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:

F=1
I=2
T=3
C=4
H=5
B=6
U=7
R=8
G=9

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.

comments

  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 .

    2. avatar Jogn Wayne says:

      That was actually a CIA operation.

  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:

        DYSLEXICS UNTIE!

        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

  26. avatar Glenn Miller says:

    I have a Iver Johnsons Arms & Cycle Works Champion 410. Serial # 69153.
    an anyone tell me when it was manufactured?

  27. avatar Dave joyce says:

    What year was this gun made no 3 7280

  28. avatar John Semmler says:

    I have a shotgun that is engraved with “Iver Johnson’s, Arms and Cycle Works, Fitchburg, Mass USA Champion” on left side and on the underneath behind the trigger guard it has engraved “8653C”

    it appears to be a 410 gauge but conventional 410 shells do not fit in the chamber.

    1. avatar Bill J. says:

      John, it’s my understanding that the first Iver Johnson Champion .410s offered in 3-inch clambering were marketed about 1935. Before that, the standard clambering for their single shots was 2-1/2 inch.

    2. avatar Bill J. says:

      John, your IJ .410 with its one-letter suffix on its serial number indicates a date of manufacture between 1920 – 1929.

  29. I have an Iver Johnson 12 ga. Champion single barrel shotgun, serial number 26574. It is a “Top Snap Shotgun” which I have been told was probably manufactured between 1905 to 1908. I have reason to believe this may have been my Grandfathers gun who lived in Illinois and was killed before I was born 1942. Can anybody tell me anything about this gun? I am especially interested in whether it may have been initially purchased (new) in Illinois or Missouri. Are there any other ways I can track this gun’s history?

  30. avatar Rj naff says:

    I have an iver johnson champion 12 ga with serial urtb. Any help

  31. avatar Ronnie naff says:

    I have champion 12 ga serial urtb. Any help

    1. avatar Michael Willis says:

      URTB would translate to 7836. This would make it a New Model Champion manufactured in the first years of production, 1908 – 1909. The letter-code jumble is actually the name of the town in which the plant was located, FITCHBURG, with the letters standing for 1 through 9. Being there were 33,000 made over that two year period yours may well be from the first year.

    2. avatar Michael Willis says:

      According to a post from Bill J I stand corrected. I do not know the source of Bill’s information but have no reason to doubt. Regarding serial numbers he says:
      1909 – 1919: all Arabic numerals
      1920 – 1929: Arabic numerals plus a single alphabetic letter suffixed
      1930 – 1939: Arabic numerals plus two alphabetic letters suffixed
      1940 – 1957: all alphabetic characters only using “Fitchburg” and ” X” corresponding to 1 through zero.

  32. avatar Henri says:

    I own an Iver Johnston single shot 410 with the wording Champion etched in the metal on one side of the gun. The serial # is 15236. Any idea how old this shotgun would be and what is its approximate value.

    1. avatar Bill J. says:

      Henri, if the serial number truly is all numerals with no letters, then the gun was manufactured between 1909 – 1919, and is not chambered for modern (3-inch) .410 shells, unless it was after-market re-chambered, or re-barreled post-1935.
      At an auction Feb. 1, 2020, I saw such an Iver Johnson in “good” condition sell for $180. By comparison, at the same auction, I bought a 12-gauge Champion, also in good, serviceable condition for $110.

  33. avatar wallace peterson says:

    I have a .22 supershot sealed eight, breaktop with a low serial number that I would like to find a new home. Anyone interested

  34. avatar Bill J. says:

    I just bought a Champion 12 gauge stamped CB on the bottom receiver tang behind trigger guard, and again on the side of the barrel lug. I don’t want to know the date of manufacture, don’t give a damn, and not dumb enough to ask after reading 3 dozen unanswered inquiries. After a good scrubbing, the bore is mirror shiny, and the “choked bore” measured roughly .690 at the muzzle for a rather tight full choke.

  35. avatar Bill Pierro says:

    I have an EXCEL 12ga single shot Ser#34577XG I believe
    it was made by Iver Johnson and possibly sold by Montgomery Ward .
    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.
    The gun is in great shape and the bore is like a mirror. It looks like it is
    chambered for 2 1/2 inch shells. Do you think there would be a problem
    shooting this gun if I can find 2 1/2 inch shells?
    Any ballpark info as to the date of manufacture
    and if my info is correct would be appreciated. Thanks

    1. avatar Bill J. says:

      Date of production is between 1909 – 1919.

      1. avatar Bill J. says:

        Correction: your Excel was produced between 1930 – 1939.

        1. avatar Bill Pierro says:

          Bill
          I haven’t had much luck finding info on this gun.
          Thank you for the response. Bill

    2. avatar Bill J. says:

      1909 – 1919: all Arabic numerals
      1920 – 1929: Arabic numerals plus a single alphabetic letter suffixed
      1930 – 1939: Arabic numerals plus two alphabetic letters suffixed
      1940 – 1957: all alphabetic characters only using “Fitchburg” and ” X” corresponding to 1 through zero.

      I would have a competent gunsmith verify the capacity of your chamber whether 2.5 or 2.75-inch, and if 2.75, use only light field loads. If really 2.5 inches, I suppose I would refer to a hand loading manual, or search Google for reliable info.

      The bore of the Champion model i bought at auction this month looked nice and shiny after only a swabbing with a brake cleaner. But after a good scrubbing with a brass brush, especially in the chamber and forcing cone, i swabbed out a lot of dark brown residue, and the bore looked like a mirror.

      Take the barrel loose before using solvents to avoid damage to the wood finish.

