Old Iver Johnson Shotgun & Revolvers – Turning Trash Into Treasure

US Revolver Hammerless 38 S&W
US Revolver Hammerless 38 S&W

USA – -(Ammoland.com)- One of our hobbies is buying broken old guns and fixing them up. Depending on the model or type of firearm, this can vary between simple fixes to get it running again to an almost full restoration.

We recently picked up a handful of broken guns that we got up and running within a week.

  • US Revolver Hammerless 38 S&W
  • Iver Johnson Safety Hammer Automatic, Third Model 38 S&W
  • Iver Johnson Champion .410

The total cost for all three of these firearms was a whopping $45. Coincidentally they were all made by Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works.

US Revolver Company

In case you are not familiar with the name, U.S. Revolver Company was a subsidiary of Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works.

These revolvers used were built with over run parts made for the Iver Johnson Safety Hammer Automatic, Second Model, which was replaced by the Safety Hammer Automatic, Third Model around 1909. The main difference between an Iver Johnson model and a U.S. Revolver model was that they lacked the “Hammer the Hammer” action of the regular line and the hammerless version did not have the safety on the trigger. The grips were marked “US” instead of bearing the distinctive “Owl's head” logo.

Quality is the same as Iver Johnson revolvers of the same period. These little revolvers were built primarily for the export model and mail order sales as opposed to being found for sale in the typical gun shop, hardware store or department store that carried Iver Johnson's “name brand” revolvers and they never appeared in company catalogs.

The revolver we purchased was made in the hammer less configuration in 38 S&W with a 3 1/4″ barrel. Ours is an early model as it uses a flat mainspring as opposed to a coil spring.

As is common with a lot of top break revolvers, the right grip had been replaced. The plastic grips were notorious for cracking due to over tightening of the screw or simply banging into things while being carried. The replacement grip on this example had been carved out of a piece of wood and was honestly a reasonably good fit.

Old Iver Johnson Shotgun & Revolvers - Turning Trash Into Treasure
Old Iver Johnson Shotgun & Revolvers – Turning Trash Into Treasure

We wanted to restore it and by now you are probably thinking, “Big deal, you replaced a grip panel”. That's what we thought going into this, but the Bubba who repaired this one made the task not so simple.

The grip was glued or epoxied to the frame. After removing the grip screw, we noticed that the panel would not come off. A little prying with a screwdriver and tapping with a plastic hammer seemed to remedy this. Then we noticed that the grip screw through the grip was stacked with a bunch of steel and copper washers.

The replacement grip on this example had been carved out of a piece of wood and was honestly a reasonably good fit.
The replacement grip on this example had been carved out of a piece of wood and was honestly a reasonably good fit.

After thoroughly cleaning the glue from the frame we saw that the grip retaining pin on the right-hand side was flared and would not let the grip fit properly. We remedied this with a metal file to bring the pin back into shape.

The replacement grips came from NC Ordnance and cost $35 shipped. They supply several screw lengths, but we still had to cut one of the screws by 2mm to fit.

US Revolver Hammerless 38 S&W
US Revolver Hammerless 38 S&W

The $18 revolver was fixed with a little elbow grease and a $35 set of grips meaning we have $53 invested in this revolver and could easily sell it for 2 to 3 times that amount.

Iver Johnson Safety Hammer Automatic

What caught our eye on this one was the set of New Model Target Grips installed. We had only seen pictures of these in books and never on an actual Iver Johnson and knew they were on the rare side.

New Model Target Grips
New Model Target Grips

The revolver in question had little original finish remaining, and the trigger would not reset. Other than that, everything about the revolver was in good working order. The price tag was $9. We figured if we could not fix it, we at least had a nice set of grips for one of our other Ivers!

Iver Johnson Safety Hammer Automatic
Iver Johnson Safety Hammer Automatic

Numrich Arms sold us a trigger spring for $5.75 and after disassembling the revolver and removing the old one, we popped it in and the trigger was working again. We relocated the grips to a large frame safety hammerless model and put the shorter grips on this one. We paid $9 for the revolver and fixed it for less than $6.

Iver Johnson Safety Hammer Automatic
Iver Johnson Safety Hammer Automatic

Iver Johnson Champion .410

Of the three firearms we picked up that weekend, this was the real dog of the bunch. A single shot .410 with a homemade forend that was literally held on with bailing wire and electrician tape. The poorly fitting forend interfered with cocking the gun and lockup. The stock was rough, the blue was gone, but surprisingly the original plastic butt plate was in fine condition.

Iver Johnson Champion .410
Iver Johnson Champion .410

As for the bore, it had no pitting, but was full of cobwebs!

Iver Johnson Champion .410
Iver Johnson Champion .410

The cost of this beauty was $15, and we had a replacement forend we had bought years ago from eBay for $25. We were looking for a similar forend to restore an Iver Johnson Champion in 16 Gauge and received this one instead, so we held onto it for a future project.

We decided to clean up the metal and while we were pondering a Krylon finish, we instead looked at a tube of Birchwood Casey bluing paste we had not used in a few years. We could have gone Cerakote, but really did not want to sink a ton of time, money and prep work into a $15 shotgun.

