Ultimate Cars, Watches & Hi Fi S02 ep9 : Peter Finer, Antique Swords & Armour, [?????]
Interview with Peter Finer
I left Sotheby's and started dealing on my own account almost 40 years ago. During this time the supply of European arms and armour has dramatically diminished, but still I have managed to assemble some exceptional pieces! This has only been made possible by much hard work, combined with the support of enthusiastic friends and clients, who believe it is important that a healthy market place is maintained in our specialist field.
PF: It started with me dealing back in the 60’s my first year in the business was when I worked as a
porter in London at Sothebys earning the princely sum of £7 a week and then after about a year I
went and worked in a small antique business in St Albans which was a very good training, I
worked there for about nine months and then I bought a van and went off and started buying and
selling antique things. And after a while I sort of graduated towards arms and armour.
PF: My father was a very good shot, he shot ___ and clay pigeon shooting for many years and he
died when I was 14 so there were a lot of guns around and I’d grown up shooting all the time and
I’d always had an interest in field sports and antique, the two combine very well in what we do
PF: This is remarkable flint lock carbine made at the manufacturer at Versailles by a French gun
maker, possibly the greatest gun maker to ever have lived, called Nicholas Noel-Butte. Butte was
the maker to the French Royal Family and after the Revolution, Bonaparte set him up at Versailles
as his personal gun maker. He made arms de lux, this gun was presented in 1806 by Jerome
Bonaparte to the Duke of Medina Sidonia and it’s the arms of the Duke of Medina Sidonia there,
you can just take the butt off like that and then you can just squeeze the trigger guard down and out
comes the barrel away from the breach block. A silver gilt mount, parcel gilt mounts, with gold
stock inlay, you can imagine the design for this which sadly we don’t have, but it would have been
very carefully designed so that all the ornament fitted within the space available you know you
don’t just cut out your eagle and whack it in, you’ve got to know exactly how much space it’s
going to take up. The barrel unscrews, for breach loading, this is a very valuable piece yes, there’s
one in the Museum de la Chas in Paris, which is very similar, you see that’s then loose for loading
PF: I attended many, many small auctions all over the country and bought and sold lots and lots of
stuff and that’s also the best way to learn, and a lot of the things weren’t that expensive then you
know you could buy a lovely brass barrelled blunderbuss for £30 instead of perhaps $5,000, $8,000
we might need to ask for one today.
PF: We produce a catalogue every couple of years and in our last catalogue we actually had three
pairs of Purdey pistols, a pair of Flint Locks which were made around 1810-1815, and two pairs of
percussion pistols made later in the century and so those old firms, those old London gun maker
firms were certainly in existence then. Holland & Holland doesn’t have quite such an old history I
don’t think, but I have had some early Holland pieces as well. Manton, yes, we’ve got a pair of
Manton pistols just over there, he was of course one of the biggest names.
PF: They termed them puffer which comes from the German word pufer and they have this rather
large ball on the end of the butt, the purpose of that has been debated in years gone by they used to
think that perhaps it was for banging somebody over the head with, I think that’s rather off the
mark, I think it served two purposes, as a slight counter balance to the weight of the barrel, there’s
a certain amount of weight there, but basically they were carried in holsters often on horseback and
if you were drawing it out of a holster, your hand couldn’t slip off the back, particularly if you
were wearing perhaps a gauntlet or even a heavy leather glove, that’s why the trigger guards on
these early pistols are often particularly large, so that you could get a gloved hand through it’s a
walnut stock that’s been inlaid with all these swirly whirlies of staghorn, this dates around 1590,
the stock is possibly by a man called Klaus Hurt who has a lot of this type of stock work ascribed
to him, and this is one of the earliest forms of ignition. This is where you have iron pyrites held in
the jaws of the dog, which is lowered down onto the wheel, the wheel spins when you pull the
trigger and there’s a sort of half second delay before it actually fires. It’s quite fun to fire a ___ I
wouldn’t want to do it too often because it’s a lot of hard work, you’ve got to clean the thing so
carefully afterwards. It’s almost male jewellery, it’s proclaiming the owner’s wealth, reflection of
his status in society that he owned a pistol as smart as that.
PF: Talbods, pipes, suits of armour, we have everything basically from perhaps the Viking period
right through the middle of the 19th century. And more and more today I am dealing in much more
armour, many more suits of armour, more swords, more daggers than actually firearms per se. Just
happens I suppose things fluctuate, things come in waves and ebbs and at the moment there are
more buyers for perhaps things that can be hung in a modern setting and a sword perhaps just
hanging by itself can have terrific sculptural impact as can armour of course, armour basically is
sculpture you know whether it’s a great helmet or a full suit, some of these things are amazingly
PF: This is another item which really one has to term male jewellery; this is a small sword, the
French call them Epee de Vie, i.e. a town sword. Worn at the hip and again, really not with any
real purpose, no one’s actually going to fight with it, this is all made of cut steel, it’s either made
in Woodstock in Oxfordshire or in Birmingham by the Massey Bolton Factory, we don’t know
which. It’s got a lovely blue blade, triangular section with decoration up at the top of the blade and
again, all in lovely condition underneath. These strips here are individual beads that are actually
threaded in on little wires. I found these in the past where there has been damage and it’s quite, it’s
very disappointing when they’re damaged, this has actually lost probably a tassel that would have
hung from there where that last little bit of thread lies, but it’s a marvellous sword, there’s a very
similar one over the road in the Metropolitan Museum in the collection there.
