Gun Review: Iver Johnson .32 S&W

My grandfather always had a thing for small handguns. Maybe that’s where I picked it up. For the longest time, I’ve wanted a little 12-ounce Kel-Tec semi-auto (either a P3AT or a P32). Or maybe an NAA Guardian. Come to think of it, the tiny Ruger LCP is a pretty nice piece, too. Regardless of what I ultimately choose, the attraction I have toward pocket guns like these is nothing mysterious; in fact, it’s pretty common.
Much like my TTAG colleague Brad Kozak, even though I hold a CCW, walking around with a pound and a half of .40 S&W clipped to my belt gets old faster than you can say “Pant’s On the Ground.” I just leave the weapon locked in my car or even securely stored at home. Thus, I am unarmed much of the time. A small, lightweight, easily-concealable gun would fix this, as I would no longer avoid carrying something too bulky to be convenient (and would avoid General Larry Platt’s rhythmic ridicule, to boot).

Of course, this “small gun so you’ll actually carry it” concept is old news, which leads to the subject of this TTAG gun review: the Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works Third Model “Safety Automatic” break-top .32 S&W double-action revolver. Think of it as one of the original low-cost, mass-market compact handguns. And then think of it as old.

Compared to iconic names like Smith & Wesson and Colt, Iver Johnson is not much more than a historical footnote except for very recently). However, if you’re going to be a footnote in U.S. arms manufacturing history, being an infamous one certainly makes things more interesting, a feat Iver Johnson achieved as a result of its revolvers being used to assassinate both President William McKinley in 1901 and Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968.

Being the antithesis of someone who would want to do politicians physical harm, I went about testing this 19th-Century Kel-Tec equivalent using nothing more than a paper silhouette target on which to unleash the little gun’s fury. Before testing the diminutive .32, I made sure to have an experienced gunsmith look it over and verify that it was fit to fire.

Speaking of safety, there’s the extremely important matter of ammunition. This gun is chambered in .32 S&W. Some people call this caliber .32 S&W “Short” or .32 S&W “Regular” because it should never be confused with the physically-longer .32 S&W Long cartridge (which won’t fit).

Additionally, it’s important to note that some Iver Johnson break-top .32’s (primarily the “First Models”) were designed to use cartridges made with black powder, an antiquated ammunition propellant that hung around until the widespread adoption of smokeless powder during the first few years of the 20th Century.

Never use a smokeless powder (i.e. modern) cartridge in a firearm designed for a black powder cartridge, as the pressure curve of the smokeless powder is very different and can absolutely screw up your entire day (or your gun, or your hand, or the rest of your life).

Fortunately, my test gun was a “Third Model,” which possessed a “G” serial-number prefix indicating that it was produced between 1915 and 1921 (and therefore designed for modern, smokeless gunpowder).

This made the whole ammo thing easier—except for the fact that finding .32 S&W ammo is sort of a tricky proposition these days (gun shows and mail order outlets are typically your only hope, and good luck finding a manufacturer other than Remington). Nonetheless, persistence and clean livin’ eventually paid off, and before a cat could lick it’s . . uh . . . paw, I was at the range with a gun older than the age my Granddaddy would be if he were still here carryin’ derringers and smokin’ Pall Malls.

As I pulled the latch (located on top of the gun, just in front of the hammer) and began tilting the barrel and cylinder downward, I was greeted by the casing extractor mechanism rising up from the center of the cylinder like an amusement park thrill ride. Once the barrel stopped (90 degrees from where it started, now pointing straight down), the extractor slammed back down into the cylinder to await the first five cartridges I planned to shoot.

After all five rounds were firmly seated (the fit is slightly snugger than modern revolvers), I returned the barrel and cylinder to the upright position (making damn sure everything was securely latched), wrapped my hands around the hard rubber “owl head” grips, and prepared to fire.

Aiming dead-center at the target was a little more challenging than I had expected. You don’t need to know much about “pocket guns” to know that their sights are generally nothing more than tokens. The Iver Johnson revolver is no different; however, I expected that the rear notch/front blade arrangement would be far more useful than it was, as evidenced by the relatively long sight radius.

I was wrong. The front blade, though generously tall, is Olive Oyl-skinny, and acquisition took much longer than one would expect. Even back then, gun manufacturers seemed to regard compacts as point-and-shoot affairs.

But point-and-shoot was not what I had come to the range to do, and with the little break-top aimed to the best of my ability, I squeezed the trigger to light off the first round.


“Pop?”  Guns aren’t supposed to go “pop.”  They’re supposed to go “boom!”

Oh well.  This one goes “pop.” Truly, it sounded more like some of the cap guns I had when I was a kid than an assassin’s weapon. Recoil was cap-gun-non-existent, too, but unfortunately that didn’t help the gun’s accuracy, as I ended up with target groupings (at seven yards) at least 50% worse than what I’m routinely capable of with a Smith & Wesson J-Frame .38 (which has a much-shorter one and seven-eighths-inch barrel compared to the Iver Johnson’s three-incher).

I expected—and received—slightly better groupings when manually cocking the firing-pin-less (ahead of its time!) hammer and firing single-action shots each time. But they were still nothing to write home about.

Overall, the little break-top .32 performed very, very well for a gun flirting with the century-old mark. Other than two or three bad rounds (out of the 50 I fired), the only real problem involved the “automatic” extractor’s tendency to let go of the casing’s rim just as the cylinder gets vertical, causing the casing to drop back down into the cylinder bore where it fits so tightly that no fingernail known to man can get it out (also, the extractor is on top of it at this point, holding it in). This happened with such frequency that a pocket knife or tiny screwdriver should be standard range equipment anytime you fire one of these.

But for this gun (or really, pretty much any gun this age), the “anytime” referenced above shouldn’t be too frequently, if at all. Yes, it’s a real gun, and yes, it could perhaps defend your life if it had to. But its idiosyncrasies and ballistically weak chambering—not to mention its extreme age—should preclude it from all but historical duty or occasional fun.

Still, it’s a piece of small arms history, and the fact that so many of these little revolvers are still around and in firing condition is a testament to the quality that Iver Johnson imbued within even its most modestly-priced offerings a century ago.  I wonder if anyone will be firing today’s Kel-Tecs a hundred years from now.