Iver Johnson Champion .410
Iver Johnson Champion .410

In our opinion .410 is pretty much only useful for killing birds, snakes, rats and other small game or for teaching children how to shoot. Ours will be used giving the grandchildren some shotgun lessons over the summer.

These old guns may not have the prestige of a classic Colt or Smith, but they represented average “working man” guns and it's interesting to see how many still work after all these years. Perhaps, if you find one that's a bit of a beater you can get it running for a little time and money.


Mike Searson
Mike Searson

About Mike Searson

Mike Searson's career as a shooter began as a Marine Rifleman at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire adult life as a Gunsmith, Ballistician, Consultant, Salesman, Author and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1989.

Mike has written over 2000 articles for a number of magazines, websites and newsletters including Blade, RECOIL, OFF-GRID, Tactical Officer, SWAT, Tactical World, Gun Digest, Examiner.com and the US Concealed Carry Association as well as AmmoLand Shooting Sports News.

Home page: www.mikesearson.com
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  • 25 thoughts on “Old Iver Johnson Shotgun & Revolvers – Turning Trash Into Treasure

    1. I have an Iver Johnson revolver, Safety Hammer Automatic Double Action. Original box is in poor condition but has instructions for gun use and a picture of the revolver. Says Iver Johnson’s Arms & Cycle Works. The revolver has the fancy butt covers. I found it in my parents belongings and have no idea what to do with it any suggestions?

    2. Iver Johnson 5 shot revolver automatic double S/N 34557 stamped on trigger guard. Same number under grip except preceded by “Q”. Caliber not marked anywhere on the gun that I can find. Needs a trigger spring. Breakback hammer gun, Good bore, everything looks OK. Pat June 16 96 Aug 25 35 patents pending stamped on butt.

      I want to make sure of the caliber and date of manufacture so I know if it will handle modern ammo.
      Stephen Boone
      [email protected]

    3. Where is the patent date on old IV .410’s? I have come into possession of a very old one, and the company name is not even impressed on the barrel, but it is on the butt stock. The serial number is 9 777 6. I called the current Iver Johnson Arms company in Florida and they could not offer any info on the gun. Other than a chipped butt plate the gun in in mint condition. The barrel has no info imprinted on it. It’s got a total length of 41 3/4 ” and the barrel length is 26″. It’s a single shot break apart to load gun, and I imagine full choke. The stock appears to be walnut or mahogany and the varnish is completely intact. Can anyone tell me more about this gun, including the value and age?

    4. Good article. I have an old IJ in 38S&W. It is the Swift model and was made for a client or company about 1895-1900. All it needed was a trigger spring-have shot it several times. A keeper. Also, have a nice H&A Safety Police in same caliber. it didn’t need a thing but shooting. It’s funny to watch that hammer move up and down in the frame-a safety feature. This gun is also a keeper.

    5. I love fixing up those old guns,I’ve got one old Iver .410 that’s just over 100 yrs. old I refurbished. What a good time it was. I had to make a new forend as mine was lost but was able to find the metal parts after a lot of searching and then making a new wood piece with some walnut. What a sweet gun. I’ve returned 3 old .22
      rifles to like new condition. Your article was spot on about people’s attitudes towards these old guns,I say give them to me I’ll take all you’ve got!!

    6. Hi,
      I enjoyed your story about the Iver-Johnson .410. After it was restored, it looks like mine. My dad gave it to me when I was 38, in 1983. That same year, my son who was 9, shot his first bird, a dove, and yes, it was in flight.
      My grandfather bought it new, it went to my dad, to me and then, it will go to my son, then to his son. The patent date on mine is 1909. We sill use this, fun gun to shoot.
      Thanks
      David

    7. Nice article ! A friend came to me about 25 years ago and said you collect old gunsdont you , “yes I do” here you want this one , found it in my aunt’s attic in Block Island , give me $20.
      I said “sure I’ll take all u got” I still have it , keep it at my cabin and shoot it from time to time !
      Plus there was an old deer antler patch knife with rusted off blade he gave me ! I fixed it up and lost in woods but it inspired me to make a collection of antlered and bear jaw knives !

    8. Iver Johnson .38 S&W the cylinder will not lock unless trigger is pulled. Hammerless IverJohnson Owlshead pistol. Not sure why it does this or how to fix it. Need information. Bruce Royal

      1. Bruce , some models of these early revolver do not have cylinder locking notches. They do have lead-in notches that the cylinder “bolt” drops into and stops the cylinder from over rotating. These guns require that the hand maintain constant upward pressure on the ratchet. The charge holes in the cylinder are held in barrel alignment by this upward hand pressure trying to turn the cylinder, while the bolt is locked against the trailing edge of the lead-in slot. This all works together only during the time the trigger is being pulled. So your gun may be perfectly normal.

