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Joe Hall is well known in he sporting world for a most unusual agency – Matched Pairs. He pairs guns; that is, he reunites pairs, trios and even the occasional quartet of classic English and Scottish shotguns which had gone their separate ways for one reason or another. He has more than 40,000 guns on his books today, and is always trying to expand his listings.

Joe has long been a shooting man, but his main occupation until about 10 years ago was as a solicitor. He stopped working full-time and concentrated all his efforts on Matched Pairs. Though it is based in Mordon, Co Durham it has a strong virtual presence on the internet. “I have never tired of it. I can spend hours talking to people on the phone provided it relates to guns and shooting”

Joe remains a very keen shot. He has enjoyed all forms of Driven-shooting both at home and in Spain. He was a shoot captain for more than 30 years and used to own a grouse moor at Cotherstone, next to Wemmergill. “It was Hobson’s choice really” he told me “I had finished at the office, I had some extra income from Matched Pairs and I wanted to devote more time to the company. You have to be wealthy to run a grouse moor. I wasn’t so I sold it. I have no regrets”

Matched Pairs originally came about after Joe opened a gun shop in Durham in the seventies. He put in a manager as he was working full-time as a solicitor. As a result of having the shop he became much more interested in fine guns. Due to the pressure of work the shop was sold, but he and his son, Andrew retained their interest in best-quality British guns, which became their focus of a business in itself.

“I was buying and selling single guns at that time and Andrew and I used to travel round the UK in the school holidays. We started to concentrate on matched pairs because we saw a gap in the market and because there was no one else in the world matching up orphaned English guns.

WORTH THE WAIT

“Initially I thought that it would be an interesting sideline. It took a long time to put enough guns on the register to be taken seriously; it was a new idea in the shooting world and people were a little hesitant in registering until they realized that two single guns might be worth £10,000 but the pair would be worth £15,000. “Apart from the pleasure of reuniting them,” and it is evident that Joe takes real pleasure in bringing separated pairs together, “there was a clear financial inducement for people who had a No 1 or 2.”

His first success was with a pair on William Powell 12-bores that had been originally completes on 1 august 1911 for a Captain McMurdo. The owner of the No 2 gun still has the double case, which was a bonus. “We just put No 1 in and the job was done. It gave me great satisfaction because it has taken seven or eight years to persuade the owner of that gun to sell.”

Clearly matching guns is not a quick business. Indeed Joe has reunited guns where the owner has first registered 22 years previously. “You just have to wait until people contact you. But people hear about Matched Pairs and publicity helps more to come forward.”

How did he go about building up his ballistic lonely hearts club? “I went round game fairs looking at competitors’ guns. When I saw a gun marked 1, 2 or 3, I put them on the register. I did the same at auctions. Gradually I had some success; then I relied on individual owners registering with me.”

Marrying Off

Once he had the website running, it was self-perpetuating. “The internet has been a tremendous boost. Every day, I get registrations from around the globe. The database is now the largest in the world.”

Joe has matched or located more than a hundred pairs and two trios. One of the trio matchings, involving Woodwards, was especially fortuitous. Joe has met the owner of a pair on a local wild grey partridge-shoot. By sheer coincidence, a week before the shoot he had a phone call from the owner of No 3 gun who asked whether he had any information about no 1 and 2. “When I told him, he didn’t believe it – he just lived down the road. But, he also told me it had been re-stocked. I thought that it would be the end of it, but I went to the shoot and it was a perfect match to the others. The trio was reunited and they are now in use on a famous shoot in North Yorkshire.”

More recently, Joe has reunited a pair of Boss 1877 hammerguns for his gun historian, Donald Dallas. These were numbers 3455 and 3456 (thumb-hold underlever guns, an action style with only 117 examples recorded – the Guns also had front-action rather than back-action locks as usually seen in Boss Hammerguns). Joe has brought a pair of 1903 vintage hammer-ejector Purdeys, 17841 and 17842, back together lately, too. One of the guns was in a Holt’s auction. Unlike some houses, Holt’s routinely notes whether a gun is No 1 or No 2. When Joe sees this in the catalogue he immediately his database and proceeds accordingly (in the case of the Purdeys mentioned, he was instructed by the owner of the guns to bid for the other).

One of Joe’s favourite reunions concerns two ford side-locks, which had been within 10 miles of each other. Neither owner knew of the other guns existence until he visited Joe. When the nuptials were completed, one came into possession of both. It transpired that his father had been offered the pair about 50 years earlier. The No 1 gun had been for sale for £50m the No 2 for £55. His father would not pay the £55, so settled for a single gun, and the son had to wait nearly half a century to get them back in the same case. “Needless to say, it cost him a little more than then extra £5, but he was delighted to overcome his father’s oversight,” says Joe.

Joe says he has had disappointments too, often when people have changed address and failed to notify him – though as he admits, “when you are moving house, contacting Matched Pairs isn’t the first thing on your mind.” Another big problem is when a gun has been altered from the original specification, by being restocked in a different style or re-barreled.

Recently Joe located an Edwinson Green over-and-under in Ontario and the other supposedly matching gun is in Germany. Unfortunately the latter has been sleeved with an extra inch added. The same thing happened with a pair of bond guns. Joe, however, treats it as a significant success when he positively locates any split pair or trio (he once came across nine matching Dickson round-actions).

Detective work

His business required patience and good detective work. Sometimes, he has the sticky situation where the owner with a pair does not realize the guns are part of a trio and therefore has not registered with him. The third gun is not always consecutively numbered either, so he may have on his list someone who, for example, has a No 3 Purdey 16532 and he wants to complete the trio by finding 14957 and 14958 – quite a numerical difference.

What pairs would Joe buy for investment? Guns by the famous three – Purdey, Boss and Holland & Holland – in pristine condition. “The market is now very sensitive to condition. I’ve never been so busy as in the past two years, but I am finding it very hard to find good guns.”

And what might one expect to pay? A pair of London-made side-locks in first-class condition and retaining much of the originality will cost between £30,000 and £60,000 if you can find them. Capital guns are looking at an increasingly attractive buy in these uncertain times – at least one can use one’s investment to hold it in solid form.

A nice Purdey single will be in the region of £15,000 to £20,000, with lesser-known makes showing a corresponding reduction. But you should still be able to get a pair of best quality provincial side-locks in first-class order for well under £20,000 Though Joe’s stock tends to consist of guns from the London trade, he has a lovely pair of Dickson round action guns for £27,000 and has just sold a pair of 1909 spring-opening Atkin with single triggers under the £20,000 mark.

Joe’s quest is never-ending. “At the moment I have four guns I’m trying to marry off, but the people have not come back to me yet. Two have registered with the trade and one privately. The partners of an Atkin 997, an Evans 2169, a Purdey 14176 and a Jeffery 20088 are ready and waiting!”

Before we finished, I asked him what his favourite guns were. “I currently shoot with a pair of 28in 16-bore Holland Royals, but, if possible, I would like a pair of Boss 16-bore guns and their engraving. I would accept either single- or double-trigger guns but, by preference, single because that is what Boss is famous for. The price would be high, though, as there is a shortage of 16-bores.”

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James Purdey & Sons, Boss & Co, Holland & Holland, James Woodward & Sons, Aitkin Grant & Lang, & William Evans all catered for at Matched Pairs Ltd

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