While in central Oregon looking at some properties recently, I stopped by a buddy’s house to drop off some ammo and a jug of his favorite hooch. After catching up on our jobs, lives and upcoming hunts, he said he had inherited something from his uncle that I might like to see. He unwrapped this historical piece from a towel . . .
I’d never seen one, but This thing was cool. This Ithaca Auto & Burglar gun is chambered in 20 gauge.
Left to right above are 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and a 20 gauge 20-pellet #3 buck shell. Let the caliber wars begin!
Back in 1922, Ithaca took their Flues model shotgun and made a model geared towards couriers, truck drivers and folks like us. They made them in 20 gauge for starters, eventually adding them in 16, 28 and .410. Although around 4,000 total were made, only around 11 of the .410’s have been documented. They were initially chambered for 2 1/2-inch shells. There were about 2,500 of these made. The first generation models also had that “saw handle” looking grip. Apparently, if it was hit hard or dropped just right, the “beaver tail” would break off.
In about 1925, Ithaca switched to their New Improved Double model shotgun with 2 3/4-inch chambers. They used up the rest of their 10-inch barrels and started making them in a 12-inch barrel. They also squared off the grip. If memory serves, 18-inch barrel shotties are 18″ because the barrels got messed up somehow during production so the factories just cut them down for different models. Maybe Ithaca had a bunch of double barrels they couldn’t use in regular waterfowl guns. I think this due to the pointing bird dog that remains (faintly) engraved on the receiver.
Then along came the National Firearms Act. In 1933, Ithaca halted production of these unique pieces. They only retailed for about $40 so their designation as a sawed off shotgun (rather than a smooth bore pistol) meant the tax was five times the value of the gun. In 1960, this was changed to only a $5.00 stamp as they were reclassified as an “Any Other Weapon”, or AOW.
For being 90-plus years old, this one is in terrific shape. The hand-cut checkering is still fairly sharp. I asked my buddy if his uncle had ever registered the historical piece. He just laughed and reminded me of where I was. Folks in central and eastern Oregon have a different perspective with these things. They tend to raise a proud middle finger to the guvmint.
Here’s the really stupid part of the equation – the BATFE allows you to make one of these today. All you have to do is fill out a bunch of paperwork, pay some fees, submit fingerprints and photographs, wait a year, and voila! You can make your very own hand cannon. But register one that’s been found in an attic or passed down from a deceased relative? Nope. That’ll be a $250,000 fine and ten years of being a pillow biter. And the .gov talks about “common sense” gun laws.
After checking the bore…
My buddy let me pop a few rounds off. The recoil wasn’t bad at all. But then I’m a big bore freak…I love ’em! It was really fun to shoot and amazing how fast the pattern opened up using low base #7.
My buddy is a big guy, about 6’5″ and around 270 lbs. This thing looked tiny in his hands.
I have big hands for my size. Even at that, though, my finger barely reaches the front trigger while maintaining a death grip.
Still, it’s a shame it was never registered. As it sits now, this one’s just a novelty. Something to be brought out and shot now and again just for fun. Had it been papered, it would be fairly valuable, as evidenced by an auction in 2013 here.
From a fourty dollar purchase 90+ years ago to five grand today…further proof that guns aren’t just for self defense or hunting. They’re a worthy investment that stand the test of time. And for those of us who love history and obscure objects of desire? Priceless.