RIA: Ithaca Auto & Burglar

Before 1934, there was no legal restriction on short-barreled shotguns, and several companies offered pistol-style shotguns for personal protection. One of the best of these was the Ithaca Auto & Burglar. These were made mostly in 20ga, but could also be ordered in .410, 16ga, or even 12ga. They were basically a short version (typically 10″ barrels) of Ithaca’s standard SxS shotgun action with a special stock intended to be held like a pistol.

The stock changed style in 1925, when Ithaca made some changes to the shotgun action as well. The early stocks had a small wooden spur that was reportedly fragile and prone to breaking. This replaced with a more squared-off looking design for the remainder of production.

Production and sale of the Auto & Burglar (and the other guns like it) ended abruptly in 1934, when passage of the National Firearms Act placed a massive tax on their sale or transfer. The guns had already been expensive at $40, and the NFA tax added on an addition $200 to that (this would be changed to $5 for AOWs in 1968). Obviously, nobody was going to legally purchase one of these with a 500% federal tax, so Ithaca stopped making them. Today I am looking at examples of both an early A&B and also a later style A&B.

Tomorrow is the first day of Rock Island’s current Premier auction, so this will be our last video in this series. Hope you’ve enjoyed them!

 

18 Comments

  1. Although I’ve never had the opportunity to root through one of these treasure troves, the Auto-Burglar is typical of the NFA weapons that are said to reside in the gun safes at many Southern and Midwestern sheriff’s departments, especially in rural areas where the chief law enforcement officer of the county holds office for decades before passing on the mantle to a relative or longtime subordinate. The “collection” that is legal because it is law-enforcement property are said to include not only weapons that became illegal in 1934 (quite possibly remaining in private hands until a death in the family, and the heirs look for a quick and quiet way to dispose of Granddad’s top-closet-shelf secret) as well as military bringbacks. I never saw them but supposedly the sheriff of my (rural Midwestern) county when I was a kid had an both a MP-40 and M3A1 that had quietly come into his possession years after WW2 and Korea, so he kept them.

  2. Had one much like these once; an Ithica Salesman’s Lock Demonstrator. It had the notorious sloping grip and hammers instead of the later models shown. The 12 gauge barrels were just 1 ¾ inch longer that the cut-down “forearm” making them about 9 ½ inches if memory serves. It was also rather loud and produced a pronounced muzzle flash/blast under a full powered head of steam. It came with a box of specially loaded Remington rounds loaded with lead wire instead of shot. These balled up on firing and cut a larger path than the notorious dime-loads of yore. I had a shoulder holster made and carried it for years. In a “situation” it usually ended all discussions when brought into play. But I made the mistake of going on a raid with a narrow-minded Fed and all I got to keep was the locks and hammers, which I still have in the safe. But it was very effective in its intended use.

    • I’ve read of the wire loads, wasn’t aware that it was lead wire. I spent several years doing plumbing, including threading a lot of iron pipe, and it always seemed to me that the ideal urban home-defense tool (I’ve got a history of living in dense-population neighborhoods with lots of older wooden homes nearby, so penetration is always a factor in determining what goes behind the door (Marlin 60 with hollowpoints) or in the nightstand (.38 Special with, of all things, 148-grain target wadcutters)) would be a shotgun with handloads of de-oiled iron pipe thread shavings. Lethal at immediate-threat range, uncomfortable at edge-of-the-yard range, no threat to the piano-prodigy orphan sleeping a block away.

      • Keep in mind that every projectile a weapon fires the shooter is responsible for. That, and the fact that a high-velocity, light weight bullet can be heavily disrupted by barriers, is part of what drives people making a studied decision to use 5.56×45 and similar for home defense where possible. Heavy, slowish bullets tend to zip right through non-hardened barriers – possibly into the next home.

        The most important part, of course, is getting all the bullets into the bad guy where all the damage they do is a positive. XD

  3. Oh man! If I only had the samoleans! That’d be the new roscoe for sure!

    Kind of a “pirate gun,” I’ve always liked the Ithaca Auto & Burglar. I think the full flap holster for the things is also great. I know that folks can modify or chop a shotgun for NFA tax-payers and Class III holders as an “AOW” but I’ve yet to see a re-do of the stock like that… Given the market for replicas, I’m a bit surprised no-one has ever made a reasonable facsimile for a bit under the stated auction price…

  4. Thinking back on the Ithica I remembered that in the late-1980s I was tearing down an old plantation home for the old-growth lumber used to build it so I could use it to make cabinets and furniture for our new home. In one of the walls I found a small double-barreled pistol with hammer locks and tip-up barrels. The ends of the barrels were very thin for a pistol so I have always assumed it to be a “pocket shotgun” of about .41 cal. I do not remember if it was a rimfire or center fire. The end of one barrel was rusted through at the muzzle and I could find no maker’s markings anywhere on it. Both locks still work and the firing pins are free and clean. The barrels are not rifled. The reason I remembered it is that it is in the box with the locks from the Ithica. I assume that it came in by boat from New Orleans since much of the “bought” fixtures of this pre-Civil War home were made in France or New Orleans as that was the only supply line into this part of Louisiana back then. If I can find it I will send some photos to Ian. The possible history intrigues me til this day.

  5. “Obviously, nobody was going to legally purchase one of these with a 500% federal tax, so Ithaca stopped making them.”
    How many Ithaca Auto & Burglar were produced after “National Firearms Act placed a massive tax” before production ended? What happend with that guns?

