Iver Johnson: What’s in a Serial Number?

We’ve all seen serial numbers that include letters either as a prefix or a suffix. However, have you seen a serial “number” that is all letters instead? Well, that’s exactly what Iver Johnson did at one point in its history.

Between 1909 and 1957, Iver Johnson – known for their inexpensive handguns – made a shotgun they named “Champion.” Johnson’s serial numbers consisted of a variety of different formats over the years, including all numbers, numbers with a letter (or two) as a prefix … and even all letters.

The “serial letter” identification is often seen on the Champion shotguns. What appears to be a random jumble of letters actually corresponds to individual digits. Here is the code they used:


Knowing the code, a serial letter of BHFI becomes 6521. While it may seem like an unusual choice of letters (wouldn’t alphabetical be simpler?), it actually has meaning. If you look down the letters, they spell out “FITCHBURG.” That’s the name of the Massachusetts town where the company was based.

So there you have it. If you come across an Iver Johnson shotgun with letters where the numbers should be, you can use the code above to decipher the real serial number.

Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.


  1. avatar jwm says:

    When I was a kid the old timers called them “Ivory Johnsons”. .22, .32 and .38 were the handguns and these single shots were available in all the gauges.

    Saw a bunch of them. Used a bunch of them.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      Amen. For cheap inexpensive guns they were pretty well made.

  2. avatar Rusty Shackleford says:

    Iver Johnson is also known for NOT using serial numbers on the illegal M16s they made for the Sandinistas during the coke-for-guns deals being run out of Mena, Arkansas.

    1. avatar mark s. says:

      Hey Rusty , not many of us still around that know about all the Barry Seals , depositions from federal judges , dead kids on the tracks , girls thrown out of planes , ashtrays full of coke , guns for coke , old man Bush running the CIA ‘ guns for coke ‘ out of the Mena , AK airport and the Gov. of AK getting the White House as a reward story , but the real bulk of guns that those EL Salvador boys got for their coke , came from Iran . Good call .

  3. avatar Tom in OregonM says:

    I’ve got a 9 shot .22 or of that breed. Shoots pretty good for its age.

  4. avatar pcb_duffer says:

    No code for 0?

    1. avatar John says:

      X stands for 0

  5. avatar BradP says:

    So who has serial # 62345?

    1. avatar Dave says:

      yep his mom does

  6. avatar Jim Benton says:

    Knowing the code, shouldn’t a serial letter of BHFI become 6512?

    1. avatar Logan Metesh says:

      It absolutely should. I’m a little lysdexic – I mean dyslexic.

      1. avatar Timmy! says:


        1. avatar John says:

          DNA = National Dyslexia Association

  7. avatar 16V says:

    S/Ns weren’t required until GCA ’68.

    Strictly optional until that point….

  8. avatar GS650G says:

    I’ve a IJ sealed 8 .22 made in 1940. Very accurate but a terrible double action trigger.

  9. avatar Mat says:

    I came across this message thread while searching for approx when my IJ .32 safety top-break revolver might have been made; maybe one of you can help?
    Serial #: I “eye” 45320 (stamped on the frame under the left grip, owls facing in, and on the inside of the trigger gaurd)
    I’m trying to see if its safe to fire smokeless cartridges, but have found conflicting info everywhere I look.
    One Internet “expert” says that any serial # starting with the letter “G” or higher is version 3 post-1909 smokeless, but will never have a free-spinning cylinder – Mine is higher than G but spins freely.
    Wikipedia says version 3 post-1909 smokeless have double-latch top breaks – Mine is single latch.
    Another “Expert” says versions 1 & 2 (black powder) have “Patent Pending dates” stamped on top of the barrel rib underneath the “Iver Johnsons Arms & Cycle Works.” – Mine says “Iver Johnsons Arms & Cycle Works on top, and “Fitchburgh Mass, USA” under it, but no “Patent Pending” stamps.

