Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 3000: J.M. Marlin First Prototype Lever Action Rifle

Auction Date: December 5, 2021

Historic Documented J. M. Marlin First Prototype Lever Action Rifle as Seen in "Marlin Firearms"

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $30,000 - $50,000

Historic Documented J. M. Marlin First Prototype Lever Action Rifle as Seen in "Marlin Firearms"

Manufacturer: Marlin Firearms Co
Model: Lever Action
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 44
Barrel: 20 inch round
Finish: blue
Stock: walnut
Item Views: 785
Item Interest: Very Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 6
Class: Antique

Known simply as J. M. Marlin's first rifle, this is the historic prototype of J. M Marlin's first repeating rifle patented in 1879 (U.S. patent no. 222,064). This exact rifle is pictured and identified in William Brophy's "Marlin Firearms" on pages 2-5. John M. Marlin (1836-1901) was an apprentice machinist with the American Machine Works at the age of 18 and went on to work for Colt in Hartford at the beginning of the American Civil War. By 1863, he was off on his own making pistols, eventually founding Marlin Fire Arms Company in 1870 in New Haven. By 1881, the company had made a name for itself in the manufacture of single shot arms, and began to produce lever action repeating rifles starting with the Model 1881. A new era for Marlin had begun, and all because of this rifle. Positioned in front of the trigger, the hammer protrudes through the trigger guard. The lever pivots forward to cock the hammer and feed/extract cartridges. The action is side loading with top ejection. The magazine tube is housed in the buttstock. The rifle has carbine dimensions, and a wooden cleaning rod is located underneath the barrel. Here is what Brophy had to say after personally examining the rifle: "John Marlin's first center-fire repeating rifle was a short-barreled, under hammer, lever action, tubular-magazine rifle with characteristics similar to the Spencer rifle. This new rifle was patented by John Marlin on November 25, 1879 (number 222,064) [originally filed on July 15, 1879]. My examination of the prototype quickly revealed shortcomings in the feeding system and the breech-locking system. As designed, only short-length cartridges could be used in the gun and the strength of the receiver was questionable. Only a prototype rifle was manufactured, and fortunately, John Marlin did not proceed with production of this rifle. Instead, he looked elsewhere for a better repeating rifle. The repeating rifle that was finally manufactured was identified as the Model 1881. Based on the patents of H.F. Wheeler, Andrew Burgess, E.A.F. Toepperwein, and John Marlin, this rifle gave John Marlin the start he needed to become successful in the firearms industry" ("Marlin Firearms," page 6). When the company was taken over by Marlin's two son's after their father's death in 1901, Marlin Firearms Company had already played an indelible role in the development of lever action repeating arms, spawning an industry that continues on to this day. The historical significance of J.M Marlin's first rifle cannot be overstated. It played a pivotal role in propelling Marlin into the repeating arms market, competing directly with Winchester, the Goliath of the lever action manufacturers. The Marlin brand is forever linked to its famous line of lever action rifles, and it all started with this prototype. Provenance: The Milan J. Turk Collection

Rating Definition:

Fine overall as Marlin's first prototype repeating rifle. The rifle retains an as found smooth brown patina with traces of blue finish remaining in the sheltered areas of the barrel. The wood is also fine with a stabilized crack ahead of the barrel band, an overcoat of varnish, and minor dings and scratches. Mechanically excellent. As John Marlin's first repeating rifle, this is definitely a one-of-a-kind piece of repeating arms history for the serious collector. Whether in a public or private collection, this Marlin will be a stand out piece not only to the telling of the Marlin story but to the evolution of American firearms development overall.

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