    • The factory may have salvaged the locks for use in normal shotguns. The locks would have been where the money was.

      Or they could have been exported or sold to law enforcement if they could find buyers.

  6. In the early 1970s, Holland Firearms Inc. (Houston, TX) had a limited run of reproduction “Auto – Burglar” guns made for sale to law enforcement and duly-authorized Class III licensees by a Spanish maker (probably AyA). They had 10.125″ barrels, Imp. Cyl. bores, and were chambered for the 20 gauge 3″ magnum shotgun round, which has sort of fallen by the wayside since then.

    They can be told from the original by the sideplates, which have a scallop at the back not present on the original and the legend AUTO-BURGLAR in block capitals, and by the shape of the pistol grip which has a more pronounced convex curve to the backstrap with a slight “shoulder” at the top, and lacks the “hook” or”flange” at the top, resulting in a grip profile more like a Colt Bisley or S&W SA revolver grip.

    Having fired one myself, I can state that it is very important to pull down very firmly with the off hand wrapped around the forend, to avoid the weapon literally throwing your shooting arm up and back and very possibly being hit in the face with the barrels.

    The one I tested in 1976 was the only one I ever saw, and I’m inclined to suspect that not too many were ever made or sold, to law enforcement or anyone else.

    If you’re interested, the old Law Enforcement Handgun Digest by Dean Grennell and Mason Williams (DBI Books, 1972) has an article about the weapon beginning on page 104.

    cheers

    eon

  7. Eon: I found it better to place the off-hand on top of the barrels just in front of the breech and “stiff arm” the recoil. It was also better to fire the back trigger first because the recoil was enough to do strange things otherwise. Several people shot it with the trigger finger and the second finger on both triggers at one time. BAD idea = double-discharge! If you allowed your top-grip hand to slide forward under recoil and double-fired you could thenceforth be called “Lefty” just like with an 870 pump with a 13″ barrel and no guard/recoil-plate on the end of the tubular magazine.

    • OUCH! That wouldn’t end well in the movies, let alone in real life. The Auto & Burglar does defend well as intended, but bad guys probably bought it for sticking up the corner store, something an easily concealed and disproportionately destructive weapon is quite good at doing (threatening, even if the bad guy can’t shoot a hoot). Because a “defensive weapon” is far more likely than any other weapon to be used for murder than full-auto or semi-auto “assault weapons,” I can see why politicians decided to make it an “illegal gun” even though it can only shoot twice like all other double-barrel break-action shotguns. I’d hate to have it stuck in my face. If I were a bank teller in the twenties and thirties, I’d just drop the robber down a trapdoor of doom (yes, some smart guy invented a trapdoor device for thwarting bank robberies, and one could also choose to casually drown the crook in the pit).

      • Probably the most “efficient” sawn-off double-barrel (to overstate the case) was the old “lupara” of the Sicilian Mafia. Most people think it’s just the local name for what was called a “coach gun” on the American frontier (I.e., a double-barrel with 20″ Cyl. bore barrels), but the actual lupara had the barrels cut back to just ahead of the end of the forend but retained its stock, plus almost invariably having a sling.

        The reason was simple. It was mainly used for poaching. The gun, broken down, could be concealed under a short jacket because the action+stock and barrel set were only about 15-16″ long each. Some cut the stock down to 12″, but that made shooting from the shoulder difficult. And it was generally shot “mounted to the shoulder” as normal, to increase the chances of hitting dinner.

        Whether the Mafia predates the lupara, or vice versa, is one of those chicken-and-egg arguments.

        cheers

        eon

    • You’re surprised when someone who spends considerable time around and researching 100+ year old firearms uses 100+ year old phrases when speaking to an audience that has an interest in said 100+ year old firearms research?

      That strongly resembles criticizing a gun video for not dumbing down the clip vs magazine distinction.

  8. Don’t think he used an Ithaca, but Tubbs used a short barrelled double the first couple season of Miami Vice, and he fired it using the offhand atop the barrels technique.

    You can get a great look at it as he checks the chambers as he and Crockett drive to the shootout at the end of the pilot episode, an iconic TV scene, with In the Air Tonight playing. Hey, I was young once.

    Always liked the A&B. If circumstances permitted, I’d love to own one.

  9. A little known fact is that NFA 1934 was aimed at eliminating handguns. “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” Sawed off shotguns and short barrel rifles were handgun substitutes for those unable to get a revolver or “automatic” pistol. Robert Sherril’s
    “The Saturday Night Special” (1973) mentioned that the Tommy Gun was used to stampede Congress into passing the NFA. The National Rifle Association wrote the original language and the first bill had a number of interesting quirks in addition to creating a federal registry of all legal handguns and requiring federal licensing of all handgun owners. Magazine capacity limits, rigorous “may issue” concealed carry, requiring police permission to move the gun from place to place, giving up Fourth Amendment rights by granting police blanket permission to “inspect” the licensed item and any ammunition for it and the premises where it was stored…

    The Tommy Gun gambit is still with us today as “evil guns” are used to wedge in legislation against other guns. The $200 transfer tax for machine guns was a big deal in 1934 and hasn’t been increased–in fact, as the video mentions, the Auto & Burglar transfer tax was reduced to $5 in 1968 and has remained constant–a cup of Starbucks can run twice that 1934 tax in 2018 dollars.

    The NFA 1934 and follow-on legislation has been an abject failure. Just ask those seeking “strong” gun control. I’m claiming that the major reason for this failure is the gun ban gang keeps getting caught demonstrating contempt for every other human on the planet.

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