Design & Decoration S02 ep6 : Peter Finer, Finer Armour Guns and Swords, [????]
Interview with Peter Finer
After a short period working at Sothey's in London, Peter Finer started dealing on his own account in 1967. 'Over the years I have met many interesting people in places far and wide. Whether it be in the store room of the Arms and Armour Department of The Metropolitan Museum, New York, or in an antique shop in a back street of Montevideo, the common denominator of all Arms and Armour aficionados is enthusiasm. The most difficult part of dealing is assembling a collection of extraordinary objects that are fresh to the market - collecting that represents thousands of miles of travelling and many hours of negotiating, often with extremely reluctant vendors. Collecting Arms and Armour can give life long satisfaction - there is always something new to learn and something else to buy! My greatest pleasure is to build a collection for a particular client. This can include everything, from advice on acquisition or disposal, to conservation, display and cataloguing. I already have some clients with whom I have dealt for over twenty years, their varied collections are, to some degree, my collections.'
Finer: 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.
Finer: My father was a very good shot, he shot for England clay pigeon shooting for many years
and we, 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’ve always had an interest in field sports and antiques, the two combine very well in
what we do today.
Finer: This is a remarkable flint lock carbine made at the manufacturer at Versace by a French gun
maker, possibly the greatest gun maker to ever have lived called Nicholas Noel Boutet, Boutet was
the maker to the French royal family and after the revolution Bonaparte set him up a Versace as
his personal gun maker. He made Arms Deluxe, this gun was presented in 1806 by Jerome
Bonaparte to the Duke of Medina Sodonia and it’s the arms of the Duke of Medina Sodonia 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. Silver gilt mounts, partial 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 Chace in Paris, which is very similar and you see that’s then loose for
loading and cleaning.
Finer: 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
dollars we might need to ask for one today.
Finer: We produce a catalogue every couple of years and in our last catalogue we actually had
three pairs of pearly pistols, a pair of flint locks which were made around 1810, 1815 and two pairs
of percussion pistols made later in the century. 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.
Finer: 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 wheel locker, 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.
Finer: 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’m 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
Finer: 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. And 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.
Finer: 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.
Finer: Not only do you have the history behind them because in the box there’s a presentation and
inscription, you also have Butet’s finest work here. The quality of the chequering 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 Butet’s works
throughout all major sort of works of art museums in the world. We’re asking £800,000 for the
Finer: 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 really, a mixture between collectors
and also decorators.
Finer: 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 Bernizon 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 see the wonderful diversity of colour here, the blue enamels, and the red enamels
which really are the most sort of beautiful enamels.
Finer: 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.
Finer: 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 artisan group with painters and sculptors and he was
an essential part of you know of a King’s sort of arsenal.
Finer: 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 into 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 where 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
Finer: This is spectacular, a spectacular gun, this is made in Russia, 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?
Finer: 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.
Finer: 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, this 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 and he, 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.
Finer: There was actually a club in the early 20th Century called Canooza Club which of course,
well not 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
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