Obscure Object of Desire: The Ithaca Auto & Burglar Gun

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

comments

  1. avatar acepeacemaker says:

    The NFA is disgusting. I’m surprised more people don’t complain about it. Gun owners are so damn accommodating. I’ve always wanted a Lupara for backpacking but short shotguns are illegal altogether here in Washington.

    1. avatar Mikial says:

      Lot’s of people complain, but the government doesn’t care about what the people want. Only what it wants.

    2. avatar Dracon1201 says:

      Sir, we complain everyday about it. It has less to do about being accomodating and more about fighting well entrenched opposition and repealing a decades old law. Things take time. I think the SilencerCo push to remove silencers was quite a nice step.

    3. avatar SelousX says:

      Are you certain? I’ve seen the Serbu Shorty at Wade’s Eastside Guns many times over the past few years, and I do believe it has always been for sale.

      1. avatar Rick the Bear says:

        The Shorty is still an NFA piece (Any Other Weapon). I just read a piece about them at SAR and I WANT ONE. I do not want, however, to play the NFA game for 1 cool firearm. So for now, I’ll look at the pictures.

      2. avatar int19h says:

        Serbu Shorty is an AOW, not an SBS. AOW is legal in Washington.

        http://www.atg.wa.gov/ago-opinions/whether-certain-weapons-meet-statutory-definition-short-barreled-shotgun

        (Which, by the way, is what I would also suggest to the person who complained – you can get these if you want, and for something with barrel that short, a pistol grip is arguably better than a proper stock anyway.)

        The other possibility is to get a Mossberg that was originally manufactured with a pistol grip, that was cut down to 14″ barrel and had the “bird’s head” grip installed. Because of the grip, it’s no longer a pistol. Because it never had a stock, it doesn’t count as a shotgun, short-barreled or not. Because of the overall length being over 26″, it’s not an AOW. So it’s not an NFA item at all, and can be readily obtained in the usual way:

        http://shockwavetechnologies.com/site/?page_id=88

        1. avatar Geoff PR says:

          Would a Mossy 500 factory folder be eligible for such a conversion?

        2. avatar int19h says:

          The only requirement is that the gun must have never had a stock on it. The moment it gets a stock, it becomes “designed to be fired from a shoulder”, and therefore a shotgun – and, in its infinite wisdom, ATF has decided that once it becomes one, no matter what you do with it afterwards, it remains one. So if you take a regular Mossberg with a stock, and do the same procedure on it – replace stock with bird’s head and cut the barrel – then you’re in possession of an SBS (even though the only way to distinguish between that and AOW would be to look up the original configuration by serial number, since they’re identical in other respects).

          I’m not sure what type of factory folder you’re referring to. If it has a folding stock, then this scheme won’t work. You need Cruiser or something similar, that begins its life with a pistol grip and nothing else.

        3. avatar Victor says:

          I am surprised that gun manufacturers do not more actively accommodate their customers in view of the ridiculous NFA rules. By making more guns available that have no stock or other restrictive features.

        4. avatar int19h says:

          I think it’s because most shotgun manufacturers are on a firmer footing in a more traditional hunting/sporting market, and are wary of the “tacticool” crowd. So they don’t really want to play games with the ATF.

  2. avatar Hannibal says:

    That thing’s lovely. So there’s no way to make it legal? Seems bizarre for something that’s not even a scary “machine gun.”

    1. avatar sagebrushracer says:

      The NFA is more bizarre and offensive than Japanese tentacle hentai. Its worse than it sounds and don’t google it at work, JIC your wondering.

      1. avatar AdamTA1 says:

        Thanks for the laugh.

  3. avatar Tom W. says:

    How would this legally compare to a Howda? A similar pistol version rifle cartridge used back in the day for Tiger hunts as a JIC from the bamboo perch on an elephant?

    Why isn’t this C&R compliant? Or as a family piece that old, legal?

    I’m confused, cause the damn .gov makes it confusing.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “Why isn’t this C&R compliant?”

      Interesting question, anyone know?

      1. avatar Stinkeye says:

        Just based on age, it certainly qualifies as a C&R. Doesn’t much help, though, with NFA-restricted items. A gun can be a curio or relic, and an NFA item at the same time, and NFA takes precedence. Per the ATF:

        “Firearms regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA) may be classified as C&R items, but still may be subject to the provisions of the NFA. If your C&R item is an NFA firearm (e.g., Winchester Trappers) and you desire removal from the NFA status, you must submit it to FATD for evaluation and a formal classification.”

        1. avatar Geoff PR says:

          Ahhh, thanks for the clarification.

          (Cursing the NFA under my breath…)

  4. avatar INFOSEC says:

    >if his uncle had ever registered the historical piece. He just laughed

    >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.

