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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.

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85 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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. 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!

      • Probably made around 1922 according to the information available in Vorisk’s book. He never mentions the letter suffix or lack of one in his book but I was informed there was such a scheme in place.
        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.

  4. 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

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

  6. 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?

  7. 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?

    • Beside having read that serial number system was used from 1940 through 1957 no, there’s no way to narrow it down I’m aware of.

  8. 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.

  9. 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$

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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

  14. 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?

  15. 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

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

  17. 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.

    • 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.

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

  18. 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?

    • 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.

    • 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.

  19. 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.

    • 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.

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

  21. 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.

  22. 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

    • 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!

  23. 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.

  24. 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?

  25. 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

    • The Iver Johnson Knox All was made by Crescent Firearms Company of Norwich, CT. I’ve read it was a re-branded Crescent Certified Empire No. 88 sidelock double gun. Try DoubleGunShop.com and their associated BBS.

  26. 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.

  27. 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

  28. 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.

  29. 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?

    • 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/

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. The letters on my Champion are BXXR and there is no X in the code. What does that mean? I am trying to determine the year it was made.

    • That all letter system was used from 1940 through 1957. That’s as close as one can get. Yours likely was made in the early 1940s.

      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.

  33. I have a Ivey Johnson Champion 20 GA single barrel shotgun passed on to me from my father who was 95 when he die in 2007. The code IURI is engraved behind the trigger guard. Can you help me determine the actual serial number, date, and perhaps the value? I would say the condition is average with no rust and the wood stock, etc. does show wear from hunting, etc. Thank you

    • The serial number translates to 2782. From what I’ve read that system was in place from 1940 to 1957. While that’s the best I can say that seems somewhat questionable as 4 digits only leaves room for 10,000 firearms, a minuscule number for the period. Vorisek’s book never even makes mention of the letter system. As for value my recent book on gun values lists the Iver Johnson Champion in good to excellent condition from $100 to $290. It’s really a crap shoot if one is buying. I recently picked up an Iver Johnson Hercules SxS 12 gauge for $140 while the book value in it’s condition would be close to $800.

  34. I have a IVER JOHNSON ARMS AND CYCLE WORKS – 32 cal handgun – 5 shot top-break serial # F25838 can you tell me manufacture date, and any other information?

  35. Iver Johnson, Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works, manufactured in Fitchburg, Mass,
    Champion Single Shot Shotgun, Serial Number 11FG, What year was it made and
    what is the best price to be expected?

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