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Old 01-20-2014, 03:10 PM
PALADIN85020
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The Marlin Model 39: A brief history...



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This is a first-draft preview of a future article. I would welcome any constructive comments from collectors and users of these rifles, as I admit I'm not an expert on them. I have tried to set facts down accurately according to the best information I can find. If I have made any errors or significant omissions, I'd be grateful if you would bring them to my attention. I am unfortunately limited by space considerations, so understandably I cannot catalog many of the incredible number of variations that have occurred in the post-war years, and minute details may have to be omitted.

I appreciate your help on getting this right!

Thanks,
John

--------------------------------------------------------------------



With origins dating back to 1891, the Marlin Model 39 series of take-down lever action .22 rifles have been manufactured by the millions and hold the honor of having the highest production total of the type. It’s the oldest shoulder firearm design in the world that has been in continuous production. An amazing variety of guns sharing the same enduring Model 39 action have been produced. The utility, handiness, sleek lines, accuracy and ease of operation of these rifles place them solidly among the classics.

The history of the Model 39 began in the late 19th Century, with a patent held by Lewis Lobdell Hepburn (b. March 2, 1832) dated August 12, 1890. His design was for a .22 caliber lever action rifle. The breech was locked and unlocked by the lever itself which was keyed to the breechblock. It had a solid receiver top and loaded from the side. John Marlin, who already had a thriving lever-action firearms business, thought that Hepburn’s design would fill the perceived need for a lever-action .22 repeater. In 1891, he introduced the “Marlin Safety Repeating Rifle, Model 1891.” It was the start of a line of .22 rifles that continues to the present day.

The Model 1891 was advertised as being able to fire .22 short, .22 long, .22 long rifle and 22 shot cartridges interchangeably. The rifle’s sideplate on the right side could be removed by unscrewing a round-headed thumb screw on the right of the action. This allowed more thorough cleaning. A year later, the 1892 Marlin catalog showed that the side loading feature had been abandoned and now the rifle could be loaded through a port in the magazine when the inner magazine tube was withdrawn far enough to expose it for use. From the start, the rifle was available with a 24-inch round or octagonal barrel, a full length or shorter magazine, and a straight stock. Numerous options were available at extra cost. Magazine capacity for the full-length magazine was 14 LR, 16 longs, or 19 shorts. The price at the time was all of 18 dollars!

In 1892, the design was tweaked to eliminate the previous special lever-operated safety device designed to prevent firing until the bolt was locked in place. A one-piece trigger was used that eliminated some play in the previous trigger system. The rifle still could not be fired until the bolt was completely locked. This was accomplished by adding a tang to the lower part of the firing pin, which was blocked by the upper rear surface of the lever until the lever was fully closed. There was a minor change to the ejector, and a magazine cutoff was later added which prevented more than one round at a time from being fed into the receiver. A cartridge guide on the lower surface of the receiver top was added in 1908, along with a new spring-loaded ejector. Other minor changes were made through the years. Production of the Model 1892 began in 1895.

On June 8, 1897, another patent was granted to L. L. Hepburn for a takedown system, and a new Model 1897 that used that design was introduced in that year. The exact same takedown system is still used today in the modern Model 39A. The main external difference was a larger head on the new takedown screw. Interestingly, the early Model 1897s did not have a magazine cutoff or cartridge guide. The ejector needed to be removed after takedown to allow access to the breech with a cleaning rod. A second variation reinstated the cartridge guide around 1907/08 and the round top of the receiver was changed to flat. It was drilled and tapped for a special Hepburn adjustable receiver sight. The 1892 and 1897 models were referred to as Model 92/97s from 1906 onward. In late 1907 or early 1908, a new type of ejector was installed, utilizing two screws which are visible on the left side of the receiver. This is the last iteration of the 1897 model. All variations of the Model 1897 had the upper grip tang drilled and tapped for tang rear sights. An educated guess as to the number of ‘97s produced from 1897 to the end of production in 1915 is about 81,000. Marlin was then acquired by a syndicate that largely ignored sporting rifles while making machine guns for the WWI war effort. This was the Marlin-Rockwell Corporation. After WWI the sporting gun end of the business was acquired by John Moran, and the Marlin Firearms Corporation was formed to produce and sell them. Their first catalog was issued in 1922, and among the guns listed for future manufacture was a lever action .22 to be known as the Model 39.

