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The Vault

Iver-Johnson Safety Hammerless (Video)

I believe this is the least expensive gun we have yet covered on Forgotten Weapons – this particular example cost me $49 at a local gun shop. Why bother with a cheap old (and pretty commonplace) revolver? To be honest, there is one reason that specifically pushed me to buy it: the safety.

You’ve seen the clever and innovative trigger safety on the Glock – and now on a bunch of other striker-fired pistols – right? Well, Iver-Johnson was doing that over a century ago. Have a look:

For the record, this is a 2nd model Safety Hammerless, which is not intended for smokeless powder. I was using light handloads, which is still not a good idea for the pistol, as smokeless powder burns faster than black powder, and creates a higher peak pressure for the same muzzle velocity as a BP load. Continued shooting of light smokeless loads will cause the cylinder gap to grow and impair the timing. Shooting full-power smokeless loads could cause more serious and spectacular damage, so you do so at your own risk. I decided it wasn’t a problem to run a handful of light rounds through for the purposes of the video.

21 comments to Iver-Johnson Safety Hammerless (Video)

  • TNThompson

    Some of these old pocket pistols represent a lot of history. If nothing else, they stand for a time when a great many folks went about armed and nearly anyone could afford a gun of some sort.
    According to the 1902 Sears catalog most of the cheaper pocket guns then sold for around $2.50 to $3.50 while a comparable S&W went for about $11. This was in a day when twent dollars would still buy an ounce of gold.
    I have an H&R .32 that belonged to one of my grandmothers who carried it in her coat pocket as she rode horseback to teach school in the Sandhills country of Nebraska back before WW I.

    • Earl Liew

      Keep that H & R .32, TNT, and never, ever give it up except to pass it on down the family line. The real value — what it represents in human, historical and ancestral terms and the continuity of heritage thereof — has no price, regardless of the intrinsic historical value of the firearm itself. Sorry, I hope you’ll understand that over most of a lifetime and its attendant lessons, I have come to treasure the fact that the human connection represented by such an artifact is far more precious than the material item itself.

  • Jamezb

    I am really enjoying these early 20th century pocket pistols you have been featuring. The fact that they aren’t your “usual” type of review specimens doesn’t bother me one little bit. The simple truth is, you have stepped into an entire new category of Forgotten Weapons, completely worthy of your investigation and documentation, and I am enjoying it immensely. (can ya tell? – lol)
    Thanks folks.

  • guy

    It’s too bad X-Ring doesn’t make rubber bullets in .32

    With only the primer for propellant, you wouldn’t have to worry about harming the gun and they’re great for plinking soda cans.

    • Jamezb

      A little trick you might enjoy, from one of the classic gun writers of my youth, Skeeter Skelton. According to ‘ol Skeet, a friendly barkeep – one of the men responsible for fostering his boyhood love of shooting, taught him to shoot an SAA.45 in an off-hours bar room with practice rounds he concocted by pushing primed .45LC cases into a 1/2″ sheet of paraffin wax, creating improvised wax low-velocity .45 wad-cutter rounds. Now that having been said, I have never tried this myself, and have not thought of it in many years. I suggest we let a few gunsmiths weigh in on this idea before either of us try it, but it would seem not too different in concept to the Speer primer-powered “plastic bullets” I used to shoot in my basement.

      • Michael Schumacher

        I read an article about that exact way to fabricate your own “indoor rounds” for quick draw practice in one of the older issues (late sixties) of german magazine ‘DWJ’. The pictures showed a Colt SAA, too…

      • Jacob Morgan

        Bill Jordan’s book “No Second Place Winner” goes into a lot of detail on how to make wax bullets. He used them a lot to practice quick draw.

      • Ian H

        James,

        Bullets made of paraffin wax, or a mixture based on paraffin wax, are quite common in a number of shooting sports e.g. fast draw, mounted shooting. In fact,in the early 20th century, Olympic sport dueling was conducted using wax bullets. Most of the time the wax bullets are seated in an empty but primed case. In Olympic dueling, a round wax ball was placed in front of a flobert cap.

        • Jamezb

          Wow, Ian…Olympic Sport Dueling…now THAT would be worth paying a Pay-Per-View fee to watch! (Can you imagine?)
          –Wonderful to hear that the wax bullet thing is a viable concept.
          In related news, I am now going to have to find a couple old wonder-turd revolvers, (the stranger the better), a hunk of paraffin, and a .32 Lee Loader to prime and de-prime with!
          Thanks folks!