(Out of five stars)

Style * * *
Half 19th-Century cowboy, half 20th-Century modern revolver. The look is not for everyone, but it’s cool in that “look how well engineered things used to be” sort of way.

Ergonomics (carry)  * * * *
Very light, if a bit longish, but still easily packable. The grip could be more substantial. Is there a .32-caliber revolver on the market today that’s this thin?

Ergonomics (firing)  * * * *
The double action trigger pull is a bit long, but once you get it started the effort is fairly consistent.  The single action pull is great, and with the .32 S&W, recoil just isn’t there.

Reliability * * * *
Deduct one star for the extractor not working very well (but maybe it’s worn or maybe today’s casing rims are different than the old ones). Other than that, the fact that this 90-year-old gun fired 50 rounds without a real malfunction speaks for itself.

Customize This *
Uh, no. Antique gun folks would probably not even want the tarnish polished away.

Low cost and quality lived together very happily in this compact revolver a hundred years ago, and the fact that they’re still going strong is worth four stars, easy.

Think of it as a “conversation piece” that you can take to the range and fire.  And then think of all the people who were protected through the years because a dependable, effective little handgun was available in their price range and sized so that they could easily carry it.


CALIBER: .32 S&W (short)

FRAME: Steel, Nickel finish
CYLINDER: 5-round, integral with barrel
BARREL: 3″ steel
SIGHTS: Fixed rear notch, fixed front blade
HEIGHT: 3.25”

LENGTH: 4.12”
GRIPS: Hard rubber “owl head” (Iver Johnson trademark)
WEIGHT (empty): 13.5 ounces
MSRP: $4.50 to $6.00 (1897-1920 dollars)

CURRENT VALUE: $100-$300 (depending on condition)


The opinions expressed within this review are those of the reviewer, and do not necessarily reflect those of anybody else, including TTAG. Neither the reviewer nor TTAG have received any considerations—either in the form of money, free stuff, tickets, t-shirts, trips or any other swag—in exchange for this review.


  1. avatar wadwizard says:

    Nice article for someone who is too young to really be able to appreciate what you're testing. My dad, born 1905, had a nickel-plated pearl-handled one(I have it now) . This was the first pistol I ever fired (at about 10 years old) and I shot it pretty well into a rusted 55 gallon metal drum, with old ammo. My dad said that he'd bought it in the 1920's and carried it on his NC Rhodes-Collins Furniture truck route. Dad killed a 8-foot NC eastern (red) diamondback rattlesnake in with it in the sandhills of Richland Township, Beaufort County, NC about 1930. Dad said that snake left a path through the sand on the road that looked like a Model-A tire track. Anyway, the .32 S&W did the job. Lead bullet, 5-shot. Dad said there were more black men and red-necks shot and killed with .32's H&Rs than with any other pistol. I later received my late Uncle Homer's .32 H&R that had the hammer bobbed and the barrel cut back to

    1- 1/2 ". It shoots great. I would pity the poor fool that behaved to so poorly as to wind up on the business end of either Dad's or Uncle Homer's .32 S&W pistols today.

    1. avatar Don Gammill says:

      Thanks, wadwizard, and I agree with your final assessment: In a day and age where most folks carry handguns capable of blowing a hole right through you, the thought of a little low-velocity .32 S&W ricocheting around inside your body taking out vital organs left and right is especially chilling. As innocuous as this little revolver may seem today, folks would do well to give it the same respect they give to more modern, more powerful weapons.

      1. avatar Steve says:

        Hey Don- Enjoyed your article concerning the Owl. I agree with you. My 40 pretty much isn’t with me anymore. I’d like to put the owl into service. I have not yet looked for ammo- In the meantime the black powder thing got my attention. The only thing I see on the gun other than the top of barrel Iverson stuff is a number on the trigger guard (6829) and something on the butt of the grip. Near as I can make out it is in two lines:
        T. Nov 17.08 (3)
        At’s pendi
        Not sure what first line is telling me. something November? looks like there is a period after 17- can’t tell if it’s an 8 or a three.
        The second line I would think says “Patent pending”
        Can you clear any of this up? and can you tell me if this is a black powder gun according to 6829?

        Thanks , Steve

        1. avatar Messerschmitt says:

          I have one as well, given to me by my husband. HIs Grandfather gave it to his Grandmother Mine doesn;t have a letter before the serial number either but mine is 26658. I would like to know what model mine is as well. any information would be appreciated.

      2. avatar Stephanie Bradley says:

        Let me tell you a short story about and Ivor Johnson that my son found, My parent bought the home they live in in 1977 and to mark the land they bought railroad ties from my moms uncle whom bought them from the buford railroad company. Well 37yrs later while i’m having a converstion with my neighbor my son reaches down inside one of these railroad ties and pulls out a gun. I ask my mother and father if they have ever seen this gun before and they both said no. So i called the local athurities and had the guns number ran. It didn’t come back with anyone and I have spent a week cleaning it and took it to have it broke open and the man was kinda rude till his gunsmith said i had something that was over 100yrs old. My Ivor Johnson doen’t display the date it was made, from the sites i have seen and pictures mine is diffrent. The bottom of mine reads PAT. AUG 2695 PAT. PENDING. On other websites with pictures there is a date between PAT. and AUG.2695. If you have any information that will help please let me know thanks Stephanie- my email is [email protected] and please put the subject as IVER JOHNSON….

      3. avatar mark s. says:

        I have collected several of these little jewels over the years , pre 1900’s , black powder versions preferred . I have four in good working condition and a few others for parts . The triggers are complex and WAY ahead of their time in technology . The 32 was a fair self defense round and I would compare it to a modern 22 LR 40 grainer in it’s ability to cause a complex path of destruction through a human torso . Just as you implied , a small caliber piece of lead bouncing around bone , gristle , tendons , muscle and body organs , making dozens of bleeder holes , was and is usually a bad day . Blood loss is the number one cause of death from a gunshot .
        Todays ultrasound , MRI and X-ray technologies along with modern blood treatments have helped tremendously in aiding trauma personal in mending recipients of bullets but bleeding is still the greatest threat .
        I used to fire up my little I.J’s every year , but it’s been quite a while since I’ve shot any of them . They are fun guns .
        Love the triggers ( Glock ) and the cartridge ejectors .

