- By Pete Moore
- 3 Comments
- Last updated: 16/12/2016
Buying a gun at auction offers several advantages, the biggest being the number of firearms on sale at any one time giving buyers a wide choice of calibres, type, age and brand.
In addition an auction may feature several guns of the same type enabling buyers to choose, for example, the best .243 rifle out of several rather than just looking at one or two that may be on the shelves of a gunshop.
As well as choice, auction houses go to great lengths to discover the provenance of guns as Nick Holt of Holt’s Auctioneers, which specialises in fine modern and antique guns explains: “Most auction houses go to a huge effort to discover the provenance of firearms and this plays an important part in the auction process and buyers love to know the history of the gun they are interested in. The wonderful thing about guns is that they have a serial number and you can trace them and find out with 100% certainty who they were made for and when. That makes them so much more valuable, not only in terms of the prices they fetch, but also in how buyers relate to them.”
As an example, Nick recalls how one of his overseas agents discovered the action of a Purdey shotgun. “It was in very poor condition and worth no more than £1000, but by using the serial number we discovered it was made for Tsar Nicolas II of Russia, who of course was murdered along with his family in 1918. Its history meant it sold for £28,000 and was bought by a Russian as a gift.”
It is not just ‘best guns’ that have an interesting provenance. A Holt’s sale in London listed a number of firearms that fetched modest prices but still had a story to tell. For example a W. J. Jeffery 1903 bolt action sporting rifle that sold for a hammer price of £700 came with information that it was made for Lord Brownlow of the Belton House Estate, later used by the headkeeper and land agent for managing fallow deer in the park there, facts that its new owner was clearly delighted to discover.
As for disadvantages of buying at auction, the main one is that there are no guarantees; caveat emptor applies and is up to buyers to ensure they are happy with a gun’s condition. To avoid problems and disappointment, auction houses are at pains to describe the guns they are offering for sale accurately. “As well as our reputation for valuing well, we are zealous about providing comprehensive condition reports which give buyers confidence,” explains Nick.
Buyer confidence also comes from viewing the guns prior to the sale and those who don’t know much about firearms would do well to ask someone knowledgeable to ascertain the gun’s condition on their behalf.
Viewing usually takes place a couple days prior to the auction and on the morning of the sale, but while most large auction houses close their viewing prior to the sale, Holt’s is different.
“What I have found is that the buyers who come to our auctions want to go away with something,” explains Nick. “So we keep our viewing open all day and if a buyer doesn’t win their preferred lot they often go back to pick something else to bid on. We also televise the auction in the viewing area so they can keep an eye on when lots are coming up. Yes, this does mean the auction room is always to-ing and fro-ing, but people like the relaxed atmosphere, it works, it keeps people involved, and it is good for both buyers and sellers.”
As to bidding itself there are several ways of doing this, the easiest of which is to turn up in person on the day (check what ID is required beforehand) and bid for your chosen lot using a numbered ‘paddle’. The advantages are of course feeling part of the auction itself – with their range of interesting bidders and characterful auctioneers who can still a room with the rise of an eyebrow, they are certainly great for people watching, and combine tension and fun in equal measure.
For those that can’t attend a sale, telephone bidding is an alternative and simply requires registering. A member of auction house staff will then telephone the buyer on the day of auction, a few lots in advance of the one in question, and act on the buyer’s instruction in the saleroom. For those that want to be part of the auction themselves but can’t attend in person, bidding via the internet through a live online bidding portal from the comfort of home or office may suit. Again bidders must register to do this, but it doesn’t avoid the potential for getting carried away.
Buyers who think they may get over-excited and go over their budget or who find the process daunting may like the idea of a commission bid. Here the auctioneer bids on the buyer’s behalf, after he or she has registered the maximum hammer price they are prepared to pay. It is also possible to place a commission bid electronically.
After registering, the buyer leaves the lot number and their maximum bid with the auction house staff doing the rest.
Once you know the ropes buying a gun at an auction can certainly be both rewarding and enjoyable. And while you are unlikely to get an unexpected bargain, you can be safe in the knowledge that you paid a fair market price for a firearm that may well also have an extremely interesting story to tell.
The next Holts sale will be held on Thursday 19th March 2015, 10:00am at: Princess Louise House, 190 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7DJ. For more information, visit: www.holtsauctioneers.com.
1. Understand the estimate: this is just the auctioneer’s indication of what he believes the firearm is worth. If a lot of people want it, it may go for well above the estimate and vice versa.
2. Do your research: find out as much as possible about the gun you are interested in before you start. Read the info in the catalogue and phone the auction house for more details if you need it. Check the gun over carefully at the pre-auction viewing and ask more questions if needed.
3. Decide on and stick to your limit: avoid auction fever or getting sucked into a bidding war that takes you over your financial limit. What is the gun worth to you? If bids go over that, then it’s not for you. If you think you might get carried away, place a commission bid instead.
4. Remember the additional charges: the hammer price is not the final price you will pay. In addition you pay a commission (usually 20-25%) on top of the hammer price to the auction house, plus VAT on that commission.
5. Don’t worry about making a bid by mistake! When you want to bid, clearly show your allotted number – experienced auctioneers will ignore anything else or will ask if you are bidding if unsure.
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