Despite her modest protests to the contrary, my wonderful wife is quite an artist, with her weekly freeform music radio program through which she weaves delightful tapestries of sound that pay no attention to genres or time, and with her collage and mail art. While sourcing and exploring materials for the latter, she comes across and shares with me more than a handful of vintage and antique firearm advertisements, of which this particular Iver Johnson ad struck multiple chords with me.
His Name Is Iver, Not an Engine Driver
Gun historians and collectors would readily recognize the Iver Johnson name and brand, but I had to rely on Wikipedia to catch up on what reads like a classic American success story of an immigrant making good (and eventually succumbing to tuberculosis, but that’s the 19th century for you). In addition to revolvers and shotguns, the Iver Johnson’s Arms & Cycle Works cranked out bicycles and motorcycles until its dissolution in 1993.
An Iver Johnson Arms carries on the namesake through imported 1911’s, but you can shelve that as IJINO (Iver Johnson in Name Only).
Anyway, Here’s the Ad
The advert from 1915 is a snapshot of the Iver Johnson product portfolio with a particular focus on its revolvers for home and personal defense. From the ad copy, the amount of time required for a burglar to break into one’s home doesn’t seem to have changed much in the intervening century (three minutes). Also unchanged in over 100 years is the answer to the question, “how often do you see a policeman within a mile of your house?” Pretty darn rarely.
All kidding aside about the cheeky warning signs around some homes that read “we don’t call 911 (we dial 357/556/223),” being able to address immediate threats to life by an intruder seems to have been a constant concern in American society. What is it they say about “seconds count when help is minutes - or maybe hours - away”? An Atlas’s shoulderful of responsibility weighs on the shoulders of the person electing to prepare for that possibility, but that goes without saying no matter what year the calendar reads.
Freedom Ain’t Cheap, Neither Are Bicycles
A quick Google search shows that $1 in 1915 is worth about $25 in 2021, which makes the most modestly priced revolver go for approximately $150 in present day greenbacks. No crypto in 1915, obviously.
Of Iver Johnson’s bicycles on the other hand, the cheapest model would set you back around $750! Which seems like quite a lot to shell out for two wheels and pedals, but tricked out bikes these days can easily run four digits and way, way higher. Anyway, I suspect that the gun would help secure the bicycle, so it’s a turnkey solution. Add a smoothbore to the mix, and you’re literally “riding shotgun” with Iver Johnson, lock stock and two smoking barrels.
This Is Not a Drug Song
The Australian alt-rock band, The Go-Betweens, had an early single titled “Hammer the Hammer.” It wasn’t until seeing this ad that I realized the title carried a totally different meaning (multiple conversations among Go-Betweens fans speculated that the tune was about heroin, although songwriter Grant McLennan stated otherwise).
Andrew Fyrberg, an Iver Johnson employee, devised a safety mechanism that prevented a revolver from discharging if dropped on its hammer. Apparently this was quite a revolutionary development for handguns, and the marketing phrase “hammer the hammer” drove the point home. Pun intended.
I’m not sure if McLennan was a gun aficionado, but the whole thing does make for an interesting closing-the-loop that routes through seemingly unrelated topics of firearms, bicycles, antique publications, mail art, and 80’s Antipodean rock.