James Purdey & Sons is probably the world’s most famous gunmaker, and with good reason.
Established in London in 1814, the firm has built guns and rifles of the highest quality ever since, and is relatively unique for having occupied a position right at the top of the trade for its entire history.
As successor to Joseph Manton, Purdey immediately inherited the best clientele and more than 200 years later, retains them.
Any Purdey gun that remains in good condition has the potential to be an investment, but some have more potential than others.
A great number of Purdey’s guns have been built for notable figures, indeed nobility and royalty have been at the core of Purdey’s client base for much of its history.
A gun that was built for a notable figure from history will always have greater appeal, and often sell for many times what a similar example might otherwise achieve. A good example was a pair of 16-bore sidelock ejector guns [pictured], built by Purdey for Edward, Prince of Wales who achieved notoriety as Edward VIII when he abdicated from the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
Sold in Geneva in 1992 these guns commanded in excess of £136,000. That was about ten times the value they would have otherwise had without that connection.
It is important to remember that most guns are bought to use, so stock and barrel lengths are very important. If a stock is too short and the gun does not fit the new owner, then no matter how rare it is, it will be of little use to him.
A gun that was originally built for a left-handed man of petit dimensions will be of little use to a right-handed giant. Guns with short stocks or unfashionable barrel lengths will always have limited potential.
Originality is the key, and every collector desires a gun to be in as close a condition to when it originally left Purdey’s workshops as possible. The maker’s meticulous records document almost every detail of virtually all of the guns that it has produced, so it is easy to determine when a gun was built, who it was built for, and what it’s original specification was.
Furthermore, the degree of original hardening colour and finish that the gun retains will have a considerable bearing, as most guns will have been used a great deal and it is only a very small percentage will retain significant degrees of original finish and specification. This rarity of condition contributes significantly to overall investment potential.
Purdey has produced more than 30,000 guns in its history, so a Purdey gun in itself is not a rare thing. Almost half of these have been their side-by-side hammerless self-opening sidelock ejector gun that was introduced to universal acclaim in 1880 and remains in production to the present day.
But there are some notable rarities among Purdey production: only 649 sidelock ejector over-and-under guns have been built since 1948 which today are highly sought after, but rarest of all are the 27 over-and-under guns that Purdey built pre-war on a design adapted from Edwinson Green.
Small bores are always popular, because of their relative rarity; 12-bore guns will outnumber every other calibre produced more than tenfold, so when guns in the smaller calibres such a 20 or 28-bore are encountered, they will have significantly greater desirability and potential value. A gun that has a combination of some or all of the example characteristics above will have the greatest potential to prove itself as an investment over time.
To buy Purdey guns at auction, see gavingardiner.com