    2. avatar pete s says:

      I come upon a iver johnson nickel break top chrome 32 with pearl handles, can you give me a vslue or where I can get

      1. avatar tom mcclard says:

        do iver Johnson’s hand guns have any significant value? if so, how do I find the value? thank you, tom

  2. avatar Joe Robb says:

    I have a Iver Johnson that looks just like the one in, Gun Review: Iver Johnson .32 S&W, posted March 20, 2010 byDon Gammill Jr.

    My gun does not look in as good condition but the grips look almost new. The top of the barrel says,

    Johnson's Arms & Cycle Works,Fitchburg,Mass.U.S.A.

    Apr.6,86.Feb.15,87.May10,87.Aug.25,96.Pat's Pending.

    I can't find a serial number any place. Am I missing something? I would appreciate any feed back. Thanks,Joe Robb

    1. avatar Don Gammill says:

      Joe Rob,

      Other than consulting an antique arms expert who specializes in late-19th & early-20th Century pocket guns, the first two hits from a Google search are about the best you're going to do:
      (the brief section on Iver Johnsons)
      (this thread is very informative – especially commenter B.Goforth's posts)

      Fortunately, these two should tell you most of what you want to know. Regarding the serial number, mine is stamped on the bottom of the trigger guard (or at least I think it's the serial number…I'm not sure what else "39368" would stand for).

      Thanks for reading, and we hope you return and comment on TTAG articles more often!

      1. avatar Pete backus says:

        It’s under the palm. Grip – left side

      2. avatar Dustin says:

        Is there a way to track the number on this gun? I have one myself I inherited and would like to know it history

    2. avatar Carl says:

      The serial number is under the grip on the left side if the frame.

    3. avatar earl frum says:

      remove the left side grip it should be stamped into the frame

    4. avatar Jim J. says:

      I have a snub nose plated version, missing original grips. It appears to be new based on sharp rifling, but suffers weathering from many years in many drawers and boxes I suppose.

      The serial number on mine is stamped on the left side of forward frame that is under the grip. It appears as duplicated on the bottom of the tripper guard. That’s how things were before all the gun control nonsense. I hope this helps you.

      Mine belonged to the daughter of the original owner; probably purchased in the early 1900s.

      jim j.

  3. avatar george says:

    Serial number is under the left grip. You will need to remove grip to see it.

  4. avatar demar mcguire says:

    i have the same exact gun Johnson’s Arms & Cycle Works,Fitchburg,Mass.U.S.A.

    Apr.6,86.Feb.15,87.May10,87.Aug.25,96.Pat’s Pending.

    i was wondering if it has a saftey devices on it i cant get the trigger to move Am I missing something? I would appreciate any feed back. Thanks,sincerley demar mcguire

    1. avatar Caleb Sturge says:

      The safety is the little tab on the inside of the trigger guard behind the trigger. You push in to activate and yours is probably “on” now, why your trigger seems locked. Pull the hammer back to unlock the safety.

      1. avatar Bob Downs says:

        Caleb,I Love my .32 Iver/Johnson and love to carry it in my pocket as a extra or second gun. The biggest problem I have with trust is how often I have a round go off “cap” only,no powder in shell. It happens with Remington’s,Magtech and Wichester’s. Do you have or know a better manufacturer of this ammo.

  5. avatar Wuchak says:

    Cool little gun! When you break the barrel to eject the cases with these you are supposed to turn the gun sideways which prevents them from falling back in. One method is to pop the release and swipe the barrel across the front of your leg. I remember reading somewhere that the breaktop design was created to allow ejection one one handed using this method on horseback. The revolver could then be tucked under the off hand arm and reloaded with the strong hand.

  6. avatar lkb says:

    I have 2 32 caliber revolvers. One is an Iver Johnson 3 inch barrel serial no. F17944. The other is ? I am sure it is an Iver but it has US on the grips where the Owl in on the Iver’s. It is a 2 inch barrel version and the serial No is A 50464. The parts are interchangeable with the one that I know is an iver.

    What can anyone tell me about these guns. Can they be fired for fun.


  7. avatar Alfred Donet says:

    I have a 32 S&W Iver Johnson, but mine is hammerless, it is blued and looks to be in vood or better condition. The serial is #59xxx, on the bottom of the trigger gaurd. Would this pistol be safe to fire smokeless powder ammo?

  8. avatar Kenneth L Brown says:

    I have a 38 top break hammerless and the serial number is under the top of the frame. You can see it when you remove the cylinder.

  9. avatar Chris says:

    Great review! I recently picked up an H&R Hammerless Revolver that is nearly identical to this piece. I also collect old coins, especially Morgan Dollars. It struck me as I was looking at the $4.95-$6.00 MSRP from 1897-1920 that anyone walking the streets during that time period would have had to part with 5 or 6 Morgans to buy one of these, and in todays market 5 or 6 Morgans would still buy you one of these since they retail for $30+ each now. The more things change, the more they stay the same. It is indeed a testament to American Craftsmanship to know that weapons were made of such quality that they appreciated in value as much as precious metals.

  10. avatar Chris says:

    Oh, one more thing! Got any of those .32 shorts left that you’d like to part with? I’ve yet to fire mine as the ammo costs more than I paid for the pistol!

    1. avatar gary del says:

      if u are looking for a ivers 32 short i have one in new condition i mean brand new no scratches or pits maybe fired three times total nickel w/ pearl handles email me [email protected]

  11. avatar james deen says:

    Great reviews!! Really enjoyed reading them. Lot of info.
    I have just purchased a Iver Johnson revolver, 32 Cal. automatic, with break top latch. I’m trying to find the age or what year this revolver was made before I purchase any ammo.
    My gun is in as excellent condition. The top of the barrel says, Iver Johnson’s Arms & Cycle Works,Fitchburg,Mass.U.S.A. Under the trigger housing is the numbers 3148 and looks like a “b”???, but under the left grip is the serial number “S31485. Haven’t been able to find anything in internet that mention “S”.
    Would really appreciate it if you could me out. Keep up the good reviews. Thanks, Jim

  12. avatar Howard Karr says:

    Hi guys I got one just like the one in the picture I reload so I found some 32 long casings and cut them off to the right length . Then I found loading data and started low and worked my way up. It shoots fine but I keep it light so I don’t hurt the gun or my hand. I also have two H&Rs one in 32 S&W and one 38 S&W I shoot them all just keep it light. The old black powder casings are built different so only use black powder in those ones or just keep them for display. I found one box of the black powder ammo but I’m just going to keep them, the box has a picture of the gun I have. They,re made by winchester with lesmok powder.

