“Smoking Barrels”



11th OCTOBER 2021

Driven game shooting with vintage, black powder, muzzle-loaders – smoky, dirty, loud … and quite possibly the most fun you can have on a peg.

Combine it with gourmet food from Tim Crowley of Crowley’s of Suffolk and it makes for a truly memorable experience.


Heard of the phrase “as safe as the Bank of England”? Well as if its strong rooms, safes, and iron bars were not enough the Bank of England went a step further in the 19th century and armed herself.

Lot 510 in this auction contains a .750 percussion musket by Lacy & Co made around 1850 with the engraving “Bank of England” on the barrel. A further inventory number “101” is stamped on the butt plate.

During the anti-catholic Gordon Riots of 1780 the Grand Old Lady Of Threadneedle Street did not feel as safe as the Bank of England when the mob tried to invade her premises. Steps were taken to arm guards with flintlock muskets on account of this. Unrest continued just after the Napoleonic Wars with the Spa Fields Riot of 1816 and Peterloo of 1819 when the establishment feared more general disorder. The bank oiled their weapons regularly.

During the 1840s there were major Chartist disturbances over Britain regarding the clamour for an increase in the franchise and once again nervousness pervaded the financial institutions. When this musket was ordered as one of a large batch just after the Chartist demonstrations there was still a real fear of the power of the mob and the Bank of England sought to protect her interests.

Lot 510 is a real piece of British history at a time when the marbled columns and entrance halls of that most venerable institution the Bank of England felt under threat. Estimated at £900 – £1200 what a fascinating piece of history to have on display.

“As safe as the Bank of England”
A .750 Percussion Musket by Lacy & Co

Just Dinky

How can you resist lot 1509 in the sale, a double barrel .410 boxlock ejector by William Evans of London no. 17667? Lovely quality, tiny, tiny gun weighing just over 4lbs., lovely condition and a tiger striped stock.

Double barrel .410s are always in good demand but what makes lot 1509 a bit special is that it is by a well-known maker, is an ejector and has a 14 ¼” stock, a very useable gun.

Most .410s have badly pitted barrels and for many years I put this down to neglect until I discovered the true answer. In the 19th century the primers were corrosive but at the turn of the century non-corrosive primers were perfected. The big cartridge manufacturers were left with thousands upon thousands of corrosive primers and so they used them all up over many decades in .410 cartridges, their reasoning being that most .410s were workhorse guns and of poor quality anyway.

The little Evans does have a little pitting but nothing to worry about and has recently been  reproved. Cradling it in your arm, it is so dinky to go for a potter about with  and of course you can also kid yourself that you are buying it for a son or daughter.

Small bores are in great demand particularly double .410 ejectors and in addition to its very usable status, it would be an excellent investment as well.

Lot 1509 is estimated at £800 – £1200

Donald Dallas


Lot 615 in the March auction contains a 60 bore needle fire rifle by J.W. Edge of Manchester c1860 in remarkable original condition considering that it is about one hundred and sixty years old. If you like minty pieces this is the lot for you. All its original finish is there, colour hardening, blue and stock varnish, quite a time warp in a remarkable state of preservation. It has obviously seen no use and has been well stored.

During the development of the breech-loader, as an offshoot the needle fire was invented by a Prussian, Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse who patented the needle fire in Britain in the 1830s. He utilised a paper cartridge case that was intended to burn with the powder charge. Percussion compound was placed in a patch in FRONT of the powder charge and a long sharp needle had to penetrate both the cartridge case and powder to reach this patch and detonate it. This needle was subject to great stress and they frequently broke. Contained within the Edge rifle is a trap door and remarkably a spare needle is still present.

A needle fire gun that did find acceptance in Britain was one patented by Joseph Needham in 1852 that used a bolt very similar to the bolt in the Edge. Although many needle fires were built in the 1850s, the development was a blind alley and this probably explains why the Edge rifle is in such good condition.

Lot 615 Estimated at £700 – £900

Donald Dallas


Lot 405 in Holts’ 19th March auction is a blunderbuss by Edward North, London built around 1770. It is a straightforward blunderbuss, but not if you look at the butt. The butt is badly damaged, not due to mishandling or neglect, it has been damaged by a furious sword with a couple of deep cuts, one so severe it has even distorted the brass butt plate.

Blunderbuss were built in their hundreds of thousands during the 18th century for self-protection. There was no national police force until 1829 and self-defence of property and person was part and parcel of life.

The blunderbuss has always gone down in the annals of history as the mail coach guard’s weapon of choice but in reality the majority were purchased by property and business owners to protect their interests. This accounts for the very large number of blunderbuss extant today.

I have encountered  slashes before on antique guns probably due to boys playing in the past but nothing like the deep cuts in this blunderbuss. The vendor of lot 405 explained that the original owner had been involved in a violent fracas with customs officials and after discharging his blunderbuss had then attempted to protect himself with the blunderbuss. The customs officials continued their attack with the resulting large slashes from their swords on the blunderbuss. Unfortunately although the blunderbuss survived the altercation, he didn’t.

