W Keith Neal was the pre-eminent collector of British firearms in the last century. He collected in quantity but always with an eye for rarity, ingenuity and, above all, quality.
When his collections were dispersed in 2001 buyers responded with enthusiasm and any gun re-appearing on the market with one of the distinctive William Keith Neal Collection medallions is assured special attention.
Such was the case with an 18-bore double-barrelled flintlock sporting gun by Joseph Tirebuck offered in the sale in Wolferton, Norfolk, on December 7-8. This was a high-quality gun fitted with patent leather-lined powder pans.
In 2001 it sold for £6200 at Christie’s. Re-emerging at this Norfolk sale with an estimate of £4000-5000, it reached £11,000.
Made for Lady Meux
Lady Valerie Meux added quite a different colour to the history of an elegant little 28-bore sidelock top-lever hammer gun made for her by Purdey in 1882.
In its original oak case this was the ideal light gun for a lady and remains equally attractive to today’s collector. Its original owner was equally elegant, judging by the portraits painted of her by Whistler after her marriage to the London brewer Sir Henry Meux.
Lady Meux claimed to have been an actress prior to her marriage, but accounts imply that she worked as a banjo-playing prostitute and barmaid under the name of Val Reece at the Casino de Venise in Holborn, where she is believed to have met Sir Henry.
She was known to drive around London in a carriage drawn by zebras and persuaded her husband to buy Temple Bar Gate and install it as the gatehouse to their country seat at Theobald’s Park in Hertfordshire. This imposing Wren- designed portico was restored to the City of London only in 2004.
This colourful lady’s Purdey tripled its estimate to sell for £15,500.
Overall the 797-lot sale, conducted entirely online, totalled just over £1m, with 58% of lots going to UK buyers, 23% to Europe, 18% to other parts of the world. Australia, Portugal, Switzerland, France and the USA were the top five destinations for lots bound overseas.