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texaswoodworker 05-18-2012 09:55 PM

Iver Johnson Top Break
I was browsing around a few gun auction sites just for the hell of it, and I found an older Iver Johnson top break revolver in .32 S&W. Well, I looked into them a little more and found that you can find some in decent, shootable condition for a really low price. I am currently working on an AR build, but these are cheap enough that it wouldn't really effect my build at all.

So my question is, how good are they? How is their quality, accuracy, ext? Are they safe to use with modern ammo? Anything I should know about them?

I'm not completely sure that I would get one yet though, I'm mostly just curious about them. :D

Sniper03 05-18-2012 11:21 PM

You might be able to find one in pristine shape. But the two that I inherited from my grandfather have a cylinder timing problem so they are no longer shooters. I say this because I know very little about how old they are or ho many rounds were shot through them. Even if they were shootable I would be cautious and sceptical with the new rounds produced today. Only some in put. I am sure there is someone here who may shoot one and have more information on them. I will be checking out this thread for information on the subject.


hiwall 05-19-2012 02:39 AM

Yes some can be shot but they are more for lookin' at. They were cheap guns when they were made and have not gotten better with age. The reason they sell for $50 to $100 is because thats all they are worth.

texaswoodworker 05-20-2012 12:14 AM

I may pass these up then. How are the H&R versions? I kind of like the design since its different from regular revolvers.

c3shooter 05-20-2012 05:39 AM

Between Iver and H&R, they made enuff revolvers to start their own arms race. These were good quality guns (not super duper golly gee, just good guns) WHEN they were made. And that MAY have been a long time ago, and guns may have worn, rusted, corroded, etc.

The top break actions were not as strong as solid frame, but were adequate for the cartridges they were made for. For God's sake, DO NOT take a .32 S&W and try to rework it for .327 or something equally insane. You CAN still find some parts for these at Numrich.

If you think you might like these, invest in a copy of Iver Johnson Arms & Cycle Works (paperback) by the late Mr. W.E. (Bill) Goforth. Very good reference, well worth the money.

Modern day standard .32 S&W ammo still follows BP pressures. .38 S&W does NOT- an it is important to keep smokeless loads out of BP guns. Rough rule of thumb- If caliber is marked on the SIDE of the barrel, is a smokeless gun.

I have a couple from the 1920s I shoot- but DO check timing and cylinder lockup at full cock- many are free wheeling when not cocked. If you reload, a good gallery load can be assembled with a light powder charge and a single pellet of size 0 buckshot.

texaswoodworker 05-20-2012 06:37 AM

I'll have to look into that book. :D

Just so I get this straight. Modern .32 S&W is 100% safe, but .38 S&W might leave you with missing parts. Right?

Is the 0 buckshot for the .32 or .38? How accurate is it?

I may get one. They look like they would be fun guns.


c3shooter 05-20-2012 10:57 AM

Yes, standard velocity .32 S&W should be safe IF the gun is in good working order. .38 S&W, pressures of smokeless is too high for BP guns. The single pellet of size 0 is for .32s. Accurate enough for 25-30 ft, which was the typically indoor shooting gallery.

Spend some time researching those older guns, and they will surprise you. It is an unfolding of firearms technology as the years progress. There are different retaining mechanisms for the break action (how many posts are there on the frame? Safety latch for action?) transfer bar ignition systems, the trigger type safety on a Glock will be found in revolvers from the 1920s, they were QUICK to reload, some were DAO, some double/single, etc.

As far as quality- Iver Johnson was in business for 100 years. 1871-1971. There were an awful lot of storekeepers, homeowners, bankers etc that had an "Owl's Head" tucked under the counter, in the desk, or in the nightstand.

And remember- you can buy a bushel basket of these for the cost of one Colt Single Action Army revolver..........

donthav1 05-20-2012 06:40 PM

many times people on the auction sites list them as parts guns because they don't know that on many of these the cylinder is supposed to free-wheel when not cocked, so that's something to look for.

i've got an H&R "automatic" top break in .32 S&W long that is in excellent condition. through my research i found that mine was probably made in the 30's but it still has the same look as the old BP ones. mine is the slightly larger 6 shot cylinder but i would definatly say it's still a pocket gun. it is suprisingly accurate but the sights are god awful, the large narrow front blade & super short notch for the rear sight means if you're using a normal sight picture, you'll probably be shooting into the dirt at closer ranges.

ammo is reasonably priced if you buy online, usually around $16 a box of 50 for wadcutters or lead round nose. it costs me twice as much to buy it in the local stores, if they even have it

TheOldMan 05-22-2012 01:40 PM

2 Attachment(s)
It's interesting this thread comes up for me now considering I just purchased two of these fine firearms in the past couple weeks. Both of mine are U.S. Firearms Company top-breaks in .32 S&W. One I got at a neighbors yard sale for $50 (a hammerless model) and the newest one from an auction site for $130 ( hammered version).. The hammerless I restored (pictured here) The hammered version is in the shop torn down getting it's facelift .... Both of these forearms are in great shape and lock up tight as a drum.. I've got no qualms shooting either one of these. As posted above, for the unknowing, the free wheeling cylinder will most likely make you think the gun is broken when in fact it's not..

c3shooter 05-22-2012 02:53 PM

Old Man- is that US Firearms Co, or US Revolver Co? US Revolver was a brand named used by Iver Johnson. If you have the serial numbers, send me a private message, can give you the dates of production. They were made from 1910-1935, in 38 S&W, 32 S&W, and .22. I have a couple of the hammerless .32s, and they are a hoot.

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