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Iver Johnson .38 revolver 5 shot

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by muddslinger_lp, Dec 24, 2013.

  1. muddslinger_lp

    muddslinger_lp New Member

    I believe I have an Iver Johnson .38 cal hammer less break over revolver 5 shot. The serial number is under the trigger guard (31965). This is written on top of the barrel, Iver Johnson Works & Cycle Arms Fitchburg, Mass USA. I am not sure if its .38 super or what, also not sure on the age. If anyone can help that would be greatly appreciated.
  2. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Well-Known Member

    They made those from 1895 til 1950 and I do not have the reference book to tell you when yours was built.

    I can tell you that the caliber is .38 S&W; NOT .38 Special and DEFINITELY NOT .38 Super. If you got a .38 Super into the gun it would develop three or four times the pressure it is built for and would surely blow it up.
  3. muddslinger_lp

    muddslinger_lp New Member

    Thank you Jim, It was my great grandfathers and we just were not sure exactly what it was.
  4. Gun Master

    Gun Master Well-Known Member

    Iver Johnson Top Break Hammerless Revolver .38S&W Cal.

    Jim gave you correct info, but I suggest you determine if was built for"black powder" or "smokeless" before attempting to shoot modern day ammo, which is smokeless and creates high pressures, and could be dangerous. I also do not have Mr. Bill (Wm.) Goforth's reference book on Iver Johnson guns. Maybe someone on this thread can supply necessary info. Otherwise, I would advise not shooting until a competent gunsmith can advise you. Merry Christmas !!!:)
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2013
  5. muddslinger_lp

    muddslinger_lp New Member

    Thanks for the heads up on that. Is there a way to look at it and tell?
  6. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Well-Known Member


    Around the turn of the Century Iver Johnson redesigned their revolvers for Smokeless Powder. It is easy to determine whether yours was designed for Smokeless Powder or if it should only be shot with Black Powder.

    This is a Smokeless gun. The dead giveaway is that the little owl on the grips is facing backwards away from the barrel. If you remove the grips, the hammer spring will be a coil spring. Also, study the cylinder locking notches. Notice how there is a hard edge to both the top and bottom of the notches. This means the bolt securely prevents the cylinder from rotating in either direction.


    This is an earlier Black Powder Iver Johnson. Notice the little owl is facing forward, not backwards. If the grips are removed the main spring will be a flat spring, not a coil spring. Lastly, study the cylinder locking notches. Notice there is only one hard edge. The bolt only prevents the cylinder from rotating in one direction, the hand is what prevents the cylinder from rotating backwards, not the bolt.


    Those are the keys to identification of a Black Powder Iver Johnson vs one that was built with better steel designed to take the pressure of Smokeless Powder.
  7. muddslinger_lp

    muddslinger_lp New Member

    According to those pics mine is a smokeless revolver. Thanks for the information. Good stuff. Mine is not as clean as that one. Not sure if having it cleaned would cause it to lose any value.
  8. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Well-Known Member

    Cleaning it will not cause it to lose value. Removing original finish, including any rust patina will.

    However, these are not particularly valuable guns to begin with.
  9. LAGS

    LAGS Well-Known Member

    @ Mudslinger_lp
    These are fun guns to play with.
    Yours is the more modern style than the one I just rebuilt and got firing.
    They were also commonly refered to as Owl's Heads's or Suicide Specials.
    I hope you get yours checked out and get it out to the range.
    If yours needs repair, Some parts are still availabe from Gun parts Corp and some other parts houses.
    But I had to make the parts like the hand, firing pin retainer, firing pin, firing pin spring and Mainspring for mine.
    Mine was actually Welded shut when I got it, and was missing parts.
    They are not the most dependable revolvers, but are just nice to keep them firing , especially since it has been in your family a while.
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2013
  10. Ron James

    Ron James Well-Known Member

    When dealing with Iver Johnson and U.S. Revolvers the true serial number is located under the left grip ( except the very early 1895 ones ). The serial number on the trigger guard will not have a letter prefix and trigger guards can be and have been changed. Same with the grip, while the early black powder guns will have the owl looking at the barrel, these grips are often replace with later grips. The best and most accurate way to determine the age on one of these revolver is to pull the left grip and look at the main spring and research the number and prefix located there.
  11. PRM

    PRM Well-Known Member

    Great info Driftwood. Thanks for posting.
  12. dickydalton

    dickydalton Well-Known Member

    Note that that "Old" Iver Johnson had a transfer bar ignition! Bill Ruger didn't invent it he copied it.
  13. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Well-Known Member

    I don't believe Ruger ever claimed to invent the transfer bar. He simply knew a good thing when he saw it.
  14. Two Old Dogs

    Two Old Dogs Well-Known Member

    The most reliable method of determining whether an Iver Johnson Top Break revolver was cambered for black powder or smokeless powder cartridges is the number of cross pins in the lower frame above the trigger. Black Powder versions will have only two cross pins in the lower frame while Smokeless Powder models will have four cross pins in the lower frame.

    All Iver Johnson top break revolvers made after 1909 are chambered for Smokeless Powder cartridges.

    The grips of Iver Johnson Top Break revolvers are interchangeable between Black Powder models and Smokeless Powder models, therefore, this is not an effective method of determining whether the revolver was chambered for a Smokeless Powder cartridge.

    All U.S. Revolver Company revolvers were chambered for Smokeless Powder cartridges.
  15. dickydalton

    dickydalton Well-Known Member

    Not to be testy, but I didn't say he claimed to invent it. I was just pointing out to those that didn't know that gun makers back in the 1800s weren't backwards a bit and most of the great guns we have today are the product of copied designs in a lot of ways. I didn't mean to offend.
  16. Jim K

    Jim K Well-Known Member

    I would not lump IJ revolvers into the "suicide special" category; that term implies a gun so poorly made that it will fire only one shot before blowing up or breaking.

    In the time before WWII, Iver Johnson was a maker of quality revolvers, second only to the the "top tier" of S&W and Colt. IJ guns were well made, of good materials and nicely finished. The problem was that later management was not progressive and never tried to get the capital to improve the product. The original company ceased operations c. 1978, though the name has been used since by a couple of companies.


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