By Robert G. Segel
Shotguns have always provided the hunter with a valuable tool. While relatively limited in their range, hurling a number of projectiles in a single blast helped ensure a hit on a moving target whether small game or fowl. As a fighting weapon with offensive capabilities, the shotgun came into its own during the close quarter battles of World War I. Additionally, with its short range devastating effects, the value of the shotgun is recognized as a viable implement of persuasion for guards and security personnel. Police departments, too, also recognized the potential of the shotgun in their duties in urban environments.
A number of shotguns were utilized during World War I, generally cylinderbore commercial off-the-shelf models with slight modifications that included perhaps a barrel shroud that would allow a bayonet attachment, shortened barrels or the addition of sling swivels. One such sporting model pressed into service was the pre-war Remington Model 10.
Enter John Browning
In an effort to reduce production costs, create a shotgun that had bottom ejecting capabilities, and generally redesign the gun to be more efficient operationally, Remington began to look for a new version of their Model 10 sporting shotgun. It was John Browning who came up with the new design, and applied for a patent on November 26, 1913. The new gun kept most of the basic design features of the Model 10 but was chambered in 20 gauge only accepting both 2-1/2 and 2-3/4 inch shotshells, was bottom ejecting with a vastly improved operating mechanism with an internal hammer rather than a striker and a twin-forked spring-steel carrier rather than a flapper type as well as a simpler takedown system. Before the patent was granted on June 15, 1915, U.S. Pat. No. 1143170, Browning made a production agreement with Remington for the manufacturing rights to the gun. As it turned out, when John Browning died in November, 1926, this gun was the last slide-action, magazinefed shotgun he designed.
Remington intended to produce and market this sporting five-shot, pump action, closed receiver, tipping-bolt, hammerless, underloading, tubular magazine, bottom ejecting, takedown shotgun in 20 gauge only in 1917, which is why they designated the gun as the Model 17. But World War I soon interfered with their plans. Their manufacturing facilities were swamped with wartime orders for British, Russian and American contracts from 1915 through 1918 and tooling for their new shotgun had to be delayed until after the war.
In 1919, Remington’s John D. Pederson initiated some design changes in Browning’s initial design and much later, Remington’s G.H. Garrison made some additional design improvements. It wasn’t until early 1921 that the new shotgun began to go into production. Intended as a sporting gun, it was first offered in Standard Grade (Model 17A) and sold for $60.92. In 1922, the price was reduced to $52.50. In 1923, four additional grades were offered: the Special Grade (Model 17B), Tournament Grade (Model 17D) and Expert Grade (Model 17F). Only later, in an effort to expand their market share, were the guns offered in Riot Grade (Model 17R) and Police Grade (Model 17P). As a sporting gun, the weapon had a low comb with a flat bottom pistol grip and a grooved or checkered forearm. The Model 17 was produced from 1921 to 1933 with approximately 73,000 guns being made, in all grades, with serial number blocks ranging from 0001 to 73,000.
Model 17R Riot Gun
In an effort to attract police department sales, Remington introduced in 1926 the Model 17R Riot Gun, which sold for $46.95, as soon as the first production run of sporting guns was completed. This model was essentially their sporting gun that featured a cylinderbore barrel 20 inches in length with a four-shot magazine capacity, an overall length of about 39 inches and unloaded weighed approximately 5.25 pounds. With a round in the chamber, the overall capacity of the gun was five rounds. The Model 17R was the first 20 gauge riot gun that Remington produced. It should be noted that there was no disconnector to the trigger mechanism thus allowing a “slam-fire” technique of operation if the operator so chose. This means that if the trigger were held back and the pump action cycled, the gun would fire upon the action closing. This allowed a rapid fire operation as fast as the operator could pump the forearm back and forth.
