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.


  1. 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.

    • 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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…

      • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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!

      • I’ve made wax rounds as well. They worked fine for garage plinking at very short range. Barely dented the plywood. I used a jar lid for a layer of melted paraffin, stood the brass mouth-down in the liquid and let it harden. Add primers after and there you go.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    • 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

    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.

  8. 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?

  9. Ran across this late, but talk about Forgotten Weapons!

    Not just handguns–there were lines of economy-model shotguns (mostly single shot) and economy-model rifles (mostly rimfire 22 rifles).

    The gun and ammunition costs are probably small change in the production of these videos, so I don’t expect to see many more on the less expensive guns. Iver Johnson made quality, durable guns. Whatever happened to the High Standard .22 revolvers in various finishes–such as the pink High Standard carried by Agent 99 in Get Smart? What about inexpensive kit guns (the S&W .22 revolver of the same name wasn’t inexpensive) and the low-cost defensive pistols of the period between the end of World War Two and the Gun Control Act of 1968? While many of these cheap guns were disparaged because they weren’t intended to fire thousands of rounds, both Smith and Wesson and Colt produced expensive alloy-framed guns for the USAF Aircrew Revolver program that had service lives of less than 50 rounds. Even the wretched RG and Clerke revolvers would still work after 50 rounds–and their proud owners probably wouldn’t fire more than a dozen shots over a period of decades.

    There’s another issue with these older pocket guns–no ammo available. The last time I saw a box of .41 rimfire was in a Carson City gun shop as part of the store owner’s mini-museum of old ammo. Black powder cartridges just aren’t much of a market niche in calibers such as .32 S&W, .32 S&W Long, .38 S&W today. Getting 8mm Lebel revolver ammunition (all smokeless powder loads since its inception) is difficult enough–anybody got any recently-loaded 7.65mm Long? Switching from France, how about the Japanese 8mm Nabu pistol cartridges? Cartridges come and go.

    Plinking pistols (informal target practice) began going away when BB pistols got better, and the Air Soft revolution pretty much ended using cheap .22 rimfire handguns for casual target practice. The outdoorsman’s kit gun (another niche for the H&R featured here) is no longer cheap–today’s outdoorsman carries something more substantial. The only market left for the old school “Saturday Night Special” are folks on a budget who desire a defensive handgun. That market used to be filled with police and military surplus guns, other second-hand guns, and new “Saturday Night Specials”–now it’s mostly ex-police guns and other second-hand guns.

    The older “Saturday Night Specials” might be interesting mechanically. Designed to use new (cheaper) materials, to use the minimum possible parts, the least amount of machine work–much like the last ditch Volksturm weapons (including pistols)–these economy model pistols and revolvers were low-power to keep them from blowing up in the shooter’s hand and kept small both for reasons of concealment and for economy. Economy was the more important aspect.

    Military weapons have to be economical, too. There’s lessons for modern gun designers in the old “cheap” guns.

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