Designed in the Marlin-Rockwell era, only a few Model 39s were manufactured under the M-R banner and so marked. These are rare and valuable today. The new rifle was billed as the most accurate .22 repeating rifle in the world – and subsequent events showed that claim to be pretty well justified. The Model 39, basically the same as the Model 1897 with a pistol grip stock, case-hardened receiver and 24-inch octagonal barrel, was produced from 1922 to 1938. First year production used up ’97 parts. An ejector modification was invented in 1926 by Gus Swebilius (later famed for his association with High Standard firearms). It allowed the ejector to be depressed and locked out of the way for cleaning with a slotted rivet that could be turned with a screwdriver. This new ejector modification was subsequently applied to the Model 39 and the serial numbers were given an “S” prefix. High-speed .22 ammo would sometimes crack the Model 39 bolt. This problem was solved with a new machining process on the bolt. The improved-bolt-equipped guns had “HS” applied as a prefix to the serial number. This change occurred in 1932.

In 1939, the Model 39A was introduced. The main observable changes were a long beavertail forearm and a round barrel. It was still basically a Model 39 from the receiver back. The early receivers were still case hardened. “Unbreakable” fiber-impregnated buttplates with seven sets of four horizontal serrations (previously employed in the last year of Model 39 production) were sometimes used. The 39A was billed as the “World’s best all-around .22 caliber repeating rifle.” In 1940, a coiled main spring, a full pistol-grip stock and a long, bulbous forestock were used. The serials were then prefixed “B”. No production was carried out from 1942 to 1944 during WWII. 1945 saw the receiver drilled and tapped for a receiver rear sight and the introduction of a ramped front sight. The receivers were leftover case hardened types and the serials were prefixed with an upper-case “C.” In 1946, receivers were blued and the serials prefixed with a lower-case “c.” This was the beginning of a series of letter prefix codes that denoted the year of manufacture, although other systems were later used. In 1951, a grip cap with a semicircular brass insert (for engraving initials) was featured, but discontinued the following year to save brass for the Korean War. These are known as “peanut” grip caps because of the insert shape. White spacers were added to the butt plates. In 1952, the drilled and tapped holes for tang sights were eliminated. The 39A “Mountie” with a straight stock and 24” barrel was introduced in 1953; in 1954 the barrel length was changed to 20”. Micro-groove rifling came about in 1954, although some Ballard-rifled barrels were used from stock through 1957. Receiver tops were drilled and tapped for scope mounts in 1956. Grip caps with white spacers were introduced in 1957, as well as gold-washed triggers. A straight-stock carbine with a thinner forestock, a slim tapered 20” barrel and a shortened magazine was offered in 1963 and continued until 1968. The two-millionth Model 39 was produced in 1984. Other variations of the rifle way too numerous to cover here have appeared over the years, but the basic 39A is still a viable product.

The Marlin Firearms Company has recently been purchased by Remington. Aside from a brief experiment with the Nylon Model 76 .22 (1962-1964), Remington has never made lever action rifles, so it’s interesting to speculate where the company and the 39A will progress from here. Some 39As were produced, but production was stopped as serious quality problems developed.

The rifle illustrated for this article was manufactured in 1951, and still retains its “peanut” brass insert pistol grip cap. It has been custom modified with a barrel shortened to 19 ½” inches, the magazine cut back to a capacity of 12 rounds, a Marlin ramp front sight base with a Lyman bead insert installed on the barrel, and an “Osborne” folding rear sight has been utilized. The fine walnut stock has been professionally checkered in an attractive pattern, and the forestock has been nicely slimmed and checkered. A Marlin trademark “bullseye” insert was retained in the lower edge of the stock. These custom modifications do make for an eye-catching one-off piece. Whether or not Marlin employees were involved is pure conjecture – if anyone has specific information on the history of this exceptionally attractive rifle, I’d sure like to know about it.

Model 39As have long been known for their outstanding accuracy, more so with the later Micro-groove rifling that superseded the original Ballard type in 1954. Millions have been made, and the gun has been challenged seriously as a top-quality lever .22 only by Winchester’s Model 9422 rifles, which were made from 1972 – 2006. Other lever .22s have come and gone, but the basic Hepburn design of the Model 39 has endured for well over a century. These rifles are owned and treasured by millions of owners. The Model 39A is classic rifle with a long and proud history.

(c) 2013 JLM

Note: (1/24/14) changes have been made here to reflect current comments - still a work in progress. Further comments/corrections welcome.

Last edited by PALADIN85020; 01-25-2014 at 04:34 PM.
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Old 01-20-2014, 03:55 PM
vepr762
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Originally Posted by PALADIN85020 View Post
This is a first-draft preview of a future article. I would welcome any constructive comments from collectors and users of these rifles, as I admit I'm not an expert on them. I have tried to set facts down accurately according to the best information I can find. If I have made any errors or significant omissions, I'd be grateful if you would bring them to my attention. I am unfortunately limited by space considerations, so understandably I cannot catalog many of the incredible number of variations that have occurred in the post-war years.

I appreciate your help on getting this right!

