What Does Abercrombie and Fitch Have To Do With Old Guns?
Anyone who frequented a mall in the 1990s to mid-2010s is bound to have come across a store with such a strong scent of cologne that it could be whiffed from 100 feet away. As people came closer, they’d see huge advertisements of shirtless preppy young men and fantasy beach scenes. That clothing retailer was none other than Abercrombie & Fitch. Now, this author was never willing to drop hundreds of dollars on a “cool” wardrobe at the retailer, but she does have distinct memories of entering the store and seeing the moose logo all around. Why would a “hip” clothing brand use an imagery commonly seen on hunting brands? Furthermore, why is a gun blogger writing about a retailer that appeals to teenagers and young adults? It seems a little unusual on the surface. Well, the history behind the store itself is not exactly what it seems. Old guns, outdoors sporting equipment, and hunting apparel were the foundational items that built the name of Abercrombie & Fitch.
The History Of Abercrombie & Fitch
Abercrombie Co. was the original name of Abercrombie & Fitch and was established in 1892 by David T. Abercrombie. Abercrombie was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1867 and was the first of six children born to John and Elizabeth Abercrombie. Abercrombie’s father was a prestigious news manager for the American News Company, a very dignified position for the time. Following in his father’s footsteps, Abercrombie attended Baltimore City College and, after he graduated in 1885, he decided to become an engineer at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). By today’s standards, it may seem strange to attend an arts college to pursue a science based career, but he attended the school when it had just began its transition from science-focused to the arts. This unique blend of visual design courses and science based study was one of his early influences into creative innovation and impacted his decision to eventually enter the clothing and textile business. This schooling experience awakened his inventive spirit.
Abercrombie endeavored into a career as a civil engineer and topographer after he graduated. During his studies of landforms mainly in the Appalachian Mountains, he developed a deeper appreciation for the outdoors and hunting while learning as much as he could about living in nature and understanding how to be an outdoorsman. He was mapping untraveled territory embarking on month long expeditions while living off the land. He investigated and developed fabrics that could keep him and his team of men safe and dry in the varied weather conditions they faced. This practical experimenting with textiles was his first experience with clothing innovation.
Abercrombie loved his time in the wilderness, but his career was cut short due to failing eyesight and farsightedness. Topographers with vision issues would be a liability in uncharted land since they needed glasses to properly see. A person just never could expect what wildlife or strangers they’d encounter in the undiscovered areas. So, in 1892, he had to retire and pursue other business ventures since a person had to have nearly perfect eyesight to be an expeditioner.
It is stated in the Abercrombie family memoirs, written by David’s brother Ronald, that David was an “inventive man” and on the cutting edge of all thing new to the outdoors world. This forward thinking nature could have well been why in the same year he quit his job as a topographer, he went to work for the National Fiber Waterproofing Company, a business that focused on manufacturing clothing for people who worked in nature and all weather conditions. The company was in New York, the mecca of retailers and shopping in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Abercrombie bounced around a few companies working on clothing technology learning as much as he could about the developing environment of outdoors fashion. In 1898, after six years of working in the textile industry, he decided it was finally time to open up his own storefront.
The location of the original Abercrombie Co. store was prime for the high-end customers the brand wanted to attract. The retailer was on the shore in Manhattan at 36 South Street, a very prominent area where wealthy New Yorkers would purchase goods. The exclusive sporting goods store was an immediate success and attracted many high profile customers. From hunting rifles, backpacking equipment, camping gear, and highly innovative all-weather clothing, the store was on the cutting edge of clothing technology.
People of all different high income careers went to the store to prepare for their hunting trips. One man, a lawyer named Ezra Fitch, was a particularly loyal customer buying all different kinds of items from Abercrombie Co. regularly. He became so fascinated with the business that he asked to become a partner in 1900. Abercrombie was hesitant since he had a vision for the store as strictly an outdoor living and lifestyle brand and he feared that letting anyone in could cause change to that desired image. He needed the investment money from Fitch, so he agreed to let him buy shares in the company. A few shares were not what the bored attorney wanted however, he wanted a complete partnership and a new career. With much more convincing over the next few years, Abercrombie agreed to become partners and Fitch quit his day job to join the business full-time. The company’s name was changed to Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (A&F) in 1904 making the partnership public. The partnership meant expansion for the business and the company moved to a much larger storefront on Reade Street in Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan.
With the expanded facility, options soon extended for goods with the introduction of smoking jackets, fishing equipment, flasks, many leather goods, and a large firearms department. In the first year of the partnership, the company printed an almost 500 page catalog to advertise all the items available at the store. The catalog was shipped to customers free-of-charge and available for no cost in the store. The production and printing alone nearly bankrupted the company, but the return on investment lead to vast profits. This kind of expansion was not in the vision of what Abercrombie had hoped the retailer would expand into. After three years in the partnership, Abercrombie broke off from the company granting Fitch full ownership and he pursued his own fabric business. Even after A&F went their separate ways, the David T. Abercrombie textile company still supplied materials for clothes and other fabric based items for the sporting goods retailer.
