The Single Shot Rifle Journal

Feature Of The Month

 

Schuetzens of The Peters Sporting Goods Company

By Thomas Schiffer

(This feature from Thomas Schiffer’s new book Peters & King, available from Krause Publications)

At the turn of the century, O. E. Peters, then president of the Peters Cartridge Company, founded The Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Company. The company does not appear in the 1899 Cincinnati City Directory, but appeared in the 1900 Directory, and was listed every year until it disappeared after the 1908 listing.

The Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Company listed O. E. Peters as president, A. L. Peters, treasurer, F. C. Tuttle, secretary, and A. R. Roll as manager of the sales department. Two of the three corporate officers, O. E. Peters and F. C. Tuttle, were also officers in a similar capacity in the Peters Cartridge Company.

August Peters had previously been the treasurer of the Favorite Steam Bretzel [pretzel] Manufacturing Company. Whether this was the A. L. Peters listed above as treasurer of the Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Company is a matter for conjecture.

At the time The Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Company was discontinued, George W. Collins was associated with the firm as manager. Collins then "joined the Peters Cartridge family." The source, a company announcement at his subsequent retirement, suggests that this was in the traffic department of Peters.

The Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Company was a wholesale and retail establishment with sales offices on Government Square, 119 east 5th Street Cincinnati. This was located "At The Sign Of The Big Gun," very close to the general offices of the Peters Cartridge Company.

The "Peters Arms" firm was also located very close to Pickering Hardware (ammunition dealers) and the Powell and Clement gun store. This may have had something to do with the fact that the Peters establishment had disappeared by 1909. The Cincinnati City Directory of 1905 states The Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Company was "Dealers in Fire Arms, Sporting Goods, & etc."

It is fairly easy to conjecture that Peters Arms had a pretty full line of sporting goods of that day. Firearms, tennis rackets, badminton equipment, bicycles, baseballs and bats and, of course, a line of Peters ammunition. Jim Eckler, a local collector, has catalog No. 2 of the Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Company listing 132 pages of the above mentioned merchandise.

Schuetzen rifle collectors and shooters have been puzzled for some years about the existence of high quality Schuetzen rifles with Peters markings. The writer saw one some years ago at a gun show in Columbus, Ohio. The rifle was built on a Sharps Borchardt action and looked much like a Zischang Schuetzen rifle with all the bells and whistles one would expect in a high quality, custom built, target rifle. A similar rifle is owned by Tom Rowe. It could possibly be the same one I saw years ago.

A simple statement in the front of Jim Eckler’s Peters Arms And Sporting Goods Catalog may explain where these rifles originated. Under the heading "Gun Repair Department", it proclaims:

"Equipped with the latest tools and machinery. Highest skill and workmanship employed. All kinds of work and repairs done, such as, restocking all makes of guns, bending stocks, fitting 12 gauge barrels to 10 gauge frames, and extra sets to any and all makes, cutting off stock or barrels, reboring., choke boring, emerying, removing dents and bulges, cleaning, polishing, browning in all shades, bluing rifle and shotgun barrels, case hardening, improving action, repairing and furnishing all parts for gun locks, revolvers and rifles, hand made guns to order, etc., etc. Also golf and bicycle repairing done. All work is carefully tested before [being] sent out and guaranteed to be right."

A careful review of these qualifications shows that Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Company had the skills to produce fine firearms. How much, if any, of the work may have been farmed out is impossible to say. Tom Rowe thinks that Zischang is the probable source of his rifle.

John Dutcher, collector and writer on single shot subjects, on the other hand writes me:

"I’ve seen three Peters and many Zischangs, owning a number of Zischangs, and carefully examining both.

The first Peters I saw was at the old Columbus, Ohio gun show, and lying on a table, I thought at first glance it was a Zischang, but picking it up and looking it over showed the workmanship to be not as good as the Zischang, and the rifle didn’t have the refined lines; the streamlining and reshaping of the action that a Zischang has; all Zischangs I’ve seen and owned are streamlined. Peters were inspired by Zischang’s work on the Borchardt, and I’m sure were/are early day copies. ...One of the Peters, the one I saw at Columbus, was beautifully engraved, the engraving work better than the rest of the rifle. All were deluxe Schuetzens."

In talking to John later, he told me the Peters was and is a fine schuetzen rifle and, that Zischang was the Purdy of the United States and his workmanship is first cabin inside and out.

I would opine that the Peters Schuetzens are certainly rarer than the Zischangs and that not being of the same workmanship of Zischang is far from any indictment. Indeed, there is plenty of room between Zischang quality and that of the ordinary Schuetzen.

There is no mention of barrel making skills and expertise in the catalog of the Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Company. It is possible that they purchased barrels elsewhere and fit them in-house. They could have gotten someone like Zischang or Pope to make barrels for them. Catalogue No.2 shows a six story building, presumably with a basement. Such an enterprise had room to house a considerable gunsmithing staff in addition to warehousing and showroom. It would certainly be interesting to know who was on the Peters Arms gunsmithing staff.

