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Fishermen and hunters find bargains at a London firm's monthly auction


The British sportsman who, for one sad reason or another, wants to sell his guns or his fishing gear, turns them over to Messrs. Knight, Frank and Rutley, at 20 Hanover Square in London.

On the first Thursday of every month (excepting January and August) a great crowd of sportsmen, 200 or more, crams the salesroom of the London office, in the hope, seldom unrealized, of finding a bargain.

During the sale one often sees a man who is clearly on the staff of Knight, Frank and Rutley putting in bids during the auction. This is not a lowdown device for artificially boosting prices, but a way of ensuring that absent buyers can compete with those present. Advance copies of the catalog are sent by air mail to those who request them, and you can put a top price on your desired lot by post. Although specific faults are declared in the catalog ("safety catch defective" is the most usual one), the general state of repair is not, and the auctioneers, who have 70 years of reputation to keep up, are delighted to accept postal bids for a gun or fishing rod endorsed "subject to good condition."

Many North American buyers are now trading with Knight, Frank and Rutley, and are showing particular interest in black powder rifles. During the past year the catalog has listed: "A Holland & Holland .295 single-barreled hammerless ejector, No. 13848 (Black Powder Proof only)." It sold for $100. Twice that sum could buy: "A .577 Express double-barrelled back-action hammer rifle by J. Purdey, No. 15176, engraved actions, bolted rebounding hammers and spring-return underlever, with pistol grip, cheek-piece and recoil pad, 27 in. Whitworth steel barrels (Black Powder Proof only) in canvas case."

Among the more conventional firearms, a .256 Mannlicher rifle in less than perfect condition went for $1.50; a .455 Smith & Wesson, 6½-inch barrel, for $12; a .38 Colt "Lightning" (black powder only) for $60.

Immediately after the guns are sold, the fishing-tackle auction starts. One deceased angler alone provided four salmon fly rods, four trout fly rods, 10 spinning rods, 20 reels, two pairs of waders, three landing nets, three salmon tailers, three gaffs, 750 plugs and spinning baits, 1,283 salmon flies and trout flies. When the view was over and the sale was held, the old man's tackle sold for a mere $700, perhaps one-third of its new cost today. Unused trout flies are worth $400 to $500 an ounce, or 12 times their weight in gold. Here you could get about 200 assorted flies for $12; an assortment of about 100 plugs, spoons, devons and other baits for $5; three damper boxes with sundry casts, hooks, swivels, weights, mounts and items for $6. The swivels in question numbered hundreds: single, double, paternoster, link spring—all meticulously graded for size and methodically mounted for easy keeping on safety pins.

A Knight, Frank and Rutley sale is, as one would expect, no occasion for the thumping of the rostrum or for loudmouthed exhortations for higher bids. Most lots go for ¬£4 or ¬£5. Even an exciting lot like: "A Malloch japanned fly cabinet, 5½ in. by 12 in. by 7½ in., with 10 trays containing 850 graded steel-eyed salmon flies," was sold for a record ¬£52 or about 16¢ a fly, without any departure from proper decorum. Not once did Auctioneer J. E. Guy have to call his public-school congregation to order. "Of course," Mr. Guy explained, "fishermen and shooters are mainly amateurs, a very phlegmatic lot. You should hear the porcelain people: they're terribly noisy."

Packing and shipping are not desperately expensive (a bundle of half a dozen rods could be sent to New York for $30), but are a bit of a chore to organize. (Knight, Frank and Rutley will store your tackle for you, though, until you come to collect it.) The chief export market at present is one Canadian customer who seems to be starting a museum of antique tackle. A monstrous old 18-foot spliced greenheart salmon rod, or a Malloch spinning reel dating back to the last century, seem fairly certain to end up in Canada. So for that matter does: "A 19th-century angler's compendium by Jas. Jones, 111 Jermyn Street, London, comprising the maker's handbook—Jones's Guide to Norway and Salmon Fisher's Pocket Companion (London, 1848, with eight colored plates of flies), three rods, six brass reels, two tackle boxes, three fly boxes, two cast wallets, a landing net and sundry items, in brass-bound mahogany case, 52½ in-by 12¼ in. by 6¼ in overall." After spirited bidding this fetched $120.

Salmon fly rods average $30, spinning rods $24. Trout fly rods fetch $20, reels $10 to $12. Hardy equipment, for which separate averages are worked out, needs bids from 40% to 80% higher. It is seldom that any tackle is returned to the auctioneers for any fault, although one such incident does remain in Mr. Guy's mind. A fixed-spool Hardy reel was brought back by the buyer, who said that the pickup arm was an inch shorter than it should have been. Mr. Guy checked with a similar reel, which indeed did have a longer pickup, and the money was refunded. But after a further check with Hardy's it was found that the very first models had been fitted with the shorter type, and the very same day Mr. Guy was able to write to his reliable Canadian collector: "Dear Sir: We have an exceedingly interesting early model of a Hardy reel...."