  • Big Al

    Could you replace the cylinder with one from a 3rd model to shoot smokeless loads? Just a thought.

    The Sauer Behorden Modell also featured a trigger-mounted safety mechanism, number 3 in the following link: http://www.shotgunnews.com/2011/09/26/ugliest-pistol-ever/

  • CW

    I actually had one of these explode in my hands while shooting it. I was using smokeless “cowboy loads” which were suppose to be tame enough for the pistol. I should have realized that something bad was going to happen as the trigger pull became progressively harder with each shot. When it did let go, the cylinder broke into two main halves while also throwing smaller pieces of shrapnel. The good news is the shrapnel didn’t cause any cuts of any kind on my shooting hand and my eyes were shielded with shooting glasses. The range master nearly had a heart attack till he realized nobody was hurt.

  • I happen to have a 3rd Model hammer gun.

    It’s got a transfer bar for the hammer, did the 2nd model?

  • strongarm

    Most of the modern revolver -so called- innovations are belonged to the Iver
    Johnson Company. Today’s “Transfer Bar” for instance, is an exact copy of that
    Firm’s “Hammer The Hammer Safety” which reinvented by Charter Arms at middle of
    the past century, “Trigger Safety” which Ian posted, “Safety Rim” which keeps all
    cartridge rims inside a single countersunk cavity instead of one for each round,
    and “Reflector Rim” which deviates the hot gas and lead shavings splitted between
    the cylinder and barrel to the front.

    By the way, do most of black powder kinds burn faster than smokeless type, at least
    at outside.

    • Jacob Morgan

      Was it Charter Arms or Ruger (with the Service/Security Six line) who first reintroduced the transfer bar? I don’t recall who was first, but Ruger certainly made a big deal about it at the time. The Rugers were nice little guns, but had small grips and kicked like a mule in 357, I think that line evolved into the GP100 series.

  • John D.

    You can almost duplicate the pressure curve of black powder by using larger charges of slower burning smokeless powder under very soft cast lead bullets. This is contrary to current commercial loading practive which uses very small charges of fast burning powder as an economy measure. Alliant Unique (TM) is a good choice for black powder duplication loads in the .32 and .38 S&W cartridges. Alternately, there are black powder substitute powders made in ‘pistol’ formulations which exactly match the black powder burning curve, but often share the corrosive behavior of black powder.

  • Strongarm

    Gasser Safety can be best described as a “Stronger Half Cock Safety” free from
    the risk of breakage when an outside impact apllied over the resting hammer.
    Even healtier and simplier application of same approach is found on 1895 Nagant
    revolvers with an added advantage of hammer being automaticaly rebounding. The
    same part works to push forward the cylinder for gas sealing with aid of a swinging
    breechblock.

    On the other hand, the “Hammer The Hammer” Safety’s impact element, does not get
    direct contact with primer, or a separate firing pin. It Transmits its energy via
    another lever. Main difference with “Hammer Block Safeties” is that construction.

  • jim in houston

    Really enjoyed this video – my strong eye is the right and I shoot long guns right-handed, but I’ve always been a leftie with handguns. So I have a fondness for breaktops, from little .32s to .455s. (The nine-shot H&R “Roper pattern” .22 was the poor man’s K22.) But the real pocket jewel of this era was the “lemon squeezer” hammerless grip safety Smith and Wesson .32s and .38s. Didn’t have the hump over the hammer the way this IJ does, and for my money the lemon squeezer is just a perfect example of ergonomics, in either hand. Seems like it would be a natural for Uberti or someone to bring back for cowboy sports; the little breaktops were a lot more common in the Wild West (and Wild East) than the Peacemaker or Schofield.

    While you are rooting around in the fishing-sinker box, though, keep an eye out for a Clarke .22. The owner of the hardware store in my hometown when I was a kid – late 60s/ early 70s – was huge on them. I can’t find any reference to them on the internet but I remember reading a short article about them years ago. They were your basic “Saturday Night Special” pull-pin-and-remove-cylinder design as contemporary crap like the RG, but the article I saw went into Clarke’s philosophy that poor people deserved decent weapons, and it didn’t cost that much more to make a basic revolver with decent metal and tolerances. The hardware guy – who was also huge on Belgian Brownings, especially Auto-5 shotguns, really knew his guns – sold a bunch of them to farmers who wanted something they could toss in the pickup glove box that would work when needed, and what more can you ask for?

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