Tom Keller, the Peters Cartridge agent in New York City was well acquainted with the Schuetzen and target shooters of the day. Townsend Whelen, in an August 1930 article in the American Rifleman, stated that Keller kept especially good lots of Peters Ammunition which he took "out of a box he kept behind the door in the back room"for his target shooting friends like Whelen. Champion Schuetzen shooters, like W. A. Tewes, used Peters Ammunition to set a world record during this period. Tewes was associated with the Peters Cartridge Company.

Harry Pope also mentioned that he had a friend who was connected with Peters. Through the friend, Harry was able to get particularly accurate lots of Peters .22 rimfire cartridges. I have for many years thought that Pope’s friend was W. A Tewes. It may well have been Tom Keller. Without doubt, Pope knew them both. The point in all this is that Peters Cartridge staff personnel, and, by extension, Peters Arms and Sporting Goods personnel, were well aware of Schuetzen shooters and their needs. Peters reputation as a producer of extremely accurate .22 Rim Fire ammunition was firmly established at the turn of the century when indoor Schuetzen gallery shooting was at its height in this country.

There were seven Schuetzen societies in Cincinnati and neighboring Northern Kentucky at the turn of the century. My great grandfather was a member of the Deutch Schuetzen Gesselshaft of Covington, Kentucky at the time The Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Company was in business. There was definitely a demand for Schuetzen rifles in the area, but to my way of thinking there could not have been many rifles like the one I saw at the gun show sold by Peters Arms. Output of this quality is always small. The Peters Arms Company name on such fine hardware must have engendered a prestige to the firm far out of proportion to the small number of rifles produced. I am surely not the only shooter who remembered these rifles-and the name Peters associated with them-many years after seeing one.

I believe that there are only about a half dozen or so of these rifles in existence. Others that I have heard about may actually be these same rifles under a previous owner. There are several interesting things concerning rifles marked Peters Arms Co. Cincinnati, O. that I have examined. They are:

All Peters Arms Co. rifles that I have seen or heard of are fine double set trigger Schuetzen rifles. All of them are built on Sharps Model 78 actions. All of them generally look like Zischang’s design. Serial numbers are not evident.

Of the two rifles I have examined recently, the top of the breech block on the "plain" Peters Arms Co. rifle is fitted with the same set screw arrangement that Zischang used on his; the engraved one is not.

The engraved rifle has "A. Lux" engraved on the trigger guard. There are three A. Lux listings in the Cincinnati City Directory of 1904. One was the superintendent of a tannery.

Both Peters Arms Co. rifles that I have examined have buttplates that look like they were made off the same distinctive pattern as those on the Zischang rifles I have examined, be they Ballards or Borchardts.

The modeling of the action, or reshaping if you will, is different on both Peters Arms Co. rifles, as it is on Zischang rifles among themselves.

One of the Peters Arms Co. rifles has a barrel with a left hand twist that looks like Pope style rifling, however it is not a gain twist barrel.

Both rifles I have examined are in 32-40 caliber.

The double set triggers on the Peters Arms Co. rifles are of generally the same configuration although not interchangeable. The Zischang triggers are a bit longer and larger.

Both rifles I have examined were at one time fitted with a palm rest, which has been removed from the engraved one and the holes skillfully plugged.

Both rifles I have examined are essentially original, although both show a bit of TLC by skillful hands at one time or another.

Some choices suggest themselves:

• The rifles were made in-house by the ‘smiths of The Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Co.

• The rifles were made in-house, but with some items farmed out (barrels, buttplates, actions, engraving etc.).

• The rifles were made by some other party, Zischang or ?? for Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Company.

The with the exception of the engraving and the probable exception of the Pope style rifling, the only person that we know who did this kind of work is A. O. Zischang of Syracuse, N.Y or his son William, both of whom were active during the 1900-1908 time period.

The "Peters Arms Co., Cincinnati, O." that made the rifles discussed in this chapter is not the same company as The Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. While I do not believe that this idea has any merit whatsoever, I feel I must mention it as a possibility.

The information for this chapter came from three published sources; an obituary in a 1940 issue of the Peters Informer for George W. Collins; Cincinnati City Directory in the years before and after 1900 and Jim Eckler’s Peters Arms and Sporting Goods Catalog No.2.

There were telephone conversations with Gary Quinlan, collector and dealer who has owned Peters Arms rifles, Marvin Huey, who has owned one of the rifles I examined and Ron Long, then a Denver gunsmith who has made Borchardt actions. There was the visit to Dan Schlegel to compare two of the rifles in question. And there was the personal letter to me from John Dutcher, and the information gleaned in a visit to Tom Rowe.

But all of the rhetoric and speculation aside, the most fascinating evidence of all is the rifles themselves!•