A visual feast of rare smallbores
By David Trevallion • photographs by William Geoffrey Wood
Based on my regard for the high quality of Parker Reproduction shotguns and the esteem I held for Tom Skeuse gained through stocking a number of high-grade guns for him, I expected that my article “The Parker Reproduction Story” (January/February ’19) would be well received by those interested in the history and development of Parker Repro guns. However, I was unprepared for the multitude of favorable comments I received and the complimentary remarks that were posted on several online forums. The sheer number of responses was unexpected but gratifying—and in a very real sense humbling, since I apparently tapped into a lot of latent sentiments about Tom Skeuse and the remarkable shotguns he brought to life.
Three Parker Reproduction Invincibles: (from top) a .410, a 28 and another .410. The 28-gauge was engraved by Geoffroy Gournet and took a full year to complete. The stock blanks were supplied by Cali’Co Hardwoods, in California, and were selected by Tom Skeuse. The stockmaker who worked on all three guns humbly referred to himself as “one of God’s carpenters.” The checkering and carving patterns on the wood complement the unique personalities of the guns. All are engraved in the Invincible style, with pheasants in flight on the sides of the receivers and strutting grouse on the floorplates. All birds are in raised gold. The receivers display the distinctive Invincible style of breech side clips, recessed frames to receive the stocks, and clips covering the hinge pins to allow greater scope for the engraver’s art. These features are only found on Parker Reproduction Invincible shotguns.
Well-known collectors of original Parker Bros. shotguns expressed appreciation for the previously unknown details regarding the origins of Parker Reproduction guns. One collector telephoned to say that he had purchased a number of Parker Reproduction shotguns because he could take the Reproductions afield in inclement weather and leave the originals in his gun safe. (In a moment of candor he admitted that the Reproductions were every bit as good as the originals and that when he put one of the guns to his shoulder with eyes closed, he could not distinguish between an original and a Reproduction.) When asked my opinion about the quality of the Reproductions, I related that when Tom Skeuse had given me the opportunity to purchase four complete Parker Reproduction receivers and barrels “in-the-white,” I immediately had done so and stocked them. Several longtime clients bought the guns as soon as they learned they were available and then had them engraved.
Two .410 A1 Specials. The gun on the left was done in the A1 style but with the addition of gamebirds in flight on the sides of the receiver and the floorplate featuring a woodcock migrating at night by the illumination of a full moon. Look closely at the moon, and you can distinguish features on the lunar surface. Only an engraver with the experience and talent of Geoffroy Gournet would be capable of executing such a masterpiece.
The gun on the right was a special commission to Gournet by Robert E. Petersen, founder of the eponymous Petersen Publishing Company. Again the overall style was that of the A1 Special but with the addition of gamebirds. Petersen was specific that the birds were to be those he enjoyed hunting: doves on the right side of the receiver and California quail on the left. On the floorplate is the winged Nordic helmet in raised gold that was the trademark of Petersen’s company.
A gentleman who at one time had lived in Tom Skeuse’s neighborhood telephoned to tell me how much he had enjoyed my article. During our conversation he confided that, because of his high regard for the quality and integrity of the Parker Reproduction guns, he had acquired a number of sub-gauge Reproductions. I knew that of the approximately 12,500 Parker Repros manufactured, smaller bores had appeared only toward the end of the manufacturing run. In fact, only 41 guns in .410 bore had been made—an interesting correlation and one that makes .410 Reproductions even rarer than original Parker Bros. .410s. When I asked how many .410s were in the gentleman’s collection, I was stunned when he said that he had 11 .410s and 13 28-bores.
This unique A1 Special .410 is another masterpiece by Geoffroy Gournet, featuring his trademark woodcock in flight. The gun has eight raised gold inlays of woodcock, while the backgrounds of the receiver and floorplate are engraved in woodland scenes.
At this point I should mention that this collector is completely unknown to the fraternity of Parker Bros. and Parker Reproduction collectors. It took more than 30 years to assemble the collection, and the impetus was purely because of the collector’s high regard for the quality of Parker Reproduction guns and for his own satisfaction. He has concentrated solely on sub-gauge guns, because they are “the rarest of the rare.”
The collector concentrated on guns in “new, unfired” condition, and while he acquired guns engraved in Japan in the DHE and BHE patterns whenever he could, he especially sought out sub-gauge guns imported into the US in the white. Over time the latter were engraved in various patterns and themes as they suggested themselves. The accompanying photographs depict some of the guns in the collection engraved in Invincible and A1 Special patterns as on original Parker Bros. guns, while others display very personal tastes in engraving. The various engravers plied their artistry on in-the-white shotguns. In no instance was the original engraving buffed off to provide a clean canvas for subsequent “upgraded” engraving.
Here are two BHE Grade .410s. The top gun was delivered without checkering, though with a delicate and subdued fleur-de-lis carved at the wrist at the client’s request. It is part of a set of four—all with the same serial numbers—in 12, 20, 28 and .410. The bottom gun was the second Parker Reproduction .410 imported into the US from the factory in Japan.
Only a few close friends and family members have ever viewed the collection. The collector does not intend to sell all or even part of it, as he desires for it to remain within his family.
The collector emailed me photographs of several of the shotguns, and I was astounded at the quality and beauty of the engraving and wood. My first thought was that such a stunning collection should be shared in the pages of Shooting Sportsman with those who would appreciate such fine workmanship. It took a lot of prodding by me, but the collector finally agreed—on the condition that his identity and place of residence not be disclosed.
A BHE grade (top) and a DHE. All Parker Reproduction .410s except for A1 Specials and Invincibles had their receivers struck initially as BHE grades. BHE Grade barrels have an engraved scroll wedge at the breech end, while DHE barrels are plain. BHE .410s have gamebirds engraved on the receiver sides and flushing woodcock on the floorplates. DHE Grade guns have pointing dogs on the receiver sides and pheasants on the floorplates. To the best of the collector’s knowledge, all Parker Reproduction .410s came with selective single triggers.
One of the gentleman’s family members was acquainted with a highly respected photographer who—although never having photographed firearms—was willing to accept a challenge on short notice. William Geoffrey Wood was enthusiastic about the project, and he quickly rearranged his schedule in order to travel from his home in Houston to the collection’s site. I believe that the resulting images do justice to this wonder trove of Parker Reproduction smallbores and hope you agree.
Savor and enjoy these photographs for what they are: images of some truly wonderful shotguns and true works of art. Also bear in mind that these firearms came into existence solely thanks to the vision, passion, patience and persistence of Tom Skeuse—who, although he played no part in choosing some of the engraving, I’m sure would have approved.