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Collecting: Vintage Shotguns

Cover of  by Toby Walne

Collecting: vintage shotguns
Top-quality old British shotguns can be beautiful, valuable and practical.

Vintage British shotguns can be a sure-fire investment winner for country sports lovers. Over the past couple of decades the value of collectable firearms has as much as doubled thanks to a growing interest in the sport.

There are now more than a million enthusiasts nationwide who participate in shooting sports, claims the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.

Mr Bill Harriman is director of firearms at the association and an independent consultant who advises on arms and militaria on the BBC TV series Antiques Roadshow.

He says: ''A vintage shotgun can be a thing of great beauty and craftsmanship ? something with a soul. It should certainly hold value and can grow over time. Compare this with a bank or building society deposit book. It may offer similar returns, but the joy it will bring is unlikely to be very much.??
He says a good second-hand shotgun can be bought for £200 to £300, but pay £5,000 to £6,000 and you are able to invest in a true classic. ?The big three that can make the best investments are gunsmiths with blue-blood heritage ? Purdey, Holland & Holland and Boss,? Mr Harriman says.
The British set the world benchmark for quality due to know-how and attention to detail that has been passed down through generations.

The London-based J Purdey & Sons was established in 1814 and received a Royal warrant in 1868. Queen Victoria had a pair of Purdey pistols. Holland & Holland was established in 1835, while the ''builders of best guns only?? Boss & Co Gunmakers was established in 1812.

Today a bespoke Purdey can set you back £70,000 or more and take two years to make. However, 1,000 man-hours can be put into the masterpiece ? vintage buyers get this craftsmanship for a fraction of the price.

Investors who spend £5,000 on vintage guns can shoot with modern cartridges, but may be using a late 19th-century ''hammer?? gun.

A hammer gun requires the triggers to be separately primed and 19th-century pieces may also not have automatic ejectors ? cartridges are manually pulled out.

Modern breech-loading shotguns are hammerless and automatically primed when loading cartridges. If you invest £15,000 to £20,000 you can buy a later 20th-century ''hammerless?? vintage gun from one of the top three.

Mr Harriman points out that old firearms can certainly compete with modern shots ? it is the skill of the person operating that makes the biggest difference. Before the 1860s shooters mostly used muzzleloading guns, such as the Blunderbuss, and these are far less practical as usable collectables.
Mr Harriman said: ''The quality of finish by top gunsmiths from about 1880 to 1920 was fantastic and you can pick up some superb hammer guns that hold or grow in value. From just before the First World War to about 1935 is a golden era when top hammerless firearms were made ? £15,000 buys a cracking investment.??

Michael Alldis, owner of Essex Shooting School in Epping, Essex, said those on a more modest budget might consider lesser but still great British makes: ?If you have £1,500 you can pick up a fine quality Webley & Scott from the Thirties. Other guns from the era you find for less than £1,000 include those by Birmingham Small Arms and the Midland Gun Company.??

Other British gunsmiths with a proud vintage heritage and investment-quality firearms include E J Churchill, Stephen Grant, Joseph Lang, Henry Atkin and William Evans.

The beauty and balance of any top collectable can only be appreciated by holding the firearm. Visit gunsmiths and shooting clubs to try out firearms and seek advice.

Mr Alldis says: ''Befriend a gunsmith and accompany them to a firearm auction ? it is lots of fun. Only buy from reputable traders.??

He adds: ''Guns can usually be altered to fit, but it may cost £300. Remember, a century ago guns had shorter stocks as people were not so tall.??

Mr Alldis also warns that vintage firearms designed for game shoots were not built for the heavy demands of repeated clay sporting.

He points to the Proof mark, a legally required quality guarantee like a gold or silver hallmark, which must always be stamped on the gun barrel. If a firearm has been reproofed, it is a sign of previous wear.

Most shotguns are 12-bore. That refers to the amount of lead required to make a round ball that would fit the barrel ? not the dimensions of lead shot in a cartridge. A 12-bore is a twelfth of a pound. Smaller 20-bore guns are also collectable and favoured by women.

The side-by-side is the traditional game gun design where cartridges are fired from two barrels next to each other.

In recent years the over & under shotgun has become favoured by clay pigeon shooters ? a consideration for collectors.

The sidelock style refers to the way the firing mechanism is installed under plates and curves into the side of the stock. It has been around for more than a century and generally regarded as superior to a boxlock one-piece mechanism fitted on most guns today. Sidelocks also offer more space for engravings.

The quality of engraving and the wood stock have a considerable effect on values. Top British engraver Ken Hunt turns fabulous shotguns into exquisite ? and priceless ? works of art. Early shotgun artists were usually anonymous.

Toby Walne is author of 101 Extraordinary Investments ? Curious, Unusual & Bizarre Ways to Make Money. The book offers advice on investing in a wide range of modern and vintage collectables.

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