Shotgun Q&A: Stevens ‘Letter Prefix’ Serial Numbers

I have just bought a Stevens Model 311 double for my collection. Other Stevens-made doubles I own have ‘plain’ serial numbers, none over five digits, on the frame, barrels and fore end. This one has a capital letter C prefix ahead of a six digit number and it appears only on the left side of the frame.

Do you know the significance of this C letter prefix? Can I determine the date of manufacture from this letter? Do letter prefixes occur on other versions of the Stevens 311? I have seen Stevens 311s with no serial numbers at all. Can you make some sense out of  Savage/Stevens/Fox/Springfield  serial number usage that will help me to date my doubles and clue me in on important variations? Can you tell me what the letter prefixes mean? Does it give me a clue to the correct Model designation? I am confused.

The short answer is yes, but it would take more space than Gun Digest can give us for this Q&A column to give you complete answers. For now I can tell you, sticking to doubles only, that:

1. Stevens used plain numbers from their first double in 1878 until 1913.

2. Letter prefixes crept in on the serial numbers used on both hammer and hammerless doubles from 1913 to 1939. They always signified a change in mechanical design or manufacturing process which resulted in an interesting variant.

3. From 1940 to 1948 no serial numbers were used on doubles, only capital letters, usually in groups of three or four, the letter(s) sometimes enclosed in a circle, along with an inspector’s symbol ( a heart , a diamond, a spade or some such ‘shape’, on the bottom of the frame behind the hinge pin.

4. From 1948 to 1968 the letter symbols under the frame were changed to a ‘Capital letter with a one or two digit number’ in a 1/4″ circle. This was a date code which you will find illustrated in the Savage-Stevens-Fox pages of your Standard Catalog of Firearms.

5. From October 1968 to March 1988 Savage/Stevens/Fox B doubles are serial numbered in a completely new serial number range beginning at A000001. The six digit (always) numbers, stamped only on the left side of the frame, not on the barrels or fore end or on the wood, are preceded by capital letters from A to E. The letters do not correlate to production years. The letter prefix accompanied the Savage/Stevens/FoxB/Springfield  serial number on every gun they made from 1968 on. Beginning about 1978 numbers 1 to 20 were also stamped on the three major components, frame,barrels and fore end iron, to enable the factory to keep 20 guns of like model together in a group for packing in the standard 20 gun shipping carton.

Yours is one of these. Since I am interested only in double guns I stopped looking for  numbers on Savage’Stevens doubles after 1988 because that’s the year they shipped their last ‘Stevens Model 311′.

The highest number I have seen was on  20 gauge Stevens Model 311 Series H serial number E957971. The Savage branded imported doubles, over and unders or side by sides, are numbered differently. Each model is numbered in the range created by its manufacturer. As you probably have heard, Savage/Stevens’ production records on their older models were destroyed in a sprinkler accident about 35 years ago, according to officers of the company.

To calculate an approximate number of ‘Stevens Model 311s’ that were made from 1968 to 1988 you could do this math exercise. Since Savage used 5 letters (A to E), each on 999,999 guns, they must have made about 5 million guns. Perhaps 40% were doubles in the various Savage Brands and Private Brands. That makes 2 million doubles of which I estimate 80% were Stevens 311’s. And that’s not counting production before 1968. No wonder the “311” in its various variations is the all time favorite American made double.

And think how many Stevens 311s ( and Stevens made doubles that looked like Stevens 311s but carried private brands) had already been produced in the years between 1940 (first year of the ‘true’ Stevens Model 311) and 1968, during which time they weren’t serial numbered at all! There must be at least 4 million Stevens Model 311s, in one form or another, out there!

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