It seems that every person has a different definition and/or assessment of the term "old world quality." For many Americans, both 19th and early 20th century upper crust domestic artifacts such as furniture, glassware, fine china, bronzes, clocks, etc. are the best representatives for this category. Auction houses have made a formidable business in purveying these mainstays of Americana to their well-heeled customers.
In the collectible firearms industry, "old world quality" can mean a lot of different things. Some shotgun collectors are now referring to Parker Reproductions shotguns manufactured in Japan during 1984-1989 as "old world Japanese quality." These early Parker Reproductions may represent the best quality firearms Japan has recently produced, and in that regard, pricing on some of the rarest higher grade 3-gauge sets has reached $50,000!
For this scribe, "old world quality" means European manufacture, and in the case of guns, nothing represents it better than a cased set (brace) of European percussion or flintlock pistols.
This exquisite cased set of .34 caliber Liegoise pistols was manufactured in Liege, Belgium, circa mid-19th century. As spectacular and ornate as the guns are, the elaborate accessories are breathtaking in both design and construction. Of special note are the carved ebony mallet and one-of-a-kind highly decorated solid sterling silver powder ladle with detachable fluted ebony handle.
Even the descriptive terminology used on an antique pair like this is unique. Most of you may not recognize some of the older verbiage in the following catalog description, since these words are certainly not used when describing most modern guns. The following description from Bonham's auction catalog is published verbatim:
Each pistol has a blued 10¼ inch .34 caliber fluted barrel, the alternate flutes with pale gilt finish, the faceted muzzle and breech sections etched and engraved with foliage. Side flats of barrels with Liege proofs, the undersides numbered 573 and marked with L Liege proof, the Liege perron mark and with the initials EB and LB, possibly for Eugene and Lambert Bernard. €¨€¨Breeches and tangs etched and engraved with scrolls and foliage in-the-white on a dark pebbled ground and numbered I and II respectively, Tangs with adjustable rear sights. Set triggers. Detented locks and spur triggerguards decorated en suite to breeches. Domed buttcaps and darkened finish and chiseled in high relief with stems and leafage around turned tapering finials. €¨€¨Ebony half-stocks finely relief carved with C-scrolls, shells, and foliage, barrel channel of No. 2 with stockmaker's mark JNI. Complete with original brass-banded mahogany case, the lid inlaid with engraved brass scrollwork in the Boulle style and centering a vacant escutcheon, fitted blue velour-lined interior. Retaining the complete group of highly decorated accessories including: steel bullet mold, wad cutter, loading rod and powder measure, all with engraved and chiseled panels of leafy vines, spring vines, nipple pick and rear sight key, all decorated en suite, the bows pierced and chiseled with viticulture, screwdriver, nipple wrench, and ladle, all with fluted ebony grips, the ladle with baluster-form neck engraved and chiseled en suite to the set; ebony charger flask, oiler, patch box, and cap box, all finely carved with leafage, ebony mallet with fluted handle, the head relief carved with viticulture and blossoms, the faces set with silver panels cast and chased with leaves and tendrils.
Condition: NRA Antique Excellent
So what's this one-of-a-kind cased set worth? Good question, and an auction may be one of the few ways to realistically obtain an accurate value. Bonham's recently sold this pair at its June 11 auction in San Francisco for $26,910, including the 17% buyer's premium. The pre-auction estimate was $30,000-$40,000. In this writer's opinion, this gavel price almost seems undervalued — maybe even a bargain. Maybe the best thing about such a unique set is that if/when the new buyer decides to sell, there will be no competition!
The author wishes to thank Mr. James Ferrell, Paul Carella, and Laura King from Bonham's & Butterfields for allowing Blue Book Publications, Inc. to use these images and information for this article. For more from S.P. Fjestad, check out his blog at BlueBookOfGunValues.com.