Rock Island Auction Company is pleased to offer the very first production Marlin Model 1881 lever action rifle, serial number 1. In 1881 the company that had made a name for itself in the manufacture of single shot arms began to produce lever action repeating rifles starting with the Model 1881. As serial number 1, this Model 1881 marked the dawning of a new era for Marlin. The Model 1881 was just the beginning ofa long line of successful lever action models for the Marlin Firearms Company. Through innovation of design and fabrication, Marlin played a pivotal role in the development of lever action arms, making it a direct competitor to the giant of the lever action market, Winchester. Marlin's success came to fruition due to the hard work and perseverance by some of the greatest firearms engineers of the late 19th century. It is difficult to imagine Marlin's success without contributions from Andrew Burgess, H.F. Wheeler, E.A.F. Toepperwein and L.L. Hepburn. Company founder John Marlin patented his first lever action rifle in late 1879. Only one prototype was manufactured and this historic one-of-a-kind rifle is also featured in this auction. The prototype did not meet John Marlin's expectations, and he turned his attention elsewhere for a better design. This better design, which eventually became the Model 1881, was based on patents issued to H.F. Wheeler, Andrew Burgess, E.A.F. Toepperwein, and John Marlin. It was John Marlin who put the various patents together into a finished production product. The Model 1881 was a side loading, top ejection lever action type rifle. When the rifle was first introduced it was available in .45-70 and .40-60, but by the time production ended in 1892, calibers .32-40, .38-55, and 45-85 had been added to the line. The Model 1881 was the first production lever action rifle to handle large calibers like .45-70, debuting years before Winchester's Model 1886. Originally intended for the .45 and .40 caliber cartridges meant the Model 1881 was, in the words of Brophy, "rather massive. The barrels were long (28 inches and 30 inches) and octagon. Holding 10 cartridges, they were heavy. Thus, the receivers were also massive. In due course, to make a lighter rifle, shorter (24-in.) barrels were made available and the receivers were lightened." This Model 1881, serial number 1, is pictured and identified in Brophy's authoritative work "Marlin Firearms" on pages 149-151 and 154-155. On page 154 the rifle is photographed completely disassembled. The photographs of the rifle are identified by the serial number or identifiable by the condition of the metal surfaces. The rifle was on loan from the Marlin Firearms Co. as part of the Marlin exhibit in The Cody Firearms Museum, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, circa 1993-2007. Prior to its initial public sale in 2007, the rifle was part of the Marlin Firearms Corporation. The rifle is fitted with a German silver blade front sight and an elevation adjustable rear sight. The top barrel flat is hand engraved in script "J.M. Marlin New Haven Ct. U.S.A. Pat'd Jan. 7. '73, Sept. 14. '75 Nov. 19. & 26. '78, June 3. '79, Dec. 9. '79". The script hand engraved markings are similar to the roll stamped markings found on first production Model 1881s except for the additional February 7, 1865 and November 9, 1880 and reissue November 9, 1880 patent dates. "45 Govt" is marked on the top barrel flat at the breech. The serial number "1" appears on the left sides of the top and bottom tangs, inside the buttplate, twice inside the forend cap, bottom of the barrel and front end of the stock. No other disassembly was attempted. This is the only known serial number 1 of any Marlin Model 1891 lever action as all remaining models were numbered sequentially thereafter. This is therefore a very special opportunity to acquire the only serial number 1 Marlin lever action. The forearm and straight grip stock are nicely figured walnut. The buttstock is fitted with a smooth nickel plated semi-crescent buttplate with short rounded tang. Provenance: The Marlin Firearms Corporation; The Milan J. Turk Collection
Excellent. The barrel and magazine retain 90% plus original blue finish. The receiver and bolt retain 95% bright original high polish blue finish with a few scratches. The forend cap has turned to a smooth blue/brown. 90% original case colors remain on the hammer and lever. 98% original nickel remains on the buttplate. The wood is also excellent with some minor dings and scratches. Mechanically excellent. Truly an outstanding, historic Marlin Model 1881 rifle that started it all, serial number 1, worthy of the finest public or private Marlin or lever action collections.