Lot 405 is estimated at £1200 – £1600

Donald Dallas

Revolution, War, Pillage – They Have Survived.

Lot 475 displays in all their magnificence, a very fine pair of 60 bore flintlock ivory and gilt travelling pistols c 1770 bearing the French House of Bourbon coat of arms. They were made to exhibition standards for either King Louis XV (1715-1774) or King Louis XVI (1774-1792).

The French monarchs were avid collectors of the finest quality arms and had specially trained gunmakers working full time for them which might explain the lack of signature on these pistols. The French royal collection began in the reign of Louis XIII (1610-1643) who soon amassed over 200 firearms for his cabinet d’armes. Louis XIV continued this collection as did Louis XV and Louis XVI. The firearms they had built were all of the finest quality to exhibition standards as is quite apparent in this pair of pistols.

The French Revolution of 1789 saw much of the collection destroyed or pillaged as the mob broke into the royal collection and as the guns were usable put them to practical use. When order was restored, the arms were placed in the Musee d’Artillerie but after the invasion of France in 1815 by the British and the Prussians, several were removed as war trophies. The 1830 French revolution again saw the collection ransacked but somehow lot 475 seemed to survive all this turbulent history. Oh if these pistols could only talk…

Lot 475 is estimated at £8000 – £12000

Donald Dallas

One Lucky Boy

Lot 1599 includes an excellent quality single-barrelled 12 bore hammer gun no. 4244 built by Westley Richards & Co. c 1872. It has a non-rebounding lock and a very fine 30” Damascus barrel. It is a very usable gun too, being nitro reproved in 2018 and a decent 14 1/8” stock, just the job for a teenager starting their shooting career.

A great many single-barrelled hammer guns were built in the second half of the 19th century, most of average quality for rough shooters, gamekeepers and boys. Occasionally as in lot 1599, an excellent quality example appears by a famous maker. Such guns were built for the sons of wealthy patrons who would remain loyal to the firm that they ordered their guns from. These quality single-barrelled guns were not cheap in their day but how exciting it must have been for a young boy to be given such a gun for their first foray into the shooting world.

Most of these quality single-barrelled guns are in excellent condition just like this Westley Richards as they saw very limited usage for only a few years until the youth grew up and acquired a conventional double-barrelled gun. Unfortunately many of them have very short stocks as they were built for boys, but not so this gun- it is ever so usable.

Estimated at just £200-£300, go on you know you want to buy this quality little gun.

Donald Dallas

Lot 1599 Features Damascus Barrels

Footpads Beware

Lot 570 comprises a lovely little pair of double-barrelled percussion pocket pistols by Durs Egg, London dating from the 1830s. Just to make them even more desirable they are contained in their original case with the tiniest, cutest little three-way flask.

Durs Egg was of Swiss origin and made exquisite highly individual flint guns and pistols in the late 18th/early 19th centuries. At the time these pistols were made, his son John Egg was running the business and since these pistols bear the Pall Mall address, they can be dated to 1832-1837.

Due to the lack of an effective police force until the 1830s, pocket pistols were made in their hundreds of thousands for self-preservation. Some are of very poor quality but certainly not so this pair if Eggs. They must have been built for a gentleman or lady as they are of high quality and would have been expensive in their day. They have automatic concealed triggers that pop out when the hammer is cocked so that they could slip in and out of a pocket easily. To make them even more desirable they are double-barrelled and although of tiny bore, 120 bore, at very close range they would be quite lethal.

Lot 570 is estimated at £1500-£2000.

A Chapter All To Itself

Lot 1102

Lot 1102 in the March sale offers a Holland & Holland bolt action .375 Magnum rifle no. 3348. Of all the rifles introduced and developed by Holland & Holland, by far the most acclaimed and legendary is the .375 Magnum. John Taylor, a noted professional hunter wrote in his book Big Game And Big Game Rifles published in 1948 “I am giving this rifle a chapter all to itself.”

The .375 Magnum had a high striking velocity and used three different weights of bullets to cover an exceptionally wide range of quarry. The cartridge was available in all types, double, single and bolt action rifles.

The beginning of the .375 Magnum dates to 1904 when Henry Holland took out his belted rimless case patent. He followed this with the .275 Magnum of 1910 available in flanged or belted rimless. Having created this successful rifle, Holland & Holland constructed a series of experiments in 1910 to create the .375 Magnum upon the same principles. The new round appeared in 1912 with three types of bullet weight, 235 grs, 270grs. and 300grs. The massive case gave a muzzle velocity of between 2749fps and 2370fps depending on bullet weight. And as for the striking energy…

The success of the .375 Magnum was such that virtually every manufacturer of rifles in the world has made rifles in this calibre.

Lot 1102 has an estimate of £3500 – £4000

Donald Dallas

Lot 1102 Holts Auction 19th March 2019
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