Little did Geoffrey Parker know that, when he started making miniature leather-bound books from the converted chicken shed in his garden, his leather pieces would be found in some of the most exclusive locations across the world, from royal palaces to luxury yachts.
After art school and serving as a pilot in an elite RAF squadron during World War II, Geoffrey began a pig-breeding unit in Essex, with 450 Wessex Saddlebacks and Large Whites in its prime. On the side he sold miniature hand-painted, leather-bound books to tourist outlets and gift shops in London. One of his customers was Alfred Dunhill, whose chairman, Richard Dunhill, was so impressed by Geoffrey’s talents that he commissioned him to make a chessboard. It was on this very first project that he honed the meticulous leather inlay technique that the company is so renowned for.
Today, his son Max continues to uphold his values and drive the business forward, producing the most beautiful leather games in the world. No matter how much the world has changed since 1958, the company has always stayed true to producing the highest quality goods by using only the very best materials and most skilled craftspeople. But don’t take our word for it, you only have to look at its illustrious client book to see for yourself.
The royal family has commissioned many pieces from Geoffrey Parker over the years. For the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, they created a solid silver and gold chess set for Her Majesty, which went on to win the Design Council Award in London. They also created leather photo frames for the Queen’s 60th birthday in 1986 and, more recently, a water snakeskin boule case for Princes Charles to present to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the G20 summit in London.
The crowning glory is a limited edition two-metre-long scaled version of Buckingham Palace realised in leather, concealing the finest English crystal cut glassware and crested by a full roulette set.
Continuing on from its early relationship with dunhill, some of the most prestigious brands have also had pieces made for them by Geoffrey Parker, to be sold under their own illustrious names, including Cartier, Tiffany, Asprey, Harrods, Smythson, Garrard and Chanel, as well as some of the US’s most famous department stores, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman. Even the chairman of Gucci marked them as ‘THE people to make leather games’, high praise indeed for a British manufacturer.
The gaming industry has rated Geoffrey Parker since the early days, supplying the chessboard for the most famous game ever – the Cold War Clash, in 1972, fought between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky – two years later, the backgammon tournament with the highest stakes at the time, held on the QEII demanded 20 boards. To this day the patronage of the world’s greatest players continues with Geoffrey Parker proudly supplying the boards for the World Championships, the US and UK Opens and the Nordic Championship. London’s most exclusive casinos – like The Ritz Club and Crown Aspinalls – still turn to Geoffrey Parker’s expertise and the Venice Simplon Orient Express requested travel-sized versions to keep its passengers entertained.
As Nick Foulkes wrote in GQ in January 2004,
If his finest creation, the tournament-size Championship board, were a car it would be the Bentley Arnage T, super-chic, super-fast, in fact, just plain super.
Geoffrey Parker has crafted some of the most valuable board games in the world, such as a white gold and alligator leather backgammon board for a private jet.
However, the most spectacular would have to be a no expenses spared poker case, featuring 384 18ct white-gold chips, set with over 2,600 precious stones, including diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, rubies and black diamonds, inlaid with shagreen, four gold-plated decks of playing cards and solid gold dealer and blind buttons. With over a thousand carats of stones and weighing 12.5kgs in gold alone, it comes in at a cool £4.4m.
A blind backgammon board for Stevie Wonder, a recreation of George Washington’s campaign briefcase, menus for The Connaught and Annabel’s, signing folders for Downing Street, a shoebox to present a half a million dollar, diamond-encrusted pair of Roger Vivier shoes, backgammon boards for Michael Schumacher, cases for the Royal Mint’s George Medal…. the list goes on. But, despite all the famous names, at the heart of the company is the humble desire of one family to keep creating spectacular, honest leather goods in its English workshops.
GEOFFREY PARKER PIGLETS CORNER/TOP ROAD, SAFFRON WALDEN CB10 2XJ +44 (0)1799 599100