by Terry Wieland
A few of these missives ago, I alerted readers to the presence at the Rock Island Premier Auction #88 (May 19-21, 2023) of a double rifle regarded by some experts as the finest they had ever seen: A W.J. Jeffery, chambered in .450/400 NE (3”), a.k.a., .400 Jeffery.
If you missed it, you can still see the rifle in the online catalogue, Lot #483. It was estimated to bring $35,000 to $55,000, and when the dust settled it had sold for $41,125. (That amount is the hammer price, plus the buyer’s premium of 17.5 per cent.)
In a way, that was a little disappointing for me. My association with that particular rifle goes back to 2008, when the then-owner, Oklahoma City collector Johnny McCharen, loaned it to me to photograph for my book Dangerous-Game Rifles (2nd Ed.) I drove home from Oklahoma City with that rifle in the car, as well as a Rigby rising-bite double in .450/400 (3¼”). At one point I checked into my usual down-market motel, and spent the evening admiring the two rifles and reflecting on the fact that either one was worth more than my car.
Johnny told me the Jeffery was the finest double rifle he’d seen in his lifetime of collecting them, and George Caswell, from whom he had purchased it, echoed the sentiment. He estimated its value back then at $30,000. So, when Rock Island figured it would bring that or a little more 15 years later, it reflected the fact that the bloom is off the rose not only for English double shotguns but for double rifles as well.
In the Rock Island show rooms, the Jeffery was given a favored place on a display table, surrounded by guns of similar pedigree and value, rather than stacked in a rack with the peasants. My friend Mark McDonald, who is a devotee of doubles but had never seen this one, picked it up and handled it, moved the top lever to the side and felt the rifle glide open smoothly, and then close just as readily, with an authoritative click.
Mark wasn’t tempted—unless, of course, the bidding stalled absurdly low—but the feel of that aristocratic Jeffery tempered our regard for every other double rifle in the room. Not one of them, regardless of name or maker, approached the Jeffery in feel.
Anyway, when it came on the block, the bidding started around $20,000 and climbed to $35,000, where it ended.
Such are the vagaries of gun collecting that a trench shotgun, made by one of the American gun companies for use by the troops in 1917, and was virtually new condition—indicating it had never actually been in a trench itself—hammered at close to the same price. It was like Secretariat selling for the same as the milkman’s cart horse, but them’s the breaks both in gun collecting and auctions. You just never know.
For those who are wondering, Wieland came back with just one gun—a Colt Woodsman Match Target born in 1949, same as he was. He notes it has held its condition better than he has.