Over the years Rock Island Auction Company has had the pleasure to catalog several Annie Oakley presentation arms, especially Marlins, but no. 419119 is by far the grandest of them all, both in artistry and provenance, and it is an absolutely exceptional Conrad F. Ulrich Jr. signed masterpiece. Ulrich's signature on this incredible rifle has been overlooked until now and certainly adds to the value of this already historic American firearm. Any signed master engraved firearm is a rarity and a significant find, but this rifle's combination of exceptional embellishment and documented historical presentation certainly sets it apart. The Annie Oakley story has been retold numerous times in numerous ways, including through this auction house, but bears to be repeated. She was after all the woman who created the lasting image of the cowgirl and proved without a doubt that when given the opportunity women are as capable as men. The master markswoman could hit the thin edge of a playing card and shoot distant targets while looking into a mirror. Oakley and her husband, Frank Butler, a master marksman in his own right, joined the famed Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Sitting Bull, after seeing one of her shows, was so amazed by Oakley's marksmanship that he gave her the nickname "Little Miss Sureshot." Although Annie and Frank officially retired from the professional show arena in 1913, the couple continued to give shooting exhibitions and make charity appearances. She continued to set shooting records well into her sixties before here health began to decline in 1925. As fate would have it, she and her husband died within three weeks of each other in November 1926. During her lifetime she is said to have fired over two million shots. Thanks to Hollywood and Western pulps as well as this outstanding presentation Marlin, the legend of Annie Oakley endures to this day. This spectacular Marlin masterpiece was without a doubt presented by Marlin to Annie Oakley in 1917. The unquestionable presentation and early history of this rifle is documented in William Brophy’s “Marlin Firearms.” The provenance is told in a June 7, 1921 letter from Marlin Rockwell Corp. to then owner of this rifle, Mr. L.J. Huber, which is reprinted on page 547. The letter reads, “We have your favor of June 6th giving us the number of the special model 1893 38-55 caliber Marlin rifle which you purchased in Philadelphia a short time ago. This is a rifle which we presented to Annie Oakley back in 1917, and we are somewhat disappointed that it has been now offered on the market for sale. Miss Oakley expressed a desire to have one of our 38-55 caliber rifles and we went to considerable extra bother in getting out a special fancy gun that we considered she would be proud to own and shoot. The value at the time that it was made up was in the neighborhood of $150.00 but considering the advance that has been made in the market price of firearms during the past two or three years the present value would probably be somewhat in excess of this figure. You can consider that you have obtained a very beautiful rifle and an exceptionally good shooter.” The letter finishes at length denying Mr. Huber’s request for the production of an extra .32-40 barrel with matching engraving and forearm. Oakley often used Marlins in her shows and demonstrations. In fact, one of her favorite arms was Marlin’s Model 1891. Taking full advantage of Oakley’s international success, Marlin often presented “Little Miss Sureshot” with the finest arms and even used her image in advertising. Producing high presentation grade rifles for a worthy recipient such as Oakley went a long way in winning public support and acceptance for the brand and product. Oakley did not own the rifle for long as those at Marlin had wished, but she did put it to good use. Instead of keeping this spectacular rifle, she offered it for sale along with other fine arms to generate money for a war bonds fundraiser following America’s entry into World War I. In addition to raising funds, Oakley wrote to U.S. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and offered to fully fund and raise a regiment of female soldiers to fight in the U.S. Army during the war and also offered to help teach American soldiers marksmanship, but the government turned down her offers. She nonetheless, persisted and performed exhibitions for the soldiers at the training camps, and in some instances is noted as actually directly training some soldiers. She had previously written President William McKinley on the eve of the Spanish-American War stating: "Dear Sir, I for one feel confident that your good judgement will carry America safely through without war. But in case of such an event I am ready to place a company of fifty lady sharpshooters at your disposal. Every one of them will be an American and as they will furnish their own arms and ammunition will be little if any expense to the government. Very truly, Annie Oakley." Her offer was turned down then as well. Imagine the boost the women's rights movement would have received had she led female troops in battle. Though she was not allowed to raise units for combat, she did teach women marksmanship and self-defense, training at least 9,000 women and by some accounts over 15,000. The masterful engraving is signed "C.F. ULRICH" vertically in the left game scene to the right of the stag among the rocks. At the time of the presentation in 1917, Conrad F. Ulrich, Jr. engraved for Marlin. Ulrich was employed by Marlin from 1905 until 1919, at which time he joined Winchester. The receiver features a deluxe engraving where a stunning “Monarch of the Dell” (based on the painting "Monarch of the Glen" by Landseer), a typical sign of Marlin’s best work, takes center stage on the left side. On the right side of the receiver is a scene depicting a grizzly bear proudly standing over his fresh kill. The engraving is completed with gold inlaid scroll line borders. Additional engraving and inlay is featured on the forend cap, takedown collar and lever. The hammer has a light engraving and platinum inlaid scroll border. Single gold and platinum inlaid bands along with light flourishes of scrollwork adorn the barrel at the breech. Truly a grand expression of firearms artistry by one of the best early 20th century American engravers! The non-standard 23 inch barrel (standard length was 24 inches) is fitted with a German silver blade front sight and an elevation adjustable rear sight and is marked on the top flat with two-line address/patent date marking ahead of the rear sight and “38-55” at the breech and on the upper left flat “SPECIAL SMOKELESS STEEL.” The top of the receiver is marked “MARLIN SAFETY,” and the upper tang is marked “MODEL/1893.” The rifle is mounted with highly figured American walnut featuring C style checkering and pistol grip stock fitted with a hard rubber Marlin buttplate. Eventually Marlin purchased the rifle back, perhaps directly from L.J. Huber, and for many years remained at the Marlin archives. Later, the rifle found its way into the Rafael Cruz collection. From 2007 to 2017 this Oakley presentation masterpiece was loaned to the Cody Firearms Museum for display. The rifle is prominently featured in Brophy’s “Marlin Firearms” on pages 200 and 547 as well as R.L. Wilson's "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" on page 135, but the highly significant Ulrich signature was overlooked and hasn't been described until now! Once you see the signature, it’s easy to spot, but Ulrich's placement of it among the rocks somehow eluded arms experts until now!
Exceptionally fine. The barrel and magazine tube retain 85% plus original blue finish with slight thinning to gray on the balance. The receiver, takedown collar, lever and forend cap retain 60% original case colors, otherwise faded to an attractive silvery gray. The masterful engraving is crisp. The wood is very fine with a professional repair visible at the upper tang, some minor handling marks, crisp checkering overall and much of the original finish remaining. Mechanically excellent. A well-documented C.F. Ulrich Jr. signed masterpiece presented to famed exhibition shooter Annie Oakley that is worthy of any private or public Western collection. It is not often that we catalog historic firearms owned by the great Western legends with irrefutable provenance!
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