Thanks,
John

--------------------------------------------------------------------



With origins dating back to 1891, the Marlin Model 39 series of take-down lever action .22 rifles have been manufactured by the millions and hold the honor of having the highest production total of the type. It’s the oldest shoulder firearm design in the world that’s still being made. An amazing variety of guns sharing the same enduring Model 39 action have been produced. The utility, handiness, sleek lines, accuracy and ease of operation of these rifles place them solidly among the classics.

The history of the Model 39 began in the late 19th Century, with a patent held by Lewis Lobdell Hepburn (b. March 2, 1832) dated August 12, 1890. His design was for a .22 caliber lever action rifle. The breech was locked and unlocked by the lever itself which was keyed to the breechblock. It had a solid receiver top and loaded from the side. John Marlin, who already had a thriving lever-action firearms business, thought that Hepburn’s design would fill the perceived need for a lever-action .22 repeater. In 1891, he introduced the “Marlin Safety Repeating Rifle, Model 1891.” It was the start of a line of .22 rifles that continues to the present day.

The Model 1891 was advertised as being able to fire .22 short, .22 long, .22 long rifle and 22 shot cartridges interchangeably. The rifle could be taken down by unscrewing a round-headed thumb screw on the right of the action. This allowed thorough cleaning and cleaning rod access to the breech end of the barrel. A year later, the 1892 Marlin catalog showed that the side loading feature had been abandoned and now the rifle could be loaded through a port in the magazine when the inner magazine tube was withdrawn far enough to expose it for use. From the start, the rifle was available with a 24-inch round or octagonal barrel, a full length or shorter magazine, and a straight stock. Numerous options were available at extra cost. Magazine capacity for the full-length magazine was 14 LR, 16 longs, or 19 shorts. The price at the time was all of 18 dollars!

In 1892, the design was tweaked to eliminate the previous special lever-operated safety device designed to prevent firing until the bolt was locked in place. A one-piece trigger was used that eliminated some play in the previous trigger system. The rifle still could not be fired until the bolt was completely locked. This was accomplished by adding a tang to the lower part of the firing pin, which was blocked by the upper rear surface of the lever until the lever was fully closed. There was a minor change to the ejector, and a magazine cutoff was later added which prevented more than one round at a time from being fed into the receiver. Also, a cartridge guide on the lower surface of the receiver top was added somewhat later. Marlin added the cartridge guide and "new style" ejector in 1908, to the Model '92 and '97 Other minor changes were made through the years. Production of the Model 1892 began in 1895.

On June 8, 1897, another patent was granted to L. L. Hepburn for an improved takedown system, and a new Model 1897 that used that design was introduced in that year. The exact same takedown system is still used today in the modern Model 39A. The main external difference was a larger head on the takedown screw. Interestingly, the early Model 1897s did not have a magazine cutoff or cartridge guide. The ejector needed to be removed after takedown to allow access to the breech with a cleaning rod. Marlin used a screw-in style ejector until the Model 1897 was introduced, then the 1892 had the "spring" sytle ejector. A second variation reinstated the cartridge guide 1907/1908, and the top of the receiver was drilled and tapped for a special Hepburn adjustable receiver sight. The Model 1892 and 1897 were changed to the "Model '97/'92", in 1906. The round top receivers, with "Marlin Safety", were replaced with the flat top that had been d&t'd, for a Hepburn receiver sight. In late 1907/early 1908, a new type of ejector was installed, utilizing two screws which are visible on the left side of the receiver. This is the last iteration of the 1897 model. All variations of the Model 1897 had the upper grip tang drilled and tapped for tang rear sights. An educated guess as to the number of ‘97s produced from 1897 to the end of production in 1915 is about 81,000.

Marlin was then acquired by a syndicate that largely ignored sporting rifles while making machine guns for the WWI war effort. This was the Marlin-Rockwell Corporation. After WWI the sporting gun end of the business was acquired by John Moran, and the Marlin Firearms Corporation was formed to produce and sell them. Their first catalog was issued in 1922, and among the guns listed for future manufacture was a lever action .22 to be known as the Model 39.

Designed in the Marlin-Rockwell era, only a few Model 39s were manufactured under the M-R banner and so marked. These are rare and valuable today. The new rifle was billed as the most accurate .22 repeating rifle in the world – and subsequent events showed that claim to be pretty well justified. The Model 39, basically the same as the Model 1897 with a pistol grip stock, case-hardened receiver and 24-inch octagonal barrel, was produced from 1922 to 1936 1938. A new ejector just a modification was invented in 1926 by Gus Swebilius (later famed for his association with High Standard firearms). It allowed the ejector to be depressed and locked out of the way for cleaning with a slotted tab that could be turned with a screwdriver. This new ejector was subsequently applied to the Model 39 and the serial number was given an "S" prefix. High-speed .22 ammo would sometimes crack the Model 39 bolt. This problem was solved with a new machining process on the bolt. The improved-bolt-equipped guns had “HS” applied as a prefix to the serial number. This change occurred about 1932.