The brand continued to operate under the name Abercrombie & Fitch and lead the way with innovation in sporting goods retail. In 1910, it became the first store in New York City to offer both men’s and women’s clothing in the same building. The store also relocated quite a few times with its eventual landing on the famous Madison Avenue to a 12-story tall storefront.
One of the most famous women to sport the brand was Amelia Earhart with her A&F flying jacket. Another notable customer was former president and known outdoorsmen Theodore Roosevelt. His whole Rough Riders unit was dressed head-to-toe in Abercrombie apparel during the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt became a lifelong customer buying tents, sleeping bags, and clothes for his safari trips. It would be humorous to see what the former president’s view of the retail store would be today. Another famous shopper in the firearms department was Ernest Hemmingway who would go on sprees while in A&F. In fact, a sad bit of history is that the shotgun he shot himself with most likely was purchased from the store.
In 1928, Fitch retired and sold the business to his brother-in-law, James S. Cobb. Under his ownership, he made many strategic deals with firearms manufacturers to sell their guns at A&F. This is when the business really started to bloom as a firearms retailer.
Guns of Abercrombie & Fitch
Cased Engraved and Gold Inlaid Abercrombie & Fitch Marked August Francotte Double Barrel 28 Gauge Shotgun
In our upcoming September Premier Auction, we have two well preserved firearms sold by Abercrombie & Fitch. One beauty is the A&F marked August Francotte double barrel 28 gauge shotgun. Francotte Firearms were only owned by highly esteemed industrial leaders and wealthy heads of state. Of course, a high end retailer like A&F would naturally sell a few Francotte firearms in their time to truly be known for fine guns.
The right barrel is marked “ABERCROMBIE & FITCH HOUSTON TEXAS” and Francotte’s address on the left. Belgian proofs reside on the flats and secondary British proofs are found on the cylinder. The splintered forearm is finely checkered and the double barreled shotgun has a straight grip stock with a checkered butt.
Deeply cut foliate and scroll engraving surround an alluring bird scene on the locks with gold inlaid ducks set against a delicately detailed marsh background. An American bald eagle is impressively engraved on the underside of the action with the trigger guard displaying beautiful gold inlaid bird on a fence post.
The gorgeous shotgun is accompanied by a certificate of proof issued by the Birmingham Gun Barrel Proof House and sports an array of accessories.
Exceptional Engraved and Gold Abercrombie & Fitch Marked Franz Sodia Drilling
This marvelous Abercrombie & Fitch marked drilling was manufactured in 1968 by Franz Sodia of Ferlach. The “ABERCROMBIE & FITCH” automatic flip up rear notch sights are meticulously gold inlaid and is accompanied by a beaded bald front sight. The receiver features brilliant full coverage fine scroll engraving surrounding a relief cut game scene of a running deer on the left and quail on the right. Both animal images are laboriously semi-relief gold inlay showing fine detail in the scenes.
The gun features an elegant checkered forearm with engraved fittings and a pistol grip stock with a serrated buttplate. The receiver exhibits standard maker’s marks on the underside, side clips, Greener style side safety, and sliding tang selector switch. The near completely retained deep blue polished finish makes this already astonishing gun stand out even more with its stunning detail. This drilling is a true example of the handpicked beauties A&F searched out to sell to their customers.
The New Era of Abercrombie & Fitch
Abercrombie & Fitch went through new ownership and many presidents throughout the years. When the 1960s came along, the decline in high end outdoors items hit and A&F was facing an identity crisis. The sad truth was, the loyal customers of the brand were growing old and passing away so a new model had to take form to keep the company afloat. In the late 1960s, the A&F store starting popping up in resort towns across the nation but they weren’t as popular as the brand believed they’d be. The 1970s brought in the decline of the brand’s very expensive image and discounted items could be seen at the entrance of the storefronts. The store was now selling a broad range of mostly clothing items. This was still not successful.
In 1988, A&F was bought out by a clothing brand called Limited which catered to children and teenagers. The brand moved the headquarters of A&F to Ohio and did a whole revitalization of the company. This is where the teeny bopper apparel and Ken doll models started to form. The brand was no longer for the rough and roughed man, it was for high schoolers trying to dress like West coast models. The revamp worked, but at the expense of what the A&F brand originated as and was known as for almost a century. No more old guns or outdoor living material will ever be found at an A&F store.
If you would like to get your hands on a classic Abercrombie & Fitch old gun, be sure to place your bids on these two beauties in our September Premier Auction. Not every firearm has a story like this behind it. Our September Premier Auction is September 6-8 with our Preview Day on Thursday the 5th. Our online catalog is not yet live, but it will be in the few weeks. We will keep you posted about its release in our newsletter and on social media.
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