How the A.H. Fox became “The finest gun in the world.”
Why A.H. Fox doubles are considered among America's classic shotguns:
- Considered desirable as other classic American double guns, such as Parker, Ithaca and L.C. Smith.
- Sold to Savage Arms in 1930, who continued production.
- Grades were defined by the grade of the stock's wood.
- XE grade featured engraved game scenes.
- Theodore Roosevelt's Fox sold for a record $862,500 in 2010.
Ansley Herman Fox was a bright, charismatic young man and a fine shotgunner. Trap was his game and he was the winner of many events in and around Baltimore and Philadelphia. Fox wanted to get into the gun making business and his ventures into the field had several starts and stops. He received his first patent for a double-barrel gun in 1894, when was 24 years old.
In 1896, Fox convinced a few friends and family members to partner with him in what became known as the National Arms Company of Baltimore. Before any guns were manufactured, that company was reorganized as the Fox Gun Company of Baltimore. Only a few hundred guns were made by this first incarnation of the Fox Company — and those models are very rare.
In 1900, the Fox Company was sold to the Baltimore Gun Company and Ansley Fox became an employee of that firm. During this period he was also a professional shooter for Winchester.
The next step on Fox’s rather rocky road to success was his formation of the Philadelphia Gun Company in 1905, which quickly evolved to the A.H. Fox Company of Philadelphia. For the next 25 years, the Fox was a respected member of the Classic American Double club, taking its place in shotgun history alongside Parker, Ithaca and L.C. Smith.
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Winchester’s fine Model 21 came along in 1930, the same year Fox was sold to Savage, which continued making the A.H. Fox guns until 1942. These guns should not be confused with the Fox Model B double, which was introduced by Savage circa 1939. This lower priced utility model was basically an upgrade of a series of Stevens double-barreled guns, which Savage also produced.
The Fox Family
The line-up of A.H. Fox models introduced in 1906 included three grades: A, B, C, followed by D and F in 1907. All were initially offered only in 12 gauge until 1912, when 16 and 20 gauges were added. Another model was added in 1911, one that became quite popular, the Sterlingworth. It was a utility model with many of the same design features as the higher grade guns and had a base price of $25, exactly half the $50 for the A Grade. Prices for the other grades were $75 for the B Grade, $100 for C, $250 for D, and $500 for the F Grade.
Each grade featured increasing levels of higher grade wood, more elaborate engraving and fancier checkering patterns. Another model was the XE Grade, which was decorated with elaborate game scene vignettes.
Automatic ejectors were offered beginning in 1907 and the model grades were listed as AE, BE, etc., to indicate the added feature. Other available options were cast-off stocks, Monte Carlo combs and beavertail forends. Single trigger models became available in 1914. Most shotgunners in those days learned to shoot with double triggers and liked the quick choice of choke or load, as many still do today.
Teddy’s Pet Fox
The most famous Fox shotgun of all time undoubtedly is the one that belonged to President Theodore Roosevelt. As referenced in the quote at the beginning of this column, Roosevelt took the gun on his famous 10-month African safari in 1909. It’s a FE Grade 12 gauge with 30-inch barrels choked full and modified with double triggers and was presented to the former president by Ansley Fox as a gift. In a letter to Mr. Fox, Roosevelt stated that his plan was to take the gun on his safari “loaded with ball” (slugs) primarily to be used as a backup for lion and other dangerous game. Roosevelt subsequently used the gun for geese and ducks.
When he died in 1919 the shotgun was left to his son, Kermit, who passed it down to his son, Kermit Roosevelt Jr. It remained in the Roosevelt family until 1974 when it was sold to Fox historian Thomas Kidd, and then to an undisclosed buyer who, in October of 2010, put the gun up for auction with James Julia. History was made when it sold for $862,500, the highest price ever paid at auction for a shotgun.
Another major event at the Fox Company in 1911 was the departure of Ansley Fox. While the company founder knew a lot about shotguns, he had differences with his investors on how to run the business and they bought him out. Fox left the gun industry and several years later formed the Fox Motor Company. He invented a car with an air-cooled engine and it was priced in the $4,000 to $5,000 range, competing with the highest priced Dusenburgs and Stutz models. Only a few Fox automobiles were built between 1921 and 1923, and by the end of 1923 the company went out of business.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.