A local single-owner collection of arms, armour and antiques made £130,000 at auction earlier this month, almost tripling the total sale estimate of £47,000.
The 250 lots in the first auction of the year at Market Harborough-based Gildings Auctioneers came from the shop of the late John Hardy, a well-known Leicester-based antiques dealer with an eccentric character and passion for militaria, in particular edged weapons.
John Hardy Antiques was in residence at 91 London Road, Oadby from the mid-1960s, expanding into the adjoining property 20 years later. Hardy was known for his local paper advertisements which claimed, “If it’s broken or damaged, don’t worry, I will have bought worse!”
Among the large collection of edged weapons dating from the 17th century through to the mid-20th century, the standout lot was a mortuary sword, which sold for £4,800 against an estimate of £400-600. The sale contained several examples of these Civil War era basket-hilted swords, so named because in the aftermath of the execution of King Charles I in 1649, many of them depicted his face on the hilt.
Another basket-hilted backsword, in pretty poor condition, also attracted fierce bidding on the day (January 10), going under the hammer for £4,000 against an estimate of £300-£500.
“We’re delighted with the result of this unique collection from one of Leicester’s best known characters in the antiques trade,” said Gildings’ director and militaria specialist, Mark Gilding. “As well as the great demand we saw in the edged weapons, armour and guns areas, it was fantastic to see a packed sale room of bidders in the room on the day, many of whom were specialist arms dealers who had travelled from all over the country to be here.”
Other highlights in the auction included an English rapier and a swept-hilt rapier which sold for £3,400 and £3,200 respectively against estimates of £400-£600 and £700-£1,000. These types of sharply pointed swords were used by European military throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. A Caucasian shasqua, a type of sabre that originated in the mountain tribes of the Caucasus, engraved with sun and crescent moon motifs, sold for £1,700 after being estimated at £300-£500.
Antique guns also performed well, with a flintlock blunderbuss pistol and a pair of flintlock pistols selling for £2,000 and £2,100 respectively against estimates of £300-£500 for the blunderbuss, and £500-£800 for the pair of pistols.
Armour attracted fierce bidding too, with a Victorian officer’s Albert pattern gilt helmet with an enamelled cartouche and red plume and chin chain, presented in a glass dome, selling for £1,600 after being estimated at £400-£600.
John Hardy, who died in December 2021, is fondly remembered by his friends and colleagues, including Gildings’ consultant valuer Michael Mays. “John’s shop in Oadby was like no other. He was only really happy when the shop was empty and everything sold, although that gave cause to bemoan the lack of stock,” recalls Michael.
“The backroom was devoted to the objects he had collected since his youth, and over the years he travelled in search of the old and unusual – sticking to his mantra that if it is broken or damaged, no matter. The backroom was supposed to be a secret, but it was poorly kept, for he enjoyed showing his collection to those who expressed keen interest.”