  13. avatar daniel greenhill says:

    i have a iver johnson 32 sw serial no is 51877 can you tell me when the gun was made, it is in excellent condition and i have never fired it, i have dry fired it many times and seems to work properly but the trigger stays in a back position but you can re- cock the hammer and it will still release the hammer as to fire… also can you tell me about how much this would be worth

  14. avatar Jim says:

    I own the same gun that is pictured, except in blue. I would like to know if there is any kind of a safety. Thanks, Jim

    1. As for a safety. It has one similar to the double action Rugers. A contact bar that allows the firing pin to contact the primer only when the trigger is depressed. The gun is unlikely to fire if dropped on the hammer and all 5 chambers could be loaded. A slipped thumb allowing the hammer to fall when the trigger hasn’t been pulled will not fire a round. Very modern for its day.

  15. avatar Jason Erickson says:

    I have a 32 Iver Johnson pistol. Serial Number 35774. I was wondering if you could tell me the year?

  16. avatar Thelma Drake says:

    I have a .32 Iver johnson serial number is 25483, and was also wondering what year it might be? Any info would be nice.

  17. avatar John mcfarlan says:

    i have a 5 shot 32 cal. the only # i can see is 628xx i can not tell what letter is on it . it hammerless gun could you tell me what yr it was made and how much its worth

  18. avatar Mike freeman says:

    I have a iver Johnson pistol that looks just like that except the owl beak is pointing to the trigger and the serial number is 41061… Can u help with the caliber and year made? I think it’s 32 Sw like that one

  19. avatar Tom Farrell says:

    I loved your article. I have the exact same model in a blued finish that was my Grandfather’s gun. He was a Chicago policeman in the 1920’s, and according to my uncle, Grandpa carried it as a “Drop gun” if he would ever need it. Obviously he never did since I now have it. Mine is in excellent shape since my uncle kept it cleaned and oiled and I have fired it many times. I have read that this model was similar to the one used to assassinate President William McKinley in 1901. That one was the model known as the “Automatic”, which did not have an exposed hammer.

    1. avatar Mark W. says:

      I to have an Iver Johnsons .32 “automatic” pistol. I assumed it was considered a signal action but I was wrong. Any idea when they were built?

  20. avatar Terry Lowry says:

    I have a iver johnson in 32 cal, would like to know year made and any info you might know. Thank you.

  21. avatar Terry Lowry says:

    serial no on triger guard 1s 18224

  22. avatar todd campbell says:

    Ross guns in idaho falls has an h and r in mint nickeled for sale

  23. avatar Ed Bain says:

    I have an IDENTICAL pistol, except in 38 SW (short). The absolute only difference from the one you reviewed is that mine is stamped ‘U.S. REVOLVER CO.” on the top of the barrel and “U.S.” on the grips where the ‘owl’ design is on yours. . I was born in 1942 and lived w/ my grandparents in Tennessee. My grandfather *gave* me the gun when I was about 6 yrs old and I used it as a cap gun! for a LONG time. I fired it so much that the trigger spring eventually broke and it has to be pushed forward after each shot. 🙂

    My grandfather said they never fired it except on holidays (4th july/armistice day/veterans day, etc.). It is in REAL nice condition. When I got older, they gave me a paper sack of cartridges for it and I decided to try it out. They were black powder for sure. It looked like an old cowboy movie with the smoke going many feet out of the barrel and it kicked pretty hard. I have no doubt that this is an H&R or Iver Johnson. Has anyone ever heard of U.S. Revolver Co.? I was told by my grandfather that they were sold for cheap by the Army on the public square in Nashville to civilians for protection in case of a German invasion (WWI).

    I got rid of the 60-80 year old cartridges after someone warned me about the age of them, and I would LOVE to shoot this thing again. I have a J-Frame, snub nose 38 chief’s special airweight and the Iver Johnson feels smaller, thinner, more ‘delicate’ and very, very nice shiny condition. Number on the trigger guard is 6671 (I have not yet removed the grips to look for other numbers). If anyone knows a way I could shoot this gun, I would appreciate a mail. rrevved at bellsouth dot net .

    Thanks for the review! Great site.

    1. avatar Daniel says:

      The U. S. Revolver Co. was taken over by Iver Johnson about 1915.

    2. avatar stephane says:

      Hello i am the same with us revolver co written on the top of the cannon! C was my uncle who had found it on the city of monte casino in italy some year after the battle I look for parts but can not find which site Is specialized for spare parts to revolver!

  24. avatar James Sarbeck says:

    looking for date made if posible……looks like O 98861 under left side grip
    and if regular 32 winchester center fire shell will work??

  25. avatar John Smothers says:

    u review something like THIS, instead of the Kahrs? Sheesh.

  26. avatar Ron Pine says:

    I have a .32 Iver Johnson with serial number 5818. Anyone know where to find a value for this type of firearm?

  27. avatar TONY ROBINSON says:


  28. avatar Ken Lord says:

    I have an IJ w/serial number 89586. Blue steel. Some rust on exterior but barrel looks in good shape. Wood grips. Any way to determine when this gun was produced? Thanks.

  29. avatar paramedic70002 says:

    I have one of those that I inherited from my Dad after he died. The story goes that it came from a relative who took it off a gangster in a Chicago courtroom while working for the Cook County Sheriff’s Dept back in the 50s. Part of the plastic grip is broken and missing. Years a go a smith tried to tune it up but it has a persistent problem with not firing reliably. Often several strikes are required to fire all rounds.

