It belonged to who?!

archieEvery once in a while, a shotgun or rifle with an incredible background story will find its way to auction. Selena Barr considers a selection of interesting lots with distinguished previous owners.

When buying a secondhand shotgun or rifle at auction, its provenance can often be a huge part of the appeal. Sometimes a firearm will have an incredible history, and at Holt’s Auctioneers there have been some thrilling lots pass through the 

doors, from shotguns used by Olympic athletes to rifles owned by eminent big game hunters. Here are 10 of the most interesting lots to appear to date, each with distinguished previous owners...

Denys’ double


The tale of Denys Finch Hatton is best known from the Academy award-winning film Out Of Africa. In 1911, he bought land in British East Africa where he could spend time hunting. He spent every autumn and winter doing just that and in 1925 he became a professional big game hunter, taking numerous wealthy clients on safari with a Charles Lancaster .450 Nitro Express (NE)double rifle over his shoulder. 

The rifle was completed in 1911, originally in .475 NE. It was subsequently rebarrelled by the London gunmaker to .450 NE in 1929 for Finch Hatton. The hunter’s taste for adventure led him to learn to fly, which would unfortunately be his undoing. Finch Hatton died in a fatal plane crash in his Gypsy Moth near what is now the Tsavo East National Park, Kenya. On his death, the rifle was gifted to his friend the Hon. Berkeley Cole, who had also settled in East Africa. 

Sold by Holt’s in March 2010.

Hammer price: £55,000 

Morton Stanley’s old faithful


Journalist-turned-African-explorer, Henry Morton Stanley was working for the New York Herald when he uttered the words: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” on the shores of Lake Victoria in 1872. Missionary Dr. Livingstone was assumed lost in ‘Darkest Africa’, never to be seen again, and finding him was the journalistic coup of that decade. This adventure was the start of Morton Stanley’s career as an explorer, going on to begin the mapping of the Congo River, discover the settlement of the Congo Basin on behalf of Leopold, King of the Belgians, and the search for Emin Pasha – adventures on which this Winchester .45-75 lever-action rifle accompanied him. This iconic rifle was part of Stanley’s personal arsenal and represents a tangible link to the exploration of Africa in the late 19th century. 

Sold by Holt’s in December 2015.

Hammer price: £35,000 

The Eric Clapton Collection


English rock and blues singer Eric Clapton may be instantly recognisable with a guitar in his hands, however his love for fieldsports means he is just as at home with a rod or a shotgun. 

An avid collector of English shotguns, Clapton’s gun cabinet was fit to bursting when he sold no less than 12 guns at auction with Holt’s Auctioneers. Perhaps the most eye-catching lot was a pair of unused Hunt-engraved 20 bore single trigger sidelock ejectors by William Evans. 

What made the pair so unique was the engraving of Clapton himself. He is depicted on gun No. 1 playing an acoustic guitar sat against a tree and catching a trout on the fly. Gun No. 2 sees him casting a fly and partridge shooting.

Sold in December 2008. 

Collective hammer price: £420,500

A gold medal gun


Britain has won an individual gold medal for clay shooting at the Olympics just three times – most recently in 2012 by Peter Wilson, in 2000 by Richard Faulds and in 1968 by the late Bob Braithwaite. 

Born in Cumbria in 1925, Bob died at the age of 89 last year. As per Bob’s wishes, his family consigned the 12 bore C Grade Browning that he used to score 198x200 and win gold at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. After his success, he had the right side of the gun gold-inlaid with the Olympic Rings.

Sold by Holt’s in June 2016.