      The battery is dead in my digital caliper, so I have not yet verified this, but I manually got under .70 caliber in the muzzle, actually looked about 6.8 to 6.9, which is really tight, like a turkey choke. The barrel on mine is marked “choke bore” in the old way they usually designated “full” choke.

      Iver Johnson did make Excels that sold at Montgomery Ward, but also made the same model engraved as Western Field for Montgomery Ward.

      I don’t know a whole lot about Iver Johnsons, as I previously favored Savage single barrels. But I really love this Champion i bought, and think it exhibits way more style than my Savage 94s and 220A

      By comparison, I saw a “new” H&R Pardner 12 gauge, new in the box, at the auction, one of the last examples made in their New England plant. It was junk. Felt like painted barrel, and definitely a painted receiver rather than case hardened. The forearm wood was fatter on the right side, and the plastic hinge plate on the forearm consequently was offset from the receiver. Even worse, the hinge pin appeared to be plastic or some sort of polymer. Definitely not metal. It sold for $150, and I’ve seen the same H&Rs in online sales go for $200.

      These old Iver Johnson’s are 5X the quality at half the price!

      1. avatar Bill Pierro says:

        Thanks again Bill
        Your knowledge is much appreciated.

  36. avatar Bob Landry says:

    I have a .32 cal. hammerless 5 shot Iver Johnson. I have been told by different local gun shops that you should only use black powder cartridges and another one said black powder would only be rimfire, if it fires center fire it would be smokeless. The serial # is H7254. I am hoping you could clarify the age of this gun for me before I give someone the wrong information when they try to fire it.

  37. avatar Bob Grimmick says:

    I have a 12ga Champion with serial # of CUFC , if I;m correct it is from 1940-1957? My Dad past it to me many a year ago, was my first firearm and hunted with it as a kid.I would say condition is good, any idea of value?

  38. avatar Richard Blood says:

    I’ve found what I believe to be a IJ Knox All, SxS ser. # 243082. I have parts of the lock and the barrels. Anyone have any add’l info or parts for this? Oh, I was born in Fitchburg and raised next door in Leominster.
    Thanks

  39. avatar Sheila says:

    Just purchased a 12 gauge single shot rifle that looks old. Serial number is 9778 do you have any information on it? It’s an Iver Johnson.

  40. avatar joe wadsley says:

    i have a 20 guage champion. utrx is the letters by the trigger. i presume that means 7380. is this correct and if so what would be the age. thankyou very much joe

  41. avatar XPISTOLS says:

    This is one of the more current threads I have seen regarding IJ serial numbers and identifying model numbers, so appreciate any info you can provide. I recently purchased what I believe to be a 3rd model IJ 38 S&W top break. Double post, five shot. Marked on bottom of the grip frame Patents Pending Nov 17 08. Has just the company name and location on the top strap. Have seen discussions on SN locations and different numbers on the bottom of the trigger guard versus under the left grip covering. Well, this one has the same number both places: 906XX. Only difference is under the grip panel there appears to be an “H” in front of it. Though the H is offset far enough from the numbers it could be dismissed as not part of the SN. 🙂 In good mechanical shape, cylinder does lock up (doesn’t spin freely) when closed. And has a coil spring. Again, appreciate any comments.

  42. avatar Les Walter says:

    my brother in law passing left me a IJ 32 revolver with 3 inch barrel and holds 5 cartridges. I called Iver Johnson and got no help …..# 25888. can I use S&W longs in it…smokeless?

    1. avatar Michael Willis says:

      It’s important to ascertain whether the gun was made for black powder or smokeless. There’s a book by Joseph T. Vorisek available from Cornell Publications that may give you the information you need. There are so many variations it’s going to be a challenge. It appears this serial number is from one of the early guns and most likely black powder. If so ammunition is still available from Buffalo Arms (buffaloarms.com). Here’s a link to an article on the 32.

      https://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/gun-revieww-iver-johnson-32-sw/

      1. avatar MIchael Willis says:

        Sorry but that was the wrong link and now I can’t find the one I wanted. Rats!

  43. avatar Michael Willis says:

    To add to the variety of serial numbers I recently acquired a Montgomery Ward Western Field 20 gauge, serial number 32nnnXF. Though there are differences from the New Model Champion I’m reasonably certain it’s an Iver Johnson based on Vorisek’s book. The gun has a ribbed barrel which is what piqued my interest. If the serial number is in line with the rest that would make the gun from 1910. I speculate the XF may have been either an identifier for Montgomery Ward or a designation for the ribbed barrel. The gun had hardly been used. It suffered from lack of maintenance but cleaned up nicely and after a through lubrication seemed to function well.

    Having cleaned it up I took it to the trap range and after a feeling out round I was left with the impression it was shooting straight but very low. Based on that I changed my mount to get the gun shooting higher and managed a 23 on the next round. I’m sure that little gun has a lot of clean rounds left in it.

  44. avatar Michael Willis says:

    To add to the variety of serial numbers I recently acquired a Montgomery Ward Western Field 20 gauge, serial number 32nnnXF. Though there are differences from the New Model Champion I’m reasonably certain it’s an Iver Johnson based on Vorisek’s book. The gun has a ribbed barrel which is what piqued my interest. If the serial number is in line with the rest that would make the gun from 1910. I speculate the XF may have been either an identifier for Montgomery Ward or a designation for the ribbed barrel. The gun had hardly been used. It suffered from lack of maintenance but cleaned up nicely and after a thorough lubrication seemed to function well.

    Having cleaned it up I took it to the trap range and after a feeling out round I was left with the impression it was shooting straight but very low. Based on that I changed my mount to get the gun shooting higher and managed a 23 on the next round. I’m sure that little gun has a lot of clean rounds left in it.

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