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.