  30. avatar helen robertson says:

    my dad has a iver johnson arms and cycle works 32 s&w short nickel plate owl head grips good condition serial number 22074….we have been trying to find out the value of it but have turned up nothing….can someone please tell me the value or a good website? thanks so much

    1. avatar scott wiggins says:

      yes he said between 100 and 300 bucks depending on condishion

  31. avatar helen robertson says:

    my dad has a iver johnson arms and cycle works 32 s&w short nickel plate owl head grips good condition serial number 22074….we have been trying to find out the value of it but have turned up nothing….can someone please tell me the value or a good website? thanks so much

  32. avatar William Kinney says:

    I have Iver Johnson serial #N 50 000. Any parts to be had for these things? Anyone know what year produced? Please advise. Thanks

  33. avatar Emil says:

    Had you been in the British Army during WW2 you would have learned to break the gun open sideways. For the same reasons, Cavalry sergeants taught recruits to do as well with the Schofield. On the off chance the empties fell back in tying up the gun.

    Truth be told, Iver Johnson was a very innovative company. Their frame mounted firing pin and transfer bar ignition gave rise to the famous “Hammer the hammer” ads dates from 1894. Colt didn’t have a comparable safety block until the Police Positive in 1907 while S&W Military & Police Model incorporated a passive hammer block in 1915. The safe action Glock trigger safety was so clever that crafty old Norwegian “copied” it back in 1894.

  34. avatar Johnny Booth says:

    I found the article most interesting. I to have a 1911 Colt , pat.1916. Love the gun, but have to use shoulder holster to keep pants up. I carry the Grendle 380. Metal and plastic.Something slightly romantic and historical about the top break pocket revolver.I have owned them, and recently have traded a book , for another one. Feels good in the hand, and is plainly a point and shoot gun only good for about 10 feet. It was good enough for my parents parents, and acceptable for me. Shows you how the elders lived , and what they went through in the days of War bonds, gas stamps and victory gardens.

  35. avatar Bill Kinney says:

    I actually have the exact same gun as above and also an H+R 38 S+W. These suckers give new meaning to the word Saturday Night Specials. Best to have them checked out thoroughly before attempting to fire. Maybe even wear a helmet, goggles, leather gloves and body armour. Although not hot-loaded, they can still be dangerous if not in good shape and many of them are not. Ere on the side of caution and be sure you have the proper ammunition, 38 S+W and 32 S+W are not to be confused with any other rounds and there are many in the same calibers. Better to be safe than sorry, we can never recall a bullet.

  36. avatar WILLIAM L.GILLIS says:


  37. avatar Lynn Emerich says:

    I have an Iver Johnson32 and was just looking for info when I ran across this site. Serial number on mine is 90389. It is a 5 shot and looks almost like the one shown here, except mine has no hammer. Patent info on the handle looks like Aug 1896 – it’s hard to read. I have it at least 40 years, but have no recollection of when or where I got it. I never fired it and am glad I didn’t after finding out about the black powder ammo. I’m doing a house inventory for insurance purposes and would like a value if possible. Thanks


  38. avatar Darryl says:

    I have a us revolver .32 cal serial # 15399. The grip are stamped with US. Can anyone give me information on this gun?


  39. avatar Matt says:

    I loved your review on this gun, I acquired one of these from my uncle a few years back, he said my father found it in an attic in the 60s, he was a contractor, and he passed away in 1972. Its in very nice shape for its age, I have actually shot it several times, works pretty good for an old timer, but you are right about the extractor. Oh I also had he guns history checked out, came out clean, I work at a police station. Thanks for your review.

  40. avatar Ian says:

    …I recently bought the ‘bigger brother’ of the Iver .32 S&W you reported on. It is an older model built in 1895 in .38 S&W. It came with a nickle finish that is still about 85%. A box ,and a half of smokeless ammo came with it. It’s a testament to it’s construction that being built for black powder, 117 years old, and fired for many years with the more modern smokeless powder loads, it still survives! It is a bit loosey goosey on lock up, and I would not want to fire it. I have retired it to a wall hanging display frame box, along with vintage advertisement I harvested from research on the Internet. These old revolvers are just as you say, good conversation pieces!

  41. avatar Ian says:

    …Forgot to mention mine is the ‘Hammerless’ ‘automatic’ model, which adds to it’s oddity and interest. Paid 85 bucks so, I’m happy to have it as a wall piece!

  42. avatar James says:

    Thanks for the review, I enjoyed reading it. I don’t as yet own one but am considering an old 1st model and making up some very low pressure blackpowder loads just for fun.

    I’m quite sure from past experience that even modern 32 S&W smokeless loads are less than impressive, but still as you say a very nice piece of American History, and fun inexpensive plinking fun 🙂


  43. avatar Bob Martin says:

    I have a Ivor johjson,32 Calibur,Ser # 71411,bl,5shot Rev.D.A.TB. 3″Barrel.Black grip with owl’s head,dark blue top.Iver johnson Stamp on top of Barrel, for sale.
    price negotiable.

    1. avatar Gary Haines says:

      If you still have that old top break email me. thanks

  44. avatar Stan Keadle says:

    I have a Iver Johnson’ Arms Revolter but no model number or mfr data. It is NOT the Top opening type, it is a fixed frame with a right side loading gate and front pull pin for cylinder removal. The only stampings I can find is the Iver Johnson’s Arm Fitchburg, MA, U.S.A. and the Serial Number “B31189” above and slighly in front of the right side trigger guard. The gun came with and has been fired with “.32 S&W” i.e. short rounds. However, the cylinder has a interior shoulder in each chamber in the front approximate 3/8 inch. This allows a “.32 S&W Long” but NOT a “.32 S&W H&R Mag”. Do you have any model information and is this gun chambers for both the .32 Short & Long?

  45. avatar Larry Vernon says:

    I have an Iver Johnson’s 32 caliber with serial number 3 835 6. Would like to know what year it was made, what it is worth and any other info about it.

    1. avatar Jerry Lambo says:

      I also have a 5 cyl Iver Johnson 32 Cal pistol, serisl # 38939 and wonder when it was manufactured

  46. avatar earl says:

    i have a 32 Iver Johnson serial A74137…how do i find out its age??

  47. avatar Mike says:

    I have S & W 32 Cal CTGE short pistol. It says H & R Arms Worchester, Mass USA on top of the barrel . Looks like the one in the photos above but with old chrome on it. I think it is Serial Number 287370 (stamped on the bottom of the handle). It was my Grandfather’s old pistol. I am trying to find out around what year it was made so I will know which ammo to use in it, black powder or smokeless.

