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Woodrow Spearman

Hello Pocket Pistol Historians..or others in the know

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I have just become the proud owner of an Iver Johnson owlhead revolver in .38 S&W. The previous owner said he bought it at an estate auction. I have just gotten it home and would like to get some information on it. I bought this cool revolver so I could compete in the pocket pistol side matches. As I said it is chambered in the .38 S&W. I can't tell if it is a first, second or third version from Iver Johnson. It has a hammer, appears to function well (haven't fired it yet), and the oel head is facing the muzell, and not looking directly at you. The number stamped on the base of the trigger gaurd is 285. I acquired a box of ammunition with revolver from Winchester, but wonder if smokeless powder is safe. Would anyone have any insight?

 

Thanks,

Woodrow

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Just got an IJ myself, and found that thefirearmsforum.com has meny threads on Iver Johnson adn all the information you could ever need on which model it is and when your pistol was made. I'm not an expert, but from what the real experts have posted, a third model (the only one made for smokeless) has the owl looking back at the shooter and the cylinder has rectangular cuts for the bolt. As I said, thefirearmsforum.com can answer almost all your pocket pistol questions.

 

Buffdriver

new owner of a third model, 38 S&W, made in 1921

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Just got an IJ myself, and found that thefirearmsforum.com has meny threads on Iver Johnson adn all the information you could ever need on which model it is and when your pistol was made. I'm not an expert, but from what the real experts have posted, a third model (the only one made for smokeless) has the owl looking back at the shooter and the cylinder has rectangular cuts for the bolt. As I said, thefirearmsforum.com can answer almost all your pocket pistol questions.

 

Buffdriver

new owner of a third model, 38 S&W, made in 1921

And under those grips is a coil mainspring.

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WS-

From the grip design, you don't have a 3rd Model made for smokeless. Takes grips off, check style of main spring in the grip frame. It'll be a flat spring. Look for a more complete serial number and I can look up your date of manufacture and verify 1st or 2nd model. On the grip frame, or pull off the cylinder and look under the "top strap". Report also the barrel lock design. Does it have only one post or two posts of steel sticking up from the top of frame for the barrel extension to lock up to?

 

The 1st and 2nd Models were made in larger number, and only strong enough for BP. It's not hard to load .38 S&W with BP, and I find it makes no difference in a pocket pistol match - you won't generate enough smoke to obscure a target. Fill case to base of bullet with FFFg, set a soft lead bullet sized to .360 inch (lubed with BP lube) and you are ready to go.

 

Lots of folks then ask, can't I just load a real low pressure smokeless load - well, you can, but it's going to be higher pressure almost certainly than BP. And there's not much pressure barrel data available for light loads.

 

Good luck, GJ

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Howdy

 

Here are a couple of photos that will help. The first photo is of a Black Powder Iver Johnson. Notice the direction the owl's head is facing. Notice the shape of the cylinder locking notches. Underneath the grips is a leaf spring for the hammer.

 

Black Powder I J

 

Sometime around 1900 Iver Johnson completely redesigned their revolvers for Smokeless powder. In addition to using stronger steel they made a few changes that are instantly identifiable.

 

Here is a photo of my Safety Hammerless IJ. It is a Smokeless model. Notice the direction the owl's head is facing. Notice the shape of the cylinder locking notches. Underneath the grips is a coil spring for the hammer.

 

Smokeless I J

 

I agree with GJ. Even though modern 38 S&W ammo is loaded very lightly, it is still going to display higher pressure than Black Powder loads. A lot of owners think they can get away with Smokeless loads in these old BP frame guns, but even if they don't blow up, a lot of them have been shot loose by the concussion of too many Smokeless loads.

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Thanks guys this info helps a lot. I removed the grips, the main spring is flat, and the serial number is M285. Could you tell me when it might have been produced?

Thanks again.

Woodrow

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WS-

From the grip design, you don't have a 3rd Model made for smokeless. Takes grips off, check style of main spring in the grip frame. It'll be a flat spring. Look for a more complete serial number and I can look up your date of manufacture and verify 1st or 2nd model. On the grip frame, or pull off the cylinder and look under the "top strap". Report also the barrel lock design. Does it have only one post or two posts of steel sticking up from the top of frame for the barrel extension to lock up to?

 

The 1st and 2nd Models were made in larger number, and only strong enough for BP. It's not hard to load .38 S&W with BP, and I find it makes no difference in a pocket pistol match - you won't generate enough smoke to obscure a target. Fill case to base of bullet with FFFg, set a soft lead bullet sized to .360 inch (lubed with BP lube) and you are ready to go.

 

Lots of folks then ask, can't I just load a real low pressure smokeless load - well, you can, but it's going to be higher pressure almost certainly than BP. And there's not much pressure barrel data available for light loads.

 

Good luck, GJ

Thanks guys this info helps a lot. I removed the grips, the main spring is flat, and the serial number is M285. It has 2 posts Could you tell me when it might have been produced?

Thanks again.

Woodrow

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Thanks guys this info helps a lot. I removed the grips, the main spring is flat, and the serial number is M285. It has 2 posts Could you tell me when it might have been produced?

Thanks again.

Woodrow

 

If the serial number is really M285xx (perhaps the last two digits were polished off or left off), then this would be a 2nd model, 8th variation, made in 1904. It would still be a 1904 if the number really is, in complete form, just M285 (would be very early in 1904 in that case).

 

To confirm that we have nailed the right variation of this model, it should have on the top of the barrel a two line manufacturer's mark, Iver Johnsons Arms & Cycle Works; Fitchburg, Mass USA

 

On the bottom of the top strap, the serial number (without the M) should appear, and also on the trigger guard, on the outside bottom. All three of these should match. It is possible that the trigger guard number is polished away. But the one under the top strap is almost never destroyed. To get the cylinder out to see this, open the top break so cylinder and back of barrel swings up, then unscrew the cylinder until you can slip it off the "base pin".

 

The bottom of the grip frame (butt) should have patent dates, 5 of them, ranging from Apr 6, 1886 to Aug 25, 1896.

 

Good luck, GJ

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A funny side note; I used to own an Iver Johnsons Arms & Cycle Works, direct drive bicycle several years ago. The chain was hooked directly to the rear wheel with NO coasting available so the brakes were merely slowing down on your pedaling until you came to a stop. It had a head post date of 1904 and was a real interesting piece of history to own. Smithy.

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If the serial number is really M285xx (perhaps the last two digits were polished off or left off), then this would be a 2nd model, 8th variation, made in 1904. It would still be a 1904 if the number really is, in complete form, just M285 (would be very early in 1904 in that case).

 

To confirm that we have nailed the right variation of this model, it should have on the top of the barrel a two line manufacturer's mark, Iver Johnsons Arms & Cycle Works; Fitchburg, Mass USA

 

On the bottom of the top strap, the serial number (without the M) should appear, and also on the trigger guard, on the outside bottom. All three of these should match. It is possible that the trigger guard number is polished away. But the one under the top strap is almost never destroyed. To get the cylinder out to see this, open the top break so cylinder and back of barrel swings up, then unscrew the cylinder until you can slip it off the "base pin".

 

The bottom of the grip frame (butt) should have patent dates, 5 of them, ranging from Apr 6, 1886 to Aug 25, 1896.

 

Good luck, GJ

Everything you stated here matches exactly. Thanks Joe, now I have to learn how to load black powder instead of smokeless.

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