By Delbert Whitman Jr.
My friend and client Steve came to the shop with what he said was one of his favorite little grouse guns. He felt it merited some restoration. I have many unique and fine old guns come through my shop. What made Steve’s gun special was not just the quality of its manufacture, but also the unique history of its design.
The gun was a Damon Petrik over/under 16-gauge game gun. It was a beautifully made little gun, with 26-inch barrels, a nicely swept-back Prince of Wales grip, double triggers, a checkered wood butt and a weight of just more than six pounds. It felt incredibly lively in the hands.
Boniface Petrik was a Czech gunmaker who moved to France and in the 1920s designed an over/under action and locking mechanism. He partnered with gunmaker Damon, in Saint-Étienne, and made guns of this design under the Damon Petrik name. These guns were mostly lightly embellished field guns, but the quality of their manufacture was incredibly high. Petrik’s locking design was what is referred to as the “sliding hood.” Most gun aficionados instantly would recognize this design, as Remington copied it in the 1930s for its Model 32 and later its Model 3200. Because of the strength and elegance of the design, it was also used by Krieghoff and Valmet for over/under shotguns and rifles. The impact of the design was clearly significant.
Although Steve’s gun was in nearly perfect mechanical condition, it was in definite need of some wood and metal refinishing. The barrels needed to be properly polished and rust blacked, the wood needed a new oil finish, the metal action furniture needed to be re-blacked, and the butt and forend needed to be re-checkered. All in all, it was a fairly straightforward wood and metal restoration job.
The one thing that would require special attention was a nasty hole that had been drilled into the belly of the stock for a screw-in sling-swivel stud. The stud was long gone, but the hole was still unappealingly present. Instead of just plugging the hole, we opted to cover it with a classic monogram oval. We felt this would add a touch of class to the fine old gun.
A monogram oval is a way of personalizing and recording history.
I make monogram ovals from scratch in the traditional manner. The material used is rolled sheet stock—typically sterling silver, 10k gold or a non-tarnishing naval brass alloy, depending on the customer’s wishes. The oval is marked using an ellipse template on the sheet stock, and then cut out by hand using a fine-tooth jeweler’s saw. The profile radii of stock bellies can vary quite a bit, so choosing the proper size and degree of the ellipse is very important. Once the oval is cut out, the edges are filed into a perfect ellipse. The oval then is formed to match the radius of the stock belly by lightly hammering it onto a steel rod that has been custom turned to match the stock belly’s radius. Next a small steel stud is turned and silver brazed onto the underside of the oval. The stud serves as an anchor for the oval once it is glued into the stock and acts as a guide while inletting the oval into the wood.
Inletting the oval into the stock is done using very small and ridiculously sharp chisels. A thin layer of paste marking compound is brushed onto the bottom and edges of the oval. The oval then is placed onto the stock using a hole that has been drilled for the stud as a guide. It then is tapped lightly with a small hammer. The marks left by the marking compound are then painstakingly chiseled away. This process is repeated again and again until the oval is perfectly flush with the surface of the stock. Great attention must be paid to this tedious process, as the wood-to-metal fit must be flawless.
The oval is glued into the stock using a high-quality epoxy. Once the epoxy has hardened, the surface of the oval is filed and polished down perfectly flush with the surface of the stock. Great care must be taken here, as it is incredibly easy to inadvertently sand the wood below the surface of the metal oval. Once the stock and oval are sanded perfectly flush, the wood finish is touched up as necessary.
I then engrave the oval according to the client’s desires. The engraving can be as simple as two-letter initials or a three-letter monogram. It may be as unique as a coat of arms, the commemoration of a gift, or the recording of passing the gun from one generation to the next. I once saw a gun that had several ovals recording five generations of ownership within a family. I restored an oval for a friend on a fine little 28-gauge Beretta that noted that the gun had been a wedding gift from his mother to his father. His parents both had passed away, and now that little oval was of immeasurable value to him.
I commonly work on guns that are more than 150 years old and still are being used in the field. I feel that we need to consider ourselves as curators of these fine old guns and their histories. After all, we possess and use them for only a relatively brief time and then pass them on to be used and cherished. Every fine gun has its own stories and history attached to it. A monogram oval is a way of personalizing and recording that history.
Steve’s little 16-gauge Petrik has been put back in fine condition and now bears his initials. Its use and history are ready for him and generations to come.