    1. avatar mark s. says:

      If it has the double safety trigger ( BLACK POWDER ONLY )
      Solid single bar trigger ( smokeless )

  48. avatar Marilyn Dunstan says:

    I have an Iver Johnson 22 cal. 7-shot pistol, serial # 23645. All I have found so far is 32 and 38 cal. 5-shot pistols. I am interested in finding out how old and valuable this pistol may be. I shot it in target practice as a kid, and as far as I can tell, it still works well. I think it takes 22 shorts.

  49. avatar Ed Reese says:

    Great article Don, I just bought one at auction exactly like the one shown in your review and have learned a lot about it. Keep up the great work as you just made the bookmarks. I look forward to reading more!

  50. avatar larhine says:

    I have a “New Model Automatic Safety” in 32 S&WL. It has no date or model #. The serial #54048 is on the trigger guard and the frame below the grip. It is the same frame as the .38, allowing 6 rounds. I always invert the gun when opening the cylinder and the spent cases usually fall out freely. The ‘old model’ was made for blackpowder, production stopped in 1906. You can tell the difference by the way the owl faces on the grips (if original), also there are slight differences in the shape of the frame.

    I bought mine for $150 at a gun show. It fires excellent out to 50 yds. although most commercial ammo is too mild (won’t seal the case in the cylinder leaving heavy carbon between) to be accurate. Slightly heavier hand loads tighten my groups alot. I regularly fire .32 ACP through it (not reccomended), but the only real choice if you want to carry it.

  51. avatar Keith B says:

    This model goes back even further that you’d think. I have the same design, but made by Iver Johnson in 1880 in 32 Short RIM FIRE! And I have an original box of 1875 Winchester 50 #32 Short (32 Short Rim Fire) cartridges – the box has 35 cartridges in it.

    1. avatar brennen D says:

      How much for the bullets

  52. avatar Mark W. says:

    I have a Iver Johnsons Arms .32 caliper just like the one in the picture but the one I have doesn’t have a hammer. So I assume it would be considered a single action revolver? Anyone know what years they produced these guns and their approximant value? Mine has a serial number of 3678

  53. avatar riuprptigt says:

    vqagiuifusvuibcpvuhvot, ltiewsyzsl

  54. avatar Paul Goodwin says:

    I have a .32 S&W short Iver Johnson. It shows no serial number. It does show patent dates of 1886, 87, and 88. How can I determine if it is made for smokeless powder ammo? Thanks!

    1. avatar Bill says:

      if it has only 2 pins, one being above the trigger the other about an inch aft of it, you have a first or second black powder model, if it has 4 pins (as shown in the review) its a smokless 2nd or third model

      1. avatar Al says:


        Where can I verify your information, since I have a two pin?

  55. avatar Wanderer says:

    My friend has this exact model of revolver and, amusingly enough, uses it as his carry piece. He calls it his “bootlegger gun”, as he imagines it might have been tucked into the boot of a moonshiner or some other ne’er-do-well back in the day.

  56. avatar Mike says:

    If you are looking for S&W 32 black powder ammo contact Gad Custom Cartridges they sell the 32 S&W in black powder for older revolvers such as these.

    Gad Custom Cartridges
    N2143 County Road C
    Medford Wisconsin 54451

    Phone: 715-748-0919 (ask for Bernold)

  57. avatar Bill says:

    great article, I own a 2nd model, word to possible buyers, black powder models have two pins, smokless have 4, only other word of advice, mine has the same ejector issue when upright, tilt it to the side when reloading and it will eject the cases no problem….only took me 3 years to figure that one out

  58. avatar Gary Griffin says:

    I have a Hopkin & Allen version of the same gun only with a 4″ bbl. I pack it with me all the time (mostly in my brief case). Although not the most ideal protection gun, because of it’s size, I don’t realize I have it -therefore, I pack it. I haven’t fired it a lot, but was quite surprised the first time I did. I was able to consistently hit pop can sized targets and 15-20 feet. I have always been a fan of old pocket pistols, and on occasion, pocket an original, single shot, .40 caliber, Screw barrel percussion pistol of the 1850’s. Hey, if someone pointed it at me – I would run……

  59. avatar Bob says:

    I have a Iver Johnson S/N 58970. Found it in my mothers home after she passed. I know nothing about it. The ID of the barrel measures .358″ . Did they make a 357 caliber? Anyone interested?

    1. avatar BigFED says:

      It may be confusing, but .357″ IS the proper diameter of .38 S&W, .38 S&W Special and .357Magnum cartridges. Caliber is based on how the bore is measured and that varied. Some measured between the flat of the “lands” and other measured between the flats of the “groves”. But the .38S&W round is shorter than the .38SPL and the .38SPL is shorter than the .357Magnum. Done to prevent chambering the more powerful cartridge in a weaker handgun. Lots of other techno mumbo-jumbo.

  60. avatar Gene says:

    I have a lot of the Iver Johnson 32 & 38 old pistols. I have been looking for a book on Iver Johnson’s pistols that has all the pistols in it along with the serial numbers which gives the year that they were made. Does anyone know where I can get this book? I saw one at my friends house but can’t get ahold of him. Any info would help a lot.

    1. avatar MarkQ says:

      This is the best book I have found for Iver Johnson guns out there, I have a shotgun from them that is as good today as the day it came off the line.

      Iver Johnson’s Arms & Cycle Works 1871-1993
      H&R Arms Company 1871-1986 (due spring 2010)
      available from

      1. avatar Gene says:

        Thank you for the info on the book about the Iver Johnson guns. I just it up on line a week ago. It has the best info in it on all pistols and rifles that I have looked at. Thanks again for information. This is a must have book for anyone that needs to look up a serial # or other info about their Iver Johnson guns.

        1. avatar Sam Rayon says:

          I have one old Iver Johnson 7 shot top break 22 cal pistol with number 11946 on it. Is there any way you can tell me what year it was manufactured?