The target market for this gun was relatively small and the gun did not sell particularly well, though those police departments that did purchase it did find it useful in some special purpose situations. During this time period, Ithaca Arms Company introduced in 1922 their 20 gauge Auto and Burglar Gun with 10- inch barrels and pistol grip. This compact little double-barrel shotgun was noted for its ease of operation and particularly for its small size that allowed for easy concealment and use in confined areas. The Auto and Burglar Gun’s major drawback was its two-shot capacity. Remington decided to market their Model 17 to police departments to compete with the Auto and Burglar Gun and produce a “whipit” weapon (so called for its easy concealment and ability to quickly ‘whip it out’ from under a long coat or loose fitting clothing) by retaining all the operational features of the gun in a package that allowed superior firepower in a reaping shotgun in whipit form. This resulted in another extension of the Model 17 product line: the Model 17 Special Police Gun.
Model 17 Special Police Gun
The Model 17 Special Police Gun was a further modification of the standard 20 gauge Model 17 sporting shotgun that now featured an even shorter 14.5 inch barrel with the stock replaced with a wood pistol grip. This brought the overall length of the gun down to 25.5 inches and an unloaded weight of 4.5 pounds while still maintaining a five shot capacity. This model is sometimes just simply referred to as the Police Special. There were no special markings to the gun that identified it as the Police Model.
The early production guns of the Model 17 Special Police Gun had a spur to the top of the wood pistol grip that would fit just in front of the webbed portion of the hand between the thumb and forefinger. The early Model A Ithaca Auto and Burglar Gun also had this feature. This spur proved to be undesirable for two reasons. It was uncomfortable to the hand upon firing due to the recoil impulse and the spur would tend to catch on clothing and hinder a smoothwhipit motion in bringing the gun from concealment into action. In the late 1920s, Remington eliminated the spur from the pistol grip that resulted in a smooth curve to the handle. (Ithaca also removed the spur from their gun on their later Model B Auto and Burglar Gun.)
The Model 17 Special Police Gun was designed to be fired from the hip with one hand grasping the pistol-grip stock and trigger while the other hand operated the slide forearm. The gun was also fitted with a bead front sight should the operator attempt an aimed shot by holding the gun extended by both arms and superimposing the bead upon the target. This rarely occurred making the front bead sight more of an embellishment rather than a useful battle sight. The gun’s biggest advantages was that it was truly ambidextrous since it loaded from the bottom and ejected from the bottom - a distinct advantage in confined spaces, had a five-shot capacity, was short in length and light in weight.
The New York City Police
Department was one of the first to purchase the Model 17Special Police Gun where they were well received. Other police departments around the country soon also found favor with this gun including, among others, St. Louis and Milwaukee. Upon receiving an order for the Model 17 Special Police Gun, Remington would routinely supply both stocks for each weapon ordered. Besides the whipit pistol grip and short mounting bolt, they would also provide the standard Field Grade shoulder stock so that the police departments could switch from one stock to the other depending upon the mission requirement.
Even though production ceased in 1933 of all models, between 1921 and 1941, Remington sold 72,644 Model 17s in all grades. The exact number of Model 17 Special Police Guns that were sold is unknown, but the number is low; perhaps several hundred or so. The Model 17 was the last bottom-ejecting gun that Remington produced. (Though the Model 17 lived on in the form of the Ithaca Model 37.)
The Model 17 Special Police Gun found favor with police departments due to its ability to be easily concealed in special operational situations and undercover work beneath a top coat or even rolled up in a newspaper. It was small in size, light in weight, had a low recoil impulse and provided an acceptable number of rounds in a repeating shotgun. In the confines of narrow stairwells and other cramped spaces within buildings, this 20 gauge scattergun proved to be up to the task.
As Remington produced the Model 17 Special Police Gun at their factory as a production model, it qualifies as an Any Other Weapon (AOW) requiring transfer with a $5.00 tax stamp on a Form 4 to individuals, or, with the full stock it is a Short Barrel Shotgun (SBS) requiring ATF transfer with a $200.00 tax stamp on a Form 4 to individuals. For collectors, it is an important addition to any historic fighting shotgun collection.
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