        “Taj”

    9. I liked the article and as far as it goes I have what I call Wall Hangers, I have my grandfather’s 12ga double, his sons my uncles 12ga single shot, and a 12ga double from a gentleman who was 87 at the time I got it from him, had bought it when he was 10 years old, he brought several guns into the shop where I was and said it was time to get rid of them before he passed on and instead of leaving them for his wife to deal with he said he wanted to do it and maybe go out to dinner with his wife. Nice thought and they weren’t turned in to a gun turn in! All of them are tight and function, but the ages of these three will not take modern powder they are my class of a wall hanger, not worth much but all have a story for myself and my sons.

    10. my great aunt(who was a spinster) had 2 of these guns in 32 S&W that her father gave her before the turn of the 20th century, both were nickel plated 1 was a hammer gun and 1 was hammerless. She passed in 1967 and left me the guns, the hammerless had a broken mainspring so I took it to a local gunsmith he told me to use it as a boat anchor and would not work on it. I never shot either of them I put them with the rest of my collection I even had a half box of cartridges, sadly when my X divorced me she made me sell my collection

    11. In the “old days” gunsmith were expected to make parts if a needed part was no available. If the broken factory part is available to copy it really just takes some work with a file to make many parts. Modern steel, properly heat treated will make firing pins, springs, even hammers or major parts. A lathe or drill press helps, but isn’t really necessary.
      Today many gunsmiths are licensed and have a nice shop and just assemble CNC parts or parts bought from Numrich or other source.

    12. The big problem with most of the old “Owl Head” Iver Johnsons or H&R’s of similar design, is once you’ve fixed them, they’ll soon break again. These guns are of fragile design and as a gunsmith for over 40 years, I’ve fixed plenty of them. Many customers have a hard time paying the cost of repairs which is usually more than the gun cost. It also seems , that once you’ve repaired it, you are held responsible by the customer when it breaks anytime in the future–generally until you die or the guy that owns it dies. I quit taking H&R’s and Iver’s into the shop long before I retired. Just didn’t work out to be profitable. I still have several of them. They are in shadow boxes as wall decorations. Best place for them.

      1. i have both the Iver Johnson and H&R both in 38 Smith & Wesson.
        passed down from family members.
        i need to replace the grips on the Iver Johnson and in reading this article i found where i can get them.
        i am a kitchen gunsmith myself and have worked on guns all my life, and got a degree years ago on gunsmithing and at 78 i still enjoy working on them.

    13. I am glad you shared this information. I am sick of seeing people junk old guns because they dont know they can repair them. Plus we have some gun groups turning in old repairable guns for cash at gun by-backs because they dont know how to work on their own firearms.Many times these firearms need a spring or have a cracked stock and are worth more than the gun by-back is paying. That’s what happens when you have a bunch of Fudds for gun owners that have to send their guns out to be cleaned.
      (sick)

      1. @freeillinois, I agree that it is a good article, and you had me right up to ” … a bunch of Fudds … ” I would think that you would call them customers or potential sellers for the financial opportunities that you have, so correctly, identified.
        Personally, I like to buy an obsolete pistol at the gun show. The haggling is the best part. Then I like to cut the outline out of a sheet of styrofoam, and fit it into an old cigar box. Then I keep my eye out for a box of original ammunition, and put that in the styrofoam, in the cigar box. Then I raid the wife’s material scraps for a thin and nice looking piece of material to fit over the styrofoam and into the cut out, so that the box, pistol, and ammunition look like a presentation. Sometimes it takes years. I have them all over the house. Guests seem to like them.

    14. Old guns, and parts are like old cars from back in the day, just about the time you think they are gone forever, someone comes up with another barn, or old shed or building find, breathing new interest into a hobby so many more than just a little interested in. I had an older brother back in the day, that bought, sold, collected, went to shows, garage sales, or anyplace he thought he might find something gun related, that he didn’t have. Well turns out he was friends with an old fellow, that had quite the collection of older pistol, and rifle parts, that my brother would buy small trinkets, and pieces that he could afford, as back in the sixties, money was scarce and all. One afternoon, the old guys wife calls my brother to ask if he wanted any boxes of as she put it, her husbands junk, as her husband passed away. My brother wasted no time going over, and meeting with the mans widow to discuss the parts. She says, well would you be interested in this junk, and my bother replies, yes I like all of it, but I don’t have much money, but could make payments if you wish. The lady says, how much money do you have with you today, and my brother says, I don’t want to insult you, but all I have on me right now, is eight dollars. The lady said Sold, but make sure you take all the boxes, im tired of looking, at them and having to move them when im looking for something. I wasn’t with him, but I helped unload the boxes out of his pickup, and that’s when I learned to reload, as he had several kinds and calibers to work with, not to mention hundreds of pieces he sold, or traded with. That was good times, rest his soul, as my brother also passed many years ago.

    15. I still have a cigar box full of partially and mostly complete IJ’s, H&R, H-A, etc. old topbreak revolvers, picked up here and there for next to nothing. I’ve assembled a few, using others as parts. Inexpensive and interesting hobby.

    16. Loved this article as I have been doing the same thing with an old H&R .22 revolver and a 20ga. Shotgun. I am always scouring the local shops and shows looking for these old bargains and I now have a nice little collection of “Classics” that my kids and grandkids get a kick out of trying out. Thanks for the good article

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