PF: So up to about the age of seven I thought everyone had some armour in their homes, of course
they don’t, and by osmosis you learn, you know just by having these things around you and it got
to a stage in my life where I realised that it was something that I kept on going back to, something
that I was very passionate about sort of interested in, not only from the aesthetic but also from an
academic point of view. So rather than go to university, I sort of got on with it, I worked for
another dealer and it’s progressed since then. The sort of dynamic between father and son is always
difficult, but we, it’s somehow we’ve become great friends, it’s something we share as a passion.
PF: Not only do you have the history behind them because in the box there’s a presentation
inscription, you also have Butte’s finest work here. The quality of the ch___ and the quality of the
silverwork, the high relief of the silverwork, the blue barrels, the gilding on the barrels and this
high burnished finish, they really are spectacular works of art. We see Butte’s works throughout all
major sort of works of art museums in the world. We’re asking £800,000 for the pair.
PF: The way the business tends to work these days is you’re actually buying from the castles rather
than selling to the castles. I’d say about 10-15% of our business gets done with museums and then
you know a good 80% of our business gets done with a really, a mixture between collectors and
also the decorators.
PF: This sword is Indian, it’s a mogul sword. The blade is actually Persian and the hilt is well it’s
later than the blade, it’s about 1820, 1840 in date as you can see it’s quite a feast for the eyes. The
hilt is actually gold mounted in enamel and also diamonds, roughly cut Indian diamonds and this
purportedly was actually owned by the Me__ Hydrobad who was the most wealthy man in the
world during his reign and as you can see he was pretty eager to flash his wealth around as well,
and you can see the wonderful diversity of colour here, the blue enamels, and the red enamels
which really are the most sort of beautiful enamels.
PF: I have worn armour before yes and actually somebody made a very interesting comparison that
in the sort of 16th century court, what you might have worn as sort of court armour which would
have been made in exactly the same fashion as battle armour, would have weighed about the same
amount as what a lady in court would wear with all her sort of framework on the inside of her dress
and it would generally be between sort of 50 to 70lb which is an immense amount, but you’ve got
to remember why they wore it, they wore it to protect themselves. Also, armour was spread out, it
was articulated around the body and if you think of a sort of modern GI today, he can wear up to
sort of 100-110lb on his back.
PF: It was very valuable at the time. An armour maker would be considered a very high artisan,
absolutely up there in the sort of hierarchy of artists in the same group with painters and sculptors
and he was the central part of you know of a king’s sort of arsenal.
PF: Henry VIII opened the first sort of museum of arms and armour in about 1520 which
essentially ended up being the Royal Collection and the great pieces were put into captivity as they
say you know to museums when often in the next sort of 50 years after they were made. This is a
fantastic helmet which we’ve, which we acquired recently. A great way to look at armour is not
only from the front, but also from behind and look at the symmetry of the form. Now if you can
envisage that this is actually made of three sheets of iron that are beaten out on a hot anvil, so that
when they cool down they have to fit so closely together that you see the symmetry you see the
gap in between there is the same all the way around. Now this helmet was made in the 16th century
in Germany and made for foot tournament two knights, two gentlemen whatever you might call
them would actually stand and rather intelligently just smack each other over the head, over the
body wearing very you know, very heavy armour. They didn’t want to kill each other, this was
PF: This is spectacular, a spectacular gun, this is made in Russian, made in a centre of metalwork
call Tullah which is just south of Moscow. And Tullah work is very, very collected and of course
at the moment Russian material is very, very collected due to their economy. Now, this has
everything you could possibly want from the sort of fouling piece of this period. Made in about
1765 and the stock is inlaid in silver wire. All the mounts are burnished steel with two different
tones of gold, which was a very typical attribute of Tullah work and you have the sort of pink gold
and also the yellow gold used inlaid into the steel breach is heavily chiselled as are the mounts on
the reverse, on the side plate.
??: Are these still functioning guns?
PF: Yes, nothing has been deactivated as such, it’s just that you know to go off and to shoot one of
these, not only are they valuable pieces and you wouldn’t want to do that, but also the black
powder today is a lot more corrosive than it was in the 18th century, so hence you’ve always got the
risk of blowing the breach which would not be something you’d want to do.
PF: I had a client come in to the international show in October in New York and buy a Lapage
shotgun which was ebony stock covered in silver and gold, it was a beautiful, beautiful piece and it
cost him I think, it must be about 10 years ago, cost about $120,000 and when I saw him in
January, I was just chatting away to a client in, I just felt this huge sort of slap on my back and he
said, hey kid, shoots like a dream. And he’d gone off duck shooting with it.
PF: There was actually a club in the early 20th century called Can___ Club which ___ of course,
but it was a play on the word connoisseur, a lot of them were sort of quite aristocratic and they
used to meet in Quaglenos just up the road you know to sit down sort of once or twice a year and
all in their armour which must have been a fantastic sight seeing them all feasting away wearing
their sort of either their family armour or you know in a great piece in their collection.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Peter Finer, Antique Swords & Armour, ????