We’ve all been in the situation when looking for antiques where we feel like predators hunting for a great item or unmissable bargain. But last month, antiques hunting took a different turn at Charterhouse Auctioneers and Valuers in Sherbourne, as a whole range of British sporting items, predominantly hunting shooting and fishing memorabilia, went up for auction.
The auction included taxidermy, hunting rifles, shotgun cases, stag’s heads and oil paintings of hunts. Charterhouse auctioneer George Holtby estimated that most lots ranged from between £40 to £4,000, as bidders haggled fiercely over Frances Mabel Hollams fresh-looking oil paintings, drawing quite a number of art enthusiasts to the auction house.
“The auction was surprisingly busy” said Mr Holt, which led me to wonder whether the moral ambiguity of hunting and its legal suppression over the last decade has had much impact on its popularity within rural communities.
Traditional forms of fox hunting were banned in England and Wales in November 2004, and legally enforced in February 2005. Modified forms of hunting foxes with hounds, as well as shooting foxes as vermin, are still legal, as the Hunting Act 2004 specifies that “hunting wild mammals with a dog” is outside of the law.
Animal rights group League Against Cruel Sports have recently reported that the number of foxes killed has greatly increased since the Hunting Act was passed, leaving critics to believe that breaches of law may be taking place. Proponents of hunting, such as the Masters of Foxhounds Association, who represent the 186 packs of foxhounds that hunt in England, Wales and Scotland, view hunting as an important part of rural culture, claiming hunting now only occurs for conservation and pest control.
The outspoken group Hunt Saboteurs Association, however, claim that now that the media presence has died down in the hunting communities, hunts are carrying on largely as they did before, with police almost totally unable to govern and enforce the new laws.
So with a battle raging on between hunters and activists, despite the laws passed to rectify the situation, is it the continuing ethical ambivalence that has led to a resurgence in popularity of hunting equipment and memorabilia? Not according to auctioneer George Holtby.
“Hunting memorabilia has become this season’s must-have, ski chalet style pieces of art” claims Mr Holtby. “Taxidermy has gone from being a musty piece in the corner of the room to a quirky statue, the centrepiece to contrast any modern setting”.
And it wasn’t just the bidders who enjoyed the eccentricity of the collection displayed at the auction house last month. The life-sized Black Forest Bears delighted Mr Holtby and his sales team as well as the American hunt fans that attended in their hoards.
So, it seems that hunt enthusiasts did not go to ground when the Hunting Ban came into effect, but their attention has turned from the foxes to the antiquities to ensnare valuable catches.