  61. avatar Jon Clay says:

    Got an Iver Johnson breaktop given to me around 1965, along with a slightly larger H&R breaktop .32 Long six shot. an 83 yr old widow said her husband had died & she didn’t want them in the house. Of course no paperwork, no history. Been trying to research both for the last few years. Aside from the manufacturer, Iver Johnson info on the top ridge of the barrel, all I can find is a serial no.(part of a no.?) under the left hand grip. I can read 5-digit number but can’t see a letter prefix. Was trying to determine if smokeless would work. Any suggestions?

  62. avatar Ed says:

    I have been told that the orientation of the owl’s head on the grips indicates the ability to shoot smokeless powder. If the owl’s beak points towards the trigger guard it is black powder only. If the beak is pointing towards the bottom of the grip it is safe for smokeless. Looking at pictures of some first generation (black powder only) and third generation(smokeless powder tolerant) models with my limited knowledge it seems to be true.

    1. avatar Jon Clay says:

      The Owl’s beak does point to the trigger guard. Do you know any other place where ser. no. are?

    2. avatar Mark says:

      On the Owl Head orientation…true as far as it goes, but remember grips may have been replaced over the 80-100 years the gun has been around. The best – only, really- method is carefully remove the grips (they are hard rubber and WILL break very easily and cost a fortune to replace, if you can find any) and look at the main spring/hammer spring. If it’s a flat spring, it’s black powder ONLY. If it’s a coil spring, it’s smokeless powder. 1910 and after is generally considered safe if the gun is in good mechanical condition. FWIW, IJ was very innovative – they used a rebounding hammer in the 1880’s so it’s safe to carry with all chambers loaded. They invented the sliding transfer bar and flat faced hammer around 1890…Ruger “borrowed” that idea. The smokeless powder guns have thicker, stronger frames and internal parts. Shooting smokeless in a BP gun will eventually ruin it, and remember you have NO IDEA how much smokeless ammo that gun already has had through it…let it be retired.

      These guns were carry and defense guns for working people and tradesmen from the 1870’s till production ended as the start of WWII. MANY of them are still in great mechanical condition even if the finish is gone and they are strong, good, reliable revolvers even after 100 years of service. I doubt many guns made today will be around to make that claim.

  63. avatar Larry Mertsching says:

    Does anyone know if there is a website or contact that can match the serial number of the gun with the date of manufacture? Seems this would be useful for a lot of the folks who want to find out how old their gun is and make sure they use the right ammunition.

    1. avatar Gene says:

      I don’t know about any website that you can find this information. The best place to get all the info you need is in a book called Iver Johnson Arms and Cycle Works Firearms 1871-1993 by W.E. Goforth. You can get this book from Gun Show Books Publishing P.O. Box 1189 Hudson, WI. 54016. Their phone # is 1-800-589-6261. Hope this helps, it did me.

  64. avatar Shaun Vogel says:

    Just to comment on accuracy. My wife has the .32 as above, but nickel finish. Can hit a 2 liter (about 1/2 gallon) milk jug at 25 meters (about 27 yards or 82 feet). got the video to prove it.

  65. avatar John says:

    1. The Goforth book is a must – the Bible.

    2. If the cylinder freewheels it’s blackpowder; if it locks it’s smokeless.

    3. Hold the revolver upside down to avoid ejector rim override.

    4. In good shape these are little gems, but much depreciated.

  66. avatar Gene Tofsrud says:

    Need location where I can obtain a Rebound Trigger Spring for the .32 cal. Iver Johnson ?
    All that we’ve found are from Numrich, & the Flat Type w/a slight bend ! There were 2 Lengths, &
    the one’s they have are the same ! Cutting them back still won’t make them work ! Is there anyone making the correct Short Trigger Rebound Spring or have an original ? I Greatly Appreciate any help !
    Thank You !
    Also, as to the Face of the Owl on the Grips, the one we have it’s facing towards the Trigger, 7 it’s a
    Black Powder per the customer – BUT – I tell everyone who brings one in to use only Black Powder as
    we’ve even found Serial Numbers Altered ! Treat all early model firearms as Black Powder, & some
    of them I wouldn’t trust them ! Fix them up as a Wall Hanger, with story of a supposedly owned or
    used in ?? situation, & leave it at that – Be Safe than Sorry or worse !

  67. avatar Marine57 says:

    Don Gammill Jr.
    Nice article. Found it while searching for info about .32 shorts I saw on Perry Mason: The Case of the Mythical Monkeys.

    HINT: Maybe the proper way to break the revolver and eject the shells is to do so with it up-side down.
    With the barrel and cylinder pointing up, the shells can’t fall back into the cylinder. Then one could easily remove the spent casings (or pick them up off the floor ?). ;=)

    Marksmanship Training Instructor, U.S.M.C. Rifle Team (Distinguished Marksman), Quantico, VA 1964-1966

  68. avatar dave pruett says:

    I have what I believe to be a iver Johnson .32cal pistol. trigger guard 5250, top of barrel reads iver Johnson arms and cycle works Fitchburg mass, usa. inside the plastic grip R5250, on the bottom of the grip frame it reads pat. june 16.96 aug 25 96 pat’s pending. any information as to the age of the piece?

  69. avatar Terry connell says:

    The trigger return spring appears to be broken, Where can I obtain one for USA cal. 32short??

  70. avatar Al Johnson says:

    Great information about these old revolvers.

  71. avatar BigFED says:

    For those looking for parts for the IJ guns. Not many to choose from. As with ALL manufacturers, they were in the business of making COMPLETE guns, and not geared to parts manufacture. Some of the parts are “recovered” from other guns.

  72. avatar Steve Parker says:

    My sister just inherited an IJ 38. Number on the trigger guard is 59794. My question is of all the comments nobody mentioned grips with a target instead of the owl head. The target even has 5 bullet holes in it. Very small, of course. Has anybody seen this style of grips. They have the flower pattern around the mounting screw like the pics of the owl grips so I get the impression they are factory. I don’t have the gun here so I can’t really study it for any more details at this time. Does anybody know about this difference?

