance.
These guns are also among the very best in the world to shoot, with superb balance and weight management giving great handling.
Being designed for British driven game shooting, you will find them unbeatable in the field.
THE BIG THREE
The three top London names I advocate are Holland & Holland, James Purdey & Sons and Boss & Co.
We associate these names with the very best English craftsmanship, and they are certainly among the world’s most desirable marques.
There are other London guns that are comparable in quality, but like many things in this world a good name is all-important when it comes to investment.
Guns from these makers see continual success at sporting gun auctions, plus there is no Capital Gains or Inheritance Tax payable on them, making the purchase of a best English gun an eminently sensible decision.
Whether to invest in a classic pre-war gun or a more modern gun is a tricky question, and one that inspires interesting opinions.
My late father always plumped for the best pre-war 1930s Purdey guns.
The action changed slightly in the early 1930s, with the drop bar on the action moved from the top of the knuckle to the bottom, therefore making the action slightly slimmer.
His school of thought in later life was that the earlier guns were better for heavier use, and represented very good value.
Today a best pre-war London Boss, Holland & Holland or Purdey would sell for anywhere between £20,000 and £25,000, yet a more modern 1980s best London gun will sell for anywhere up to £30,000.
Of course, guns in good condition are likely to attract a slightly larger premium.
OLDER GUNS OFFER GREAT VALUE
With new best London guns now costing upwards of £75,000, my father felt, and certainly I too feel, that the more modern guns represent very good value.
However, the very best prewar guns still do warrant a premium if they are all original with perfect barrels and original patina.
For someone looking for a gun to collect but also to still enjoy using, these guns should always be considered.
If you are looking for a more hard working gun that can take the bigger modern cartridge, but which still has the feeling and balance of best London guns, then a modern gun would be the one to pick.
Whichever you choose, you will come away with a gun which you will be enormously proud to own and which is a pleasure to shoot with. It will almost certainly also inspire pangs of jealousy amongst your fellow guns.
Boss over-under £25,000
Boss produced their famous round-bodied spring opening over-under shotgun during the mid to late 1930s.
They are always highly sought after, as they were the only fully assisted opening gun that Boss made, and they were only manufactured for a very short period.
The standard Boss action is an easy opener, not a full spring opener like equivalent guns from Purdey and Holland & Holland.
They are hugely desirable pieces, both for the discerning collector and for the keen shot.
The round body of the action makes these guns extremely elegant, and also helps to keep the weight down, improving handling.
The standard of finishing is superb, with wonderful wood and the familiar rose and scroll engraving.
The carving of the deeply-recessed fences are also worth noting, as all this work would have been carried out by hand, well before the days of CNC machining.
These guns hold significant value due to their relative rarity, but anyone who is lucky enough to see one is likely to fall in love with it.
They offer excellent value, and in good order would make upwards of £25,000.
Purdey sidelock £30,000
We currently have a pair of James Purdey sidelocks, built c.1985 with 30" barrels and 2¾" chambers.
These guns fall into the more modern category, having modern proof and longer barrels, which makes them perfect best quality English guns for high bird shooting.
They have a superb finish with engraving by Stephen Kelly, one of Purdey’s finest modern engravers and 15" all-wood stocks.
The guns have been very well cared for, coming from the family they were originally commissioned by. The balance of these guns are second to none and the standards of finishing, including the wonderful execution of the engraving, sets them apart.
Although finishing and decoration have nothing to do with the functionality of the guns, these are not areas you should ignore.
These guns will undoubtedly cause a flush of pride every time they are taken out of their case.
Equivalent guns built today with finishing and engraving of a similar standard would cost in excess of £175,000.
I feel they make an excellent investment and would be perfect for hard use.
Holland & Holland Royal £20,000
Royal spring opening sidelock shotgun by Holland & Holland would make a fine addition to any collection.
One to watch out for would be a gun built in the mid-1950s with 28" barrels, exhibition grade walnut stock and matching forend. Being an older gun it is likely to have just 2½" chambers.
Holland & Holland first designed their assisted opening action in the early 1920s to compete with Purdey’s similar innovation.
Theirs is the most straightforward system, with a spring tube attached between the fore-end loop and lumps of barrels. This being a coiled spring makes the spring opening action a lot smoother in the act of opening and closing.
Finishing, as you would expect from a best English gun, is usually exemplary, and moreover the bold acanthus scroll engraving does not usually show any wear unless it has been badly abused during its life.
This gun would be a joy to shoot, and would cost in the region of between £20,000 - £25,000 depending on its condition.
A more modern Holland & Holland of the same configuration would cost in the region of £30,000.
If you can get one I personally feel that the later gun with 2¾" chambers would be the one to buy and use.
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