    BEADWINDOW

    Dan, stand by for a visit from ATF asking for your buddy’s address….

    1. avatar Chuck in IL says:

      Stand by for the BATF to be told to go pound sand.

  5. avatar gs650g says:

    The ultimate Mad Max prop.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “The ultimate Mad Max prop.”

      Eh, I think that honor goes to a guitar converted to a flamethrower:..

  6. avatar Jim says:

    My father recently registered an inherited .410 shotgun pistol. It had been properly registered in the 1960’s during the “amnesty” period but that family member had passed away years ago leaving the piece in limbo for almost a quarter of a century now.

    From what it sounds like my father actually had a decent experience with the ATF figuring out what needed to be done and agents were more than accommodating to help him. No one was out to get him or entrap him once it was evident he was in possession of it without proper registration.

    I still dislike the ATF.

    1. avatar Mikial says:

      Glad things went well for your dad. I would imagine it was because that particular agent was cool, but I would say he was lucky.

    2. avatar Victor says:

      Having been properly registered in the 60s probably had something to do with the agents good will. Had it not been, I am sure it would have been a very different story.

  7. avatar Tim says:

    Being made by Pedersoli in 45/410 some time this summer, saw it at SHOT show and fell in love

  8. avatar jwm says:

    “Novelty” is a unique view of something that can get you fined and imprisoned. In my youth I had relatives that had things like tommy guns, grenades and other military bring backs from several wars.

    Now that I’m an adult I put space between me and things that can get you a felony.

    NFA sucks. But it’s there and it ain’t going away quick or easy.

  9. avatar anaxis says:

    Very cool. Ian from Forgotten Weapons did a video on these a little while ago, on two that came up for auction. One had the grip pictured, and the other had the ugly squared-off grip. If my memory serves right, they sold for several grand each.

    1. avatar JoshFormerlyinGA says:

      I could very well be misremembering, but were those not M1 carbine “enforcers” that Ian reviewed a couple months back?

  10. avatar Andrew Lias says:

    I would sure as heck not be writing a blog article about such a fine piece of hardware due to legalities. That is a beautiful sample, it’s a shame that there can’t be some tom foolery to get it on the books. Were these serialized?

    1. avatar Escaped from Illinois says:

      It should be, I have a 1921 Ithaca Flues Double barrel. It has a serial number imprinted on the handguard, reciever and barrel.

  11. avatar Geoff PR says:

    A real shame it has to be kept on the down-low.

    Here’s to hoping we get a cool El Presidente in early November.

    I must say, we ought to look into somehow bringing these forgotten weapons in from the cold, maybe a new NFA amnesty program we can tack onto a bill the Progs want real bad…

  12. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    The Flues is a solid SxS gun, very simple in the lockwork. The first time I took one apart, my reaction was “Is that it? Is it really this easy? Really?” I kept wondering “what’s the catch?”

    There are some very nice examples of the Flues out there, on par with the higher grade Fox or Parkers. The highest grade Fox and Parkers are, IMO, more nicely finished than the Ithicas, so the obscure Parkers and Foxes tend to command higher prices (sometimes over $90K), but there are Ithica SxS’s that will command $15K and up.

    The Auto & Burglar was a neat gun made for a specific self-defense application from a solid action, and finished very plainly to keep the price down. The few Model B’s in 28 or .410 gauge will be worth over $5K today.

  13. avatar Stinkeye says:

    “They’re a worthy investment that stand the test of time.”

    While that’s often true, I’d hesitate to use the skyrocketing value of NFA-restricted pieces like this one as a generalized example. People are only paying thousands for them because idiotic laws have created artificial scarcity.

    Most old guns, unless they’re a rare model or have some documented history attached (or get caught up in a bubble like the Colt snake guns), just sort of keep up with or slightly beat inflation over time. That makes them more of a “store of wealth” than an investment in my mind. Still better than a savings account, though, and you get to shoot ’em. 🙂

    Investment or not, though, that is a badass little cannon!

    1. avatar Roger says:

      If you shoot an actual burglar with one of these, best to tuck it away real quick and lay pop’s old pump gun across the body…

  14. avatar Wrightl3 says:

    Repeal the nfa.

  15. avatar Muih says:

    While I totally appreciate the sentiment, creating photographic and written evidence of a federal felony with a possession of an unpapered NFA item seems…unwise.

    1. avatar JC762N says:

      The only way anything changes is through open and casual non-compliance.

      922R is a joke and never enforced because everybody and his brother has violated it openly at one time or another.

      Yet 922R has similar repercussions to NFA violations.

      HMMMM MAYBE ITS NOT ENFORCED BECAUSE PEOPLE STOPPED CARING ABOUT IT.

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