When we consider where our interests lay, and as we gain experience, so we start to consider the vital condition of the gun. Do we rely upon the Auction House description, or the Vendor’s fulsome appraisal? Not if we have any sense we don’t. Caveat Emptor applies to the buying and selling of just about anything, and certainly when considering those who are involved in the Gun Trade! We need to view all prospective purchases with an analytical and a focused eye.
So how do we consider condition? Let’s start with the most vital and if to be replaced, costly aspect; the barrels. ‘Viewing’ barrels calls for a degree of experience. Pits and obvious dents and bulges will be obvious, but the rivalling which may be present calls for a practiced eye. Accepting that the actual measuring of bores and the vital barrel walls is a relatively simple process, it may well be though that we need advice when it comes to ‘viewing’. Similarly, it will be obvious when the ribs have ‘blown’ away from their fixings, but again, the knuckle-tapping of a pair of barrels is best assessed when having viewed a good few. For the Purdey Hammer Ejector, which remains untouched, and from the collectors standpoint, any improvements to barrels will probably not show any return in value. The gun with walls of 16 thou will not show a suitable increase in value by taking the gun to Mr. Purdey, and laying out on the costs of replacement. All so often a gun which is in a poor or tired state, and which is worth say £5000 will only sell for £15000 when £20000 has been spent on new barrels. A pointless exercise, you’ll agree. Currently, Sotheby’s, headed most ably by Gavin Gardiner, have a selection of truly beautiful hammer guns and with their Royal provenance, mostly and interestingly, they remain ‘unrestored’. They remain so for two reasons, firstly the major collectors don’t want such improvements, and secondly of course, having the Makers give such guns their best attention, will simply fail to add the additional costs to the ultimate value.
Let us work our way back and now consider the action and how well the barrels now sit within. Re-jointing, if carried out by a true and highly experienced tradesman, will firstly probably be unnoticeable to any but the most critical, and secondly will actually assist the gun. We again need to consider the Auction House or Vendor’s description. ’Traces of original colour hardening’ is an entirely different matter to ’Traces of colour hardening’. The latter would imply that the action’s been re-hardened at some time in its life, and this is best assessed by taking a powerful magnifying glass, and looking for the polished edges of the individual engraving cuts. It would be my opinion that once re-hardened, most guns would be doomed. Re-hardening all so often results in a flaking effect of the colour, and in time it will be obvious that there has been a degree of tampering!
Whilst we’re with the action body, we need to look for ‘chewed’ screw slots. Very few guns which are centenarians will have survived without internal inspection at some point, but again it depends upon the care shown by the individual carrying out such work. I have had badly marked screws (pins correctly), replaced and engraved to match those which are discarded, and found it a worthwhile exercise. The costs are also rarely prohibitive. Generally, severely marked Standing Breaches are best accepted and lived with. The degree of free play within the lever system, be it under-side-or top lever, can often be judiciously improved, though whether that can be said of the Westley Richards lever system, your writer is unsure. The W_R top lever system is a lever system which is prone to wear, and not one of your scribe’s favourites!
Now to the stock, where wear will be most obvious. Again, from the pictures which are available from the Gavin Gardiner Limited catalogue of the 15th. April 2015, it will be seen that on some the chequering has worn down to the point of being barely discernible, and that the wood work now sits below the level of the iron work. Rarely, if ever, is improvement desirable or practical. When the wood work is still proud of the metal work, then skilful and sympathetic re-chequering may be advisable, and may also enhance the appearance of the gun. If renovation is to be considered, then it needs to be honest and total in my opinion, and also in my opinion, it would be rare that suitable subjects would warrant the expense, though this will be a subject for discussion at a later date!