Allow me to present the models of the Francotte shotguns that were imported to the U.S. by Von Lengerke & Detmold and, later, by Abercrombie & Fitch. It’s a bit lengthy but as you know there is not much information out there about Francotte shotguns so there is a lot to be said.

Von Lengerke & Detmold began to import Francotte firearms in 1889. The earliest VL&D ledger in the Griffin & Howe archives is Volume No. 1 and it was created sometime in 1900. It contains a list of the firearms, sorted by make and model, that were in inventory 1900 followed by the newly arrived ones in chronological order. Between 1900 and 1910 the Francotte models included the following, generally in order of increasing quality and price:

PRE-1910 MODELS

BASIC MODELS

Nimrod – hammer gun
KnockAbout – utility grade hammerless (added in 1904 to replace the JP Sauer KnockAbout which was discontinued at that time)
No. 1 – non-ejector hammerless boxlock
No. 2 – non-ejector hammerless boxlock
No. 3 – non-ejector hammerless boxlock, Damascus barrels
No. 3A – non-ejector hammerless boxlock, Siemen-Martin steel barrels
‘X’ Ejector - ejector hammerless, Siemen-Martin steel barrels

PIGEON EJECTOR (TRAP EJECTOR) MODELS

‘A’ - ejector hammerless boxlock
‘B’ - ejector hammerless sideplated boxlock
‘C’ - ejector hammerless sideplated boxlock
Special Trap Ejector - ejector hammerless

FEATHERWEIGHT MODELS

Hammer Featherweight– lightweight hammer gun
Special – non-ejector hammerless
Quality ‘I’ - ejector hammerless
Quality ‘II’ – ejector hammerless sideplated boxlock
‘AA’ - ejector hammerless boxlock
‘BB’ - ejector hammerless sideplated boxlock
‘CC’ - ejector hammerless sideplated boxlock
‘DD’ - ejector hammerless sideplated boxlock
Eagle - ejector hammerless sideplated boxlock (replaced the Grade DD in December 1900)


SINGLE BARREL MODELS

Single Barrel Trap – non-ejector hammerless

POST 1910 MODELS

In 1910 VL&D changed most of the Francotte model designations and reduced the number of models that were offered. In the 1910 records the models that are listed include the following, again in order of quality and price:

Knockabout Grade – the basic utility grade gun
No. 10 Quality – a non-ejector lightweight field gun
No. 11 Quality – a non-ejector Single Barrel Trap gun
No. 13 Quality – an ejector Single Barrel Trap gun
No. 14 Quality – boxlock hammerless ejector
No. 17 ½ Quality - boxlock hammerless ejector
No. 20 Quality – side-plated boxlock hammerless ejector
No. 25 Quality – side-plated boxlock hammerless ejector
No. 30 Quality – side-plated boxlock hammerless ejector
No. 45 (Eagle) Quality – side-plated boxlock hammerless ejector

(Higher graded sidelock guns were mostly special order although between 1931 and 1948 some were imported for stock and sold as “Deluxe” models)

Existing Francotte shotguns from prior years were entered in the model category that they most closely resembled. I suspect that the earlier, mostly letter model names were those of Francotte while the numbered model names begun in 1910 were those of VL&D. Import records from 1920-23 show that Francotte’s were received as ‘Letter’ models but entered in inventory as ‘Number’ models, sometimes with the accompanying letter designation as well.

For over a year I pondered about the model 17 1/2, trying to determine why the “1/2” was added to the number. There was nothing in the record books that provided an explanation but then Carol Barnes of Gunnerman Books generously provided me with copies of the early Francotte data that had been collected by her late husband, Larry Barnes. Included were VL&D catalog pages from 1910 and upon reviewing them the reason was immediately obvious. In 1910, the price of the Grade No. 10 was $100, the Grade No. 14 was $140, the Grade No. 17 ½ was $175, and so on. Back then it was not unheard of for makers and retailers to designate models according to the retail price of the firearm. By 1920 grades No. 10 and 17 ½ had both disappeared from the inventory and the designation “Quality” was dropped from the model name.

So where does Abercrombie & Fitch come into the picture? In 1928, Ezra Fitch retired as the president of A&F and his place was taken by his son-in-law, James L. Cobb. Until then A&F had sold mostly clothing and camping gear. Although they did offer firearms and hunting and fishing equipment, they were not as heavily involved in those areas as their competitor, Von Lengerke & Detmold. So Cobb decided to expand the old fashioned way – by buying the competition. In 1929 A&F purchased (some say merged with) Von Lengerke & Detmold as well as Von Lengerke & Antoine in Chicago and Griffin & Howe in New York. About the same time A&F also purchased several fishing tackle firms. By purchasing VL&D, A&F not only significantly increased their inventory of firearms but they picked up the VL&D firearms importation business, including Auguste Francotte firearms. To handle the increased work load and inventory, A&F hired many of the VL&D staff, including George Henry Krug, vice-president of VL&D and manager of the VL&D gunroom. Henry Krug was the manager of the VL&D and the A&F gunrooms until his retirement on April 1, 1950 so it is likely that he handled most and sold many of the Francotte’s in your collections.

When A&F took over the importation of Francotte’s they continued to market them as “VL&D Francotte” shotguns until about the mid-1930’s after which they were engraved with the A&F name.

From 1927 until 1940 A&F sold a Francotte model known as the 1923-H which was a SxS available in 410 bore only.

In 1939, in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the VL&D/A&F importation of Francotte’s, A&F advertised the Jubilee Model. This was a grade somewhat better than the Knockabout grade and priced a bit higher. First inventoried in 1940 they were sold out by 1942. Of course, the war prevented the further importation of this model.

In 1963-64 the High Gun was offered. This model was a plain sideplated boxlock with a semi-beavertail forend.

One interesting note – in June 1955 the A&F Francotte serial numbers, which had reached up into the 90,000’s, started over with number 1001 – a Knockabout gun. The number of Francotte’s imported picked up again after the war until the 1960’s when the sale of Francotte’s began to be overtaken by the A&F Zoli-Rizzini’s. Francotte continued to manufacture sidelock guns with serial numbers in the high 80,000 and low 90,000 serial range but these were not imported by A&F and do not appear in the A&F record books.

A&F imported a large number of Over/Under shotguns that, while they are not stamped with the Francotte name, do have the maker’s mark ‘AF’ in an oval and topped by a crown among the proof marks. These would also be Francotte shotguns.

Please contact me if you need to determine the precise model of your VL&D/A&F Francotte and the year of its importation. See the Research page of the Griffin & Howe web site.
_________________________
Bob Beach