A useable artform

Is an English gun a good investment? Ian Andrews of Christie's provides the answer.

I  am often asked whether a fine sporting gun should be regarded as an investment, to which my response has often been: "It is a usable art form". With this in mind

I hope to use both the new and second hand gun market to illustrate why.

Residual values of guns can depend on many factors: condition, specifications and indeed fashion!  What can be regarded as popular in today's market (28/30" barrels) may be undesirable in the future if there is a move back towards shorter barrels.

Maintaining your gun, like maintaining any possession is paramount. If neglected after being exposed to the elements damage will occur. If not treated properly it will be detrimental to the value.

I recently discussed this topic of sporting guns as a usable art form with Peter Blaine, gunroom manager at James Purdey & Sons, and he concluded "simple specifications on guns would be easier to sell as they would have a broader appeal, the end result being higher residual values". 

I view this to fundamentally mean one should remain within traditional boundaries by not over-personalising a gun. For instance, scenes of clay pigeon shooting on a traditional side-by-side game gun would have a smaller prospective audience than one decorated with game scenes. Similarly to engrave a hunting dog and have a loving dedication underneath would be more difficult to sell than without the touching sentiments.

This is not to say that if one is ordering a bespoke gun one has to remain completely conservative - some of the finest guns collected in the world are lavishly decorated with multi-coloured gold, ornate gothic style engraving or erotic fantasy inspired art. In their own right these guns are transformed into visual art forms. The mechanical object becomes a canvas for some truly spectacular art. The work of these engravers  itself thus becomes heavily sought after.

Some of the finest works of art come from the hands of Stefano Pedretti, Phil and Simon Coggan, Philippe Grifnee, Alan Brown and Steve Kelly to name but a few. The list could be endless and we don't have the space to list all of them, however each one is known for their specific styles and creative art form and it is probably due to the renaissance created by Ken Hunt that this has been possible.  Hunt created renewed interest in game scene engraving and inspired many new artists. His gold work is regarded as some of the finest in the world - he has been known to spend many years in decorating a single gun such as the 12-bore Purdey, number 27128 (see illustration).

Auctions can provide an exciting venture into the world of usable art from very traditional guns to the most elaborate of pieces. Christie's in their forthcoming sale have a pair of Pedretti engraved 20-bore side-by-side game guns, by Boss & Co., with an estimate of £100,000-150,000. To replace these guns today, somewhere in the region of £160,000 would need to be spent.  This is a rare example of a combination of both artistic excellence and fine mechanical engineering. Engraved with traditional game scenes, the guns if well cared for, should very much retain their value, giving the owner not only a great pleasure in the field but also knowledge of a high residual return, should they have to be sold in the future.

One doesn't just have to look at extra finished engraving to appreciate the guns as usable art forms. A fine pair of Joseph Lang with traditional scroll engraving may have an estimate in the region of £7,000-£9,000. The guns represent fine craftsmanship and with their traditional appearance, providing they are well maintained, will retain a high residual value.

When ordering a bespoke gun and thinking of your sporting gun as a work of art, remember also that the engraving should complement the art of the craftsman.  Tremendous skill is needed for making every part of the gun. Choosing highly figured wood which is mechanically strong enough through the hand of the stock takes an extremely well-trained eye. The shaping and joining of the stock to the action, the creation of the barrels from solid rods of forged steel, the internal mechanics, the balancing and the finishing of the gun, is all completed by skilled craftsmen - their work is truly no less an art form than the engraving which adorns it.

Is the gun a usable art form? It combines examples of excellent craftsmanship together and can provide a canvas for engravers to show off their talent. Well- maintained the gun will survive generations, giving great pleasure whilst the owner being safe in the knowledge that a true friend will always be there for a rainy day! I think so.


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