Hammer price: £10,000

A royal pair


This special pair of 16 bore Stephen Grant hammer guns was presented to HRH Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales by Queen Victoria. Whilst they were built as a true pair, they were given to him on different dates – the first on the occasion of his birthday and the second as a Christmas present. This is apparent due to the engraving on each gun. Gun No. 1 features a gold escutcheon marked ‘Albert Edward Novr. 9th 1870’ surrounding the crest of the Prince of Wales. Gun No. 2 has a similar escutcheon dated Decr. 25th 1870. The two hammerguns were presented in their individual brass-cornered oak and leather cases, with fine gold-tooled red leather maker’s labels. The lids were marked with the crest of the Prince of Wales and named Albert Edward with the appropriate dates. 

Sold by Holt’s in December 2009

Hammer price: £50,000

Jack Hargreaves’ AYA

This particular AYA No. 2 sidelock ejector was once the property of Jack Hargreaves, the renowned countryman and television presenter. Despite settling in Dorchester, Hargreaves travelled for much of his life, beginning in North London in 1911. He studied at the Royal Veterinary College, before earning a living as a copywriter, journalist and script writer for radio and films. By the late 1930s he had established a strong reputation for his pioneering approach to radio broadcasting. After serving in the war, he returned to his media career and became fascinated by the new medium of live television. It is for the series Out of Town that he is best remembered.The shotgun has 26" nitro chopperlump barrels, scrollwork engraving and traces of original colour-hardening. It was presented in a brass-mounted, claret velveteen-lined wood case.

Sold by Holt’s in December 2012.

Hammer Price: £850

Tyrell’s pride and joy


Previously owned by Formula 1 driver Ken Tyrell, this Beretta 12 bore over-under ‘MOD. S687’ was regularly used at Chatsworth and Haddon Hall after he switched from using a side-by-side in the 1990s. The gun has floral and scroll designs surrounding game scenes of duck and grey partridge and a lone woodcock, and came with a letter of provenance from Bob Tyrell, confirming that the gun used to belong to his late father Ken. It was also accompanied by a further letter from Sir Jackie Stewart OBE that makes reference to the gun and speaks fondly of Sir Jackie’s history with Ken, both on the track and in the shooting field. 

Sold by Holt’s in September 2015.

Hammer Price: £800

A tribute to Archie


This pair of 12 bore Arrizabalaga sidelock shotguns was owned by one of the most influential pigeon Shots of all time. Major Archibald (Archie) James Coats, born 1916, was a pioneer in the field of the sport as we know it today. He is remembered as a brilliant Shot, a modest man and a great mentor in the art of pigeon shooting. He was usually seen with his trusty Webley 700 boxlock ejector; however, these guns were gifted to him whilst on a shooting expedition in Spain. The lot came with a copy of Pigeon Shooting by Archie Coats, a framed photograph of Archie in a pigeon hide holding the No. 1 gun and two further pictures of Archie in the field. 

Sold by Holt’s in September 2016

Hammer Price: £3,500

Sir Alec Guinness’ side-by-side

Esteemed English actor Sir Alec Guinness was a true legend of the screen, starring in classics such as The Ladykillers, Kind Hearts and Coronets and Lawrence of Arabia – though younger generations are probably more familiar with his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars trilogy. 

A keen Shot, he bought his son Matthew a 12 bore boxlock by William Evans back in 1959. Now for sale in Holt’s Auctioneers’ next auction in June, the side-by-side features 28" steel barrels and comes with a copy of the entry in the original order book. 

Fit for a king


A king cannot be denied celebrity status. This pair of James Barbar silver-mounted 20 bore presentation pistols was once owned by King George III, but the interesting story lies with the gunmaker. Born in France, James Barbar was apprentice to his father Lewis for seven years from 1714. The family moved to England where they continued to make guns, but were fined heavily for selling unproved guns. Fortunately, this was a minor blip and Lewis was soon appointed Gentleman Armourer to King George I in 1717 and reappointed in 1727 on the accession of George II. Lewis died in 1741 and in the same year, James was sworn in as Gentleman Armourer – a post he held until 1762. He died in 1773, leaving over £8,000 in his will; a fitting testament to his prowess as a gunmaker.

Sold by Holt’s in March 2012.

Hammer Price: £11,000

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