    1. avatar fido3030 says:

      Grips are from an H&R. Grips of many manufacturers are similar and were often switched as originals broke. I have new Pachmayrs made for S&W on ancient Hopkins and Allen. Fit fine; look cool

  73. avatar David says:

    you got a second edition on as mine look almost the same but the owl look at the trigger on the first ed which I own

  74. avatar Dennis Vail says:

    I have a hammerless Iver Johnsons arms & cycle works- 32 cal. How do I tell if its black powder or smokeless? serial #30329 on trigger guard and what appears to be an ” i ” or “1” – 30329 under the owl grip. I don’t want to blow my hand off, if I ever have to fire it !!!

  75. avatar Cheryl Jurgenson says:

    my father just gave me a old owl head pistol. hope you can help. owl head facing the barrel, under the grips is N52327, under the cylender is 52327, and on the trigger guard is 52322. odd the trigger guard does not match but is within 5 numbers. pat date is june to aug. can you help identify which one it is?

    Read more:

  76. avatar DJ Lock says:

    The safety gun, which I believe this is not, was hammerless. The safety comes from the fact you can’t catch the trigger when removing it from you pocket. Also the safety gun has a little lever I the trigger as a safety.
    A special gun because all secret service (Treasury Dept)members carried one. So did two assassins yet only two, does that create fame.

  77. avatar Robert Ewen says:

    Hi, I inherited a beautiful U.S. Revolver Co. 5 shot, 32 cal, nickel or chrome plated pistol with mother of pearl grips from my Grandmother. My Grandfather purchased it for her in the early 20th century. The top of the barrel reads US Revolver Co. The number on the trigger guard is 7331, space, then a character that looks like an upside down capital “T”, space, 3. I have not removed the left grip to search for a serial number. The pistol is in remarkably good condition and has not been fired for nearly 50 years. Can anyone tell me how old this pistol is and what its value might be?

    1. avatar Mark Schmidt says:

      US Revolver Co was a subsidiary of Iver Johnson, and in business from 1911 to about 1937. They were lower priced than Iver Johnson’s own name brands, but they were and are strong, well made revolvers, lacking the high finish and the transfer bar safety of the real IJ’s… They have a half cock notch on the hammer for safety.
      The caliber is .32 S&W only…NOT the .32 Long or .32 ACP.
      These guns were designed for smokeless powder and would be OK to shoot with modern ammo if it is mechanically sound. I doubt you could pin down the year of manufacture…IJ’s records are long gone. I have one of their 7 shot .22’s, and it is still a good shooter using standard velocity .22 ammo. You are right to not fool with the grips…they are probably real mother of pearl and not easily found if you chip of break one while removing it.
      Give it a little wipe and some oil, write down the story of how and when it came into your family and keep it with the gun

  78. avatar Ralph Guerrera says:

    Recently inherited a US Revolver in .32 S&W, serial number on outside bottom of trigger guard directly below trigger is 4709.
    Overall condition is about 45% original blue with some pitting and freckling throughput.
    Grips are original black checkered with US in a circle a top. Grip take off screw is rusted inside of brass estachion. Shoots factory R-P smokeless 32 S&W without fail.
    Does anyone know year of manufacture?
    I am guessing, based on 4 digit serial number that piece was made in first or second year.

  79. avatar allen says:

    how much would a old 32 cost 1930s

  80. avatar Michael says:

    I have an Iver Johnson 32 breaktop 5 shot in nickel with mother of pearl grips in excellent condition with a very low (3 digit) serial number.. no letter prefix just 3 numbers under 200… must be 1st year and black powder loads.. but is in very good to excellent condition. Please feel free to write if interested. I can give you a link to pictures on Facebook OR on Photobucket if need be. Thanks! [email protected]

  81. avatar Leo C. says:

    Interesting additional historical footnote:
    It doesn’t just have metaphorical notches for a President and would-be President. Leon Czolgosz chose it for putting down McKinley because Gaetano Bresci had successfully rid Italy of a king with one.

  82. avatar plinker says:

    There were some differing models. This article explains a bit more. The hammerless model came with a trigger safety in the trigger similar too Glock and historically well before Glock existed.

  83. avatar Alfred R Wackowicz says:

    I have inherited a .32 Iver/Johnson. Only markings that I can find are on the frame under the grips. “F 97”. Is this black powder or S&W .32 short?

  84. I have a Iver Johnson 3 inch top break .32 cal. revolver. Top of barrel says Iver Johnson Arms and Cycle Works Fitchburg, Mass USA . Trigger guard has sn. 159xx, left side of butt, sn. G159xx. Heal of butt says: Pat. Nov. 17, 08
    Pat S pending
    Owls heads on hard plastic grips.
    Can any one tell me any history on this gun. Can I fire modern .32 S&W short ammo out of this gun. Trigger pull is very hard, is this normal?

  85. avatar walt tiedge says:

    I have a great vintage Iver Johnson in good condition still works in original condition with the owl grips not chipped or broken and this gun still works , 32 Cal serial number H 34346 year 1923 need to sell app at 200.00 to 225.00 will sell for 175.00

  86. avatar Travis Huffman says:

    I was recently gifted a Smith & Wesson 32 I was wondering more information about it like what years it from and how do I find all this information out there’s no markings on the side of the barrel only on the top

  87. avatar Jason Eagle says:

    Hi. I was reading a story on the first game warden – Guy Bradley out of Monroe County Fl. He was commissioned as a Deputy Sheriff in 1902, and issued a 0.32 Nickel plated revolver. Would this have been the same gun (brand/model)? What other 0.32 pistols could it have been?

    Thanks, Jason

  88. avatar fido3030 says:

    Easy to make a trigger spring. Take .030 spring wire, double into a hairpin. Double again. Takes experimenting to get lengths right but will last forever.
    All US Revolver are ok for smokeless. Bill Goforths (RIP) books give serial/dates. JB Woods books give repair tips. To empty, press latch, press muzzle against leg and push open with cylinder pointing down. .32 S&W (short) will penetrate 4 layers of denim and 14 inches of ballistic gelatin–not a toy. People who carried them weren’t fools.

  89. avatar John E. Reif says:


    I have a H&R 32 S&W CTGE model 1888 Top-Break pistol! I need help putting it back together! Does anyone know how to put the pistol back together? Please e-mail or write to me at: John E. Reif 354 NW 200 ST Carrollton, Illinois 62016 e-mail [email protected]

    Thank you

    John E. Reif

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