I have become a perfect bore measurement device. If I like any gun, at any auction, I can rest assured that when measured, one or both barrel walls will be found to be too thin. Just how thin you wonder? Most times lately it has been .016- .018”. There has been the odd .020-.021 bore. I do not choose to shoot barrels thinner than .020 as a rule. Not just because I worry about a rare failure but because I seem to be able to drop or fall with a gun in hand at an astonishing rate. Thin barrels dent so easily.
I have just found the four thinnest barrels on the upcoming Holts Auction by just showing interest in them. With the end of lead shot in a Great Britain I expect hundreds of marginal guns to be hitting the auction house in an attempt to get some money out of them before the market collapses. Higher condition and higher quality guns will retain good value I expect. Box locks have already crashed in price, so much that they cost more to import than to buy. It is a buyers market coming I think with low domestic demand and higher import cost will even depress demand from the US.
I use to think about Briley sub gauge tubes as a option but they tend to make everything so muzzle heavy I just don’t even shoot them. Oh well, most of the fun at auctions is looking for gems others miss, not buying every marginal gun out there.
I just had an absolutely stunning sub gauge London best Hammer gun in that had passed nitro re-proof at some point in the past. The client asked me to measure them for him as he felt the were somewhere around .020" or so but he wanted to know what they really measured. Turns out he did not see the area of riveling a few inches behind one muzzle, the gun measured .013" for about 6" in length behind the choke on one tube. The client is now considering a sleeve job. The gun did come from a UK auction house.
Kind of a PT Barnum thing going on, eh?
It pays to do your research that is for sure. I have been stung in the Holt's sealed bid auction but I bid low money there fully knowing the risks. Most of the bigger auction houses will provide both condition reports and wall thickness upon request. It is mixed lot playing the auction game but I like to think the odds are far better than in Vegas for an educated bidder.
Years ago in Tulsa I was meandering around the tables and found an absolutely delightful Belgium double of fairly high quality. I fondled it for quite awhile and the price was going to be right. I almost pulled the trigger but some past experiences live momentarily in me. I told the seller I thought we had a deal but before completing it I wanted to measure the bores and wall thickness. Hurried back to where I had left the gauges and came back. Bores were quite a bit oversized but that didn’t deter me but then I calibrated my wall thickness gauge and ran it in. I thought at first my measurement was in error but recalibrated and tried it again—.010! My heart sank and I laid the gun down and asked the seller if he wanted to know what I had found. He just turned and ignored me, not offering any acknowledgement. Saved once again with my trusty tools!
The issue with declared MWT's at UK auctions is a big one. There is one well known auction house in the UK whose MWT's are often very 'generous' and another that is often quite pessimistic, definitely erring on the side of caution. Ever since being caught out by the former, I try to NEVER buy at auction without measuring the MWT's myself or by a trusted independent.
If for some reason I HAVE to bid on a gun uninspected, I allow for a 10% 'generosity' in the supplied figures, prepare myself for an unpleasant shock and bid cautiously. Thankfully, in recent times this policy has saved me from too many heart stopping moments!
I think it is important to bear in mind that although some lots will have come deceased estates etc and be genuine opportunities, many will be being offloaded by the trade who just want to see the back of a stock item with issues that can not economically be fixed.
In fairness, it should be remembered that the UK gun auction system was developed to sell guns to the guntrade, not the public, but with the internet has become considered an almost a retail environment. The result is that the innocent are buying guns at 'fantastic' prices without the knowledge to know a 'pig in a poke' from a 'bargain'. You can't blame the auction houses for enjoying this new(ish) market sector and their only legal obligation is to the Proof Laws which themselves leave a lot to be desired.
I have used inspection and condition reports in the past. Although they work well, they tend to get expensive when you are interested in multiple guns. I no longer think of any gun I buy as a fantastic bargain, if I ever did. I figure the real bargains are recognized by those who have the opportunity to inspect the gun in person and are bought locally.
I do still bid on guns which have unique features or are hard to find. Like a crossover double meant for the left handed shooter. Been looking for one of those for more than five years. I’ve seen 100+ for right handlers but only one for left handlers. It will complete a display of right hand crossover, left hand crossovers and central vision.