Iver Johnson .32 Top Break revolver


September 9, 2013, 08:13 PM
Howdy, my husband just purchased a Iver Johnson Top break, and we are trying to determine the age, so we will use the correct ammo when shooting...i,e, powder or powderless! Any Iver Johnson fans that could help us out will be greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance!

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September 9, 2013, 09:21 PM
Going to have to have more information then that.

Iver Johnson made revolvers from 1873 to 1993.
Or 120 years.

If you could post a good photo, and any markings on the gun, someone might have a clue how old it is.

My crystal ball is in the shop this week getting a wax & buff job.


Ron James
September 9, 2013, 09:37 PM
Also need serial number and letter prefix from under the left grip, the number on the trigger guard is unreliable , also need the wording and dates of all markings. Some times it is only possible to ID a Iver Johnson by the location of the various markings. and patent dates.

September 9, 2013, 10:06 PM
we found one years back cleaning out a dead relatives house, thing was in great shape. They are a bit hard to date if memory serves me right, and if the grips and things aren't original it makes it much harder, serial numbering seemed to be an art not a science back then. Ours was .32 s&w short. We dated it to roughly 1904 by detective work of features, which is kinda how you have to do it.
Ours Actually shot, and shot fairly well the ejection system worked, it locked up tight.

They seemed popular in their era, but were made infamous as the gun that killed president McKinnely.

Ron James
September 9, 2013, 11:09 PM
Thank to the extensive research done by the late Bill Goforth, it is easier now, still tricky sometimes, but his work has proven itself time and time again.

September 10, 2013, 02:53 PM
Howdy, sorry having some trouble trying to figure out how to respond on this website, so if you have already received this my apologies! The gun's serial number under the left grip does NOT have a letter preceeding the number 72956. The owl which is on the top of the grip, his chin is facing the trigger. And the last patent date out of a series of about 3 is Aug 23' 96. Thanks for your reply!

September 10, 2013, 02:54 PM
Ron the serial number under the left grip does not have any letters, but here is the number 72956.

Ron James
September 10, 2013, 09:46 PM
Well, maybe it can be narrowed down. The Patent date of Aug25-96 was used on a slew of guns, however the only guns with no letter prefix and that patent date on both frame sizes , would be in 1895. Iver Johnson did not go to a stronger " Smokeless " frame until 1909. The pressure of modern 32 S&W cartridge is the same as the old black powder cartridges. The big difference is that smokeless powder has a higher pressure peak. firing a few rounds of 32 S&W shorts is not going to blow up the gun, but continued use of smokeless cartridges will very quickly ruin the gun, breaking the hinge and loosing the cylinder.

Jim K
September 10, 2013, 11:23 PM
True, what Ron says, but those guns have a lot of flat springs which often break without warning. Parts are scarce and gunsmiths who will work on them are even scarcer. I really recommend, if you want a gun to shoot rather than as a collection piece, that you obtain a new, or at least newer, gun.


September 16, 2013, 12:19 PM
My grandfather carried an Iver Johnson break top revolver in the Alaskan Gold Rush.

I started buying them at gun shows 10 years ago at $50 for working and $35 for broken.
The most common failure is the trigger spring.
I have fixed a lot of them.
Prices have gone up.
It is now $50 for broken and $100 for working break tops.

I overloaded a 38 S&W with a 38 Super +P load and the latch got loose.
I said to my father, chief engineer over 150 engineers in a gun and vehicle design company, "I had too much pressure."
He snapped at me, "That is not from pressure! That if from recoil pulling on the barrel mass and from bullet friction!!"
It took me a while to understand that, but now I do. I only shoot soft lead bullets in break top Iver Johnsons.

The 38sw latch is a tiny piece of sheet metal with a hole in it, and pinned with a #5-56 screw, or something odd like that. The latch stretch and makes the action loose by making the hole in the sheet metal oblong.

The 32sw latch is even smaller, #8-64 screw or something odd like that.
The 32acp jacketed ammo [it is actually semi rimmed] will drop in and fire in a 32S&W, but just one shot can stretch the latch.
There are many variations in the Goforth book, and the later revolvers seem to have a tougher latch.

These days I typically put one grain of Unique or Bullseye in a 32sw with a soft lead bullet. That can be a lead ball.

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