The A. H. Fox Sterlingworth
Dr. John Woods 05.15.19
One should not venture into the world of collecting double barreled shotguns with reckless abandon. It is wrought with many a lowland swamp designed to sink you to the waist and suck out all of your hard-earned deposits. If you get the itch, be careful how hard you scratch.
Of all the stories, tales, renditions, tomes, and sad laments by a multitude of outdoor writers, double gun hunters, and collectors, it seems more tears have wetted the cheeks of well-meaning gentlemen over the buying, selling, trading, and using of twin barrel shotguns than any other gun, save maybe old Winchester levers and Colt Single Action Army revolvers. It is a realm not to be entered into by the faint of heart or the shallow of pocketbook.
Still the lure is there, and it calls out to us. Every gun show I attend, the moans come from show tables like so many puppies at the rescue pounds crying “please take me home.” These yearnings for companionship are hard to ignore.
At the last gun show I attended, I was ambushed from behind. Well, truth is I was fully aware of seeing that long-tubed double lying on a dealer’s table. The old gun dealer was noted for hoarding back some select stock. Whatever he sold was of high quality with prices to match. I always studied his wares, but from afar just to be on the safe side. I got too close this time and the double’s pull was just too much to resist.
On the old man’s table was a gun that met my fancy. It had 30-inch tubes and the bluing and case-hardening was flawless. The card indicated it was a 12-bore with chokes he gauged at full and super full. I was not sure about that. The card also said the double’s chamber held 3-inch shells. I was not sure about that either.
One barrel was marked “Made by A.H. Fox Gun Co.Phila.PA.USA. The opposite barrel was marked Sterlingworth Fluid Compressed Steel. The trigger guard tang revealed the serial number 625XX. The gun was not stamped for gauge or choke. The action was stamped for a No.2 barrel weight. This grade had double triggers.
The walnut stock showed enough figure to quicken the heart rate. A Pachmayr recoil pad had been added, but the job was professionally done with a fine fit. The forend was the slim type. All the wood had fine cut checkering where it belongs. The gun was a very nice specimen.
Mr. Pete confided he thought the gun to be a duck gun with the tight chokes. He also confessed he had fired it several times. I think he “field tests” all of his trade guns to make certain everything is okay before he puts them up for sale. His reputation has been trustworthy, but then he is a gun dealer. At least he doesn’t sell cars or real estate.
He held tight on his price. He told the story of the acquisition just two weeks before. An old gun-trading buddy was headed to a divorce and did not want the ex to get money from his guns. So he parted with his whole collection with a vow that after the split was official, he would return to buy back as many as he could. I think I would have just hidden them. Pete had already sold several of the guns, so that guy is going to be disappointed if he ever returns.
So, after day one of the show, I went home with research to do, hoping the gun would not sell. I knew about Fox guns but not the Sterlingworth models. What I found was a mixed bag of historical information and a confusing trail of manufacturing. I did find that Ansley H. Fox made good guns. Fox started production in the first decade of the 20th Century and sold to Savage Arms Company in 1929. Savage is still making shotguns bearing the Fox name.
Though the Sterlingworth brand models were billed as “good guns, cheap” by some, other sources spoke well of them as hardy hunting guns. Turns out the Sterlingworth guns now have quite a following and are sought by collectors. That was good news. Prices I saw listed at various sites were much higher than what Pete had printed on his gun card. I also found that the serial number on Pete’s Fox fell in the 1911 production year, an interesting year in gun history.
So, after a weekend of wheeling, dealing, arm-twisting, offering dogged-out sorry looks, and near begging, the old guy lowered the ticket below the magic one-grand threshold. So yeah, I fell off the wagon on this one. Sometimes you have to take a risk. That is part of gun collecting.
So I brought the beauty home. I’ll put it through a good take-down cleaning and polishing. At least I now know that 2 ¾ inch and 3-inch shells do fit in the chamber and extract when opening the action. I doubt I’ll shoot the 3s anyway.
The triggers work, the safety works, and the barrels are chrome shiny inside down the bores. The gun may not be showroom original, but it is a nice piece, and I can’t wait to get back afield to run some shot down the barrels. I just hope the swamp is not too deep.