    Is it possible to have a post-1909 “I” serial # smokeless model 3, with both a free-spinning cylinder and single latch top-break? Thanks for any insight you might have!

    1. just purchased an ivers-with serial # 434444B i would like to know anything about this shotgun, ant idea were i can get that info?

  10. avatar James Raby says:

    I have an IJ Champion 16 guage with BXRT. Your code lists a number for each letter but X. What does X stand for? Is there a way to determine the year from this serial no. 6X83

    1. avatar John says:

      X stands for 0

  11. avatar david billhimer says:

    need to know the brief history ( production date , place ) of iver Johnson 16 gauge shotgun serial number 10309B . thanks

  12. avatar Ben says:

    I have an old IJ 12 ga single shot. Nickel plated. Only Iver Johnson written on the barrel. The serial number is 4671. So I am assuming it was made somewhere between 1909 and 1919. Anybody have any other info on this?

  13. avatar Arthur Le Blanc says:

    I have a Champion twenty gauge. There is a U I F I stamped on the left side of the trigger guard. I think it is full choke. Can you tell me when it was manufactured?

  14. avatar CG says:

    What is the basis for these claims?

  15. avatar Craig Genovese says:

    I have a 16g Champion serial 8404 (RCXC), any idea what the numbers stand for and when it was made?

  16. avatar Lynn Miller says:

    Notice there is no reference to a serial number that ends in X. Mine is FHTX.

  17. avatar Mike Kovach says:

    Hi, can anybody help? I’ve got an Iver Johnson S&W 38 marked Pat’d Apr6, 85 Feb15, 87 May 10, 87 Aug25, 96 Pats Pending on the barrel rib below the company name, city and state. The serial # under the grip is
    G85231. My question is, is this model safe to use with smokeless powder rounds? Thanks for your help.

  18. avatar James D. Landry says:

    I have Iver johnson arms & cycle works Fitchburg mass usa hammerless top break double latch solid spring in handel I beleive its a 38 calibr serial # D34629 not sure about the D 5 chamber .Inscribe on barrel pat April 6,85 feb15,87 May10, 87 Mar13,88 Aug25,96 Pat pending.Question do i need to use black powder ammunition.Also what is its value$

  19. avatar mark hanson says:

    i have fghg number that is = 1959 so what year would it of been made this gun is in great shape 100 percent blue no pitting no marks on the wood

  20. avatar Greg Ness says:

    a friend has a Champion single Barrel shot gun 12 ga. (I think) serial # is 4 G(6) 351. any help with Manufacture year and other info.

  21. avatar Darren Martinsen says:

    I have an Iver Johnson, not even sure of the gauge but, I took it apart to possibly refinish it. I was only slightly disappointed when I discovered the letter C at the end of the serial number. Can anyone narrow down for me the decade it may have been manufactured? Serial number 2964C. There are numerous numbers stamped elsewhere on a couple parts.

    Thank you in advance.

  22. I have an old IJ 12 ga. single shot. It has the Cycle Works Fitchburg address. Serial number is 18906, no letters. Can I get a Mfg. date?

  23. avatar Richard says:

    I have a Iver Johnson side by side shotgun, believe it to be 12 gauge, serial number 5394E . Trying to get a year on it. Thanks

  24. avatar Norman Foster says:

    I have an IJ Champion 410 shotgun and it has the Iver Johnson, Arms and Cycle Works, Fitchburg, MASS USA, Champion stamped on it, but there is not a serial number anywhere on it at all. I am trying to determine when it was made. Can anyone help?

  25. avatar Bill says:

    I was just given an EXCEL 12ga single shot Ser#34577XG I believe
    it was made by Iver Johnson. The only markings I see are that
    ser# on the bottom behind the trigger guard, the word EXCEL on the
    left side, and 34577 stamped on the bottom of the barrel on the piece
    that sticks down under the breech. Any info as to the date of manufacture
    and if my info is correct would be appreciated. Thanks

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