In 1939, the Model 39A was introduced. The main observable changes were a long beavertail forearm and a round barrel. It was a Model 39, from the receiver back. The early receivers were still case hardened (later blued). “Unbreakable” fiber-impregnated buttplates with seven sets of four horizontal serrations (previously employed on the last year of 39 production) were used. Not always The 39A was billed as the “World’s best all-around .22 caliber repeating rifle.” In 1940, coiled main just the main spring and trigger springs, a full pistol-grip stock and a long, bulbous forestock were used. No production was carried out from 1942 to 1944 during WWII. 1945 saw the receiver drilled and tapped for a receiver rear sight and the introduction of a ramped front sight. 1945 was an upper case "C". These were left over case colored receivers. 1946, lower case "c" were the first blued. The receivers were then blued rather than case-hardened. In 1951, a grip cap with a semicircular brass insert (for engraving initials) was featured, but discontinued the following year to save brass for the Korean War. These are known as “peanut” grip caps because of the insert’s shape. The 39A “Mountie” with a straight stock and 20” barrel was introduced in 1953. Technically no. The first year they were 24" barrels. Micro-groove rifling came about in 1954, and receiver tops drilled and tapped for scope mounts followed in 1956. Grip caps and buttplates with white spacers were introduced in 1957, as well as gold-washed triggers. A straight-stock carbine with a slim forestock and a 20” barrel was offered in 1963 and continued until 1968. The two-millionth Model 39 was produced in 1984. Other variations of the rifle way too numerous to cover here have appeared over the years, but the basic 39A still thrives in production.

The Marlin Firearms Company has recently been purchased by Remington. Aside from a brief experiment with the Nylon Model 76 .22 (1962-1964), Remington has never made lever action rifles, so it’s interesting to speculate where the company and the 39A will progress from here. They made them, but production was stopped because of serious QC problems.

The rifle illustrated for this article was manufactured in 1951, and still retains its “peanut” brass insert pistol grip cap. It has been custom modified with a barrel shortened to 19 ½” inches, the magazine cut back to a capacity of 10 rounds, a Marlin ramp front sight base with a Lyman bead insert installed on the barrel, and an “Osborne” folding rear sight has been utilized. The fine walnut stock has been professionally checkered in an attractive pattern, and the forestock has been nicely slimmed and checkered. A Marlin trademark “bullseye” insert was retained in the lower edge of the stock. These custom modifications do make for an eye-catching one-off piece. Whether or not Marlin employees were involved is pure conjecture – if anyone has specific information on the history of this exceptionally attractive rifle, I’d sure like to know about it.

Model 39As have long been known for their outstanding accuracy, more so with the later Micro-groove rifling that replaced the original Ballard type in 1954. Millions have been made, and the gun has been challenged seriously as a top-quality lever .22 only by Winchester’s Model 9422 rifles, which were made from 1972 – 2006. Other lever .22s have come and gone, but the basic Hepburn design of the Model 39 Model 1897,not the 39 has endured for well over a century. These rifles are owned and treasured by millions of owners. The Model 39A is classic rifle with a long and proud history.

(c) 2013 JLM
Overall Not bad

Actually the first year of 39 production used up 97 parts. These could be identified by the 97/92 lever latch, on the mag tube, and the serial number being on the bottom front of the receiver. http://gunauction.com/buy/12602838/g...-s-l-or-lr-cal

The last year (1938) of 39 production can be identified by the 7 rows of 4 buttplate and the 39a style mag tube assembly.

The 39 was not serial numbered sequentially. Receivers were just pulled out of a bin and then a rifle was assembled.

Here is an example of a capital "C" prefix, from 1945. http://gunauction.com/buy/12614115/r...re-case-colors

This is a copy, of the insert, that was included in the 1952 catalog.


Last edited by vepr762; 01-20-2014 at 05:08 PM.
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Old 01-20-2014, 05:13 PM
BrianJ
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article

John,

Nice article and even better with the additions/corrections. I have two as well.

The carbine varied from the standard Mounty not because it had a 20" barrel, as both were 20", but the carbine barrel was a smaller lighter diameter. It also had only a 2/3 magazine, much as your "custom" shows.

Veper,

I think you will find the rifles were numbered numerically but were not used sequentially for your reason stated.

Very nice - BJM
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Old 01-20-2014, 05:53 PM
PALADIN85020
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OK - many thanks for the comments and corrections so far. The original revised revision has been revised, so please check it out to make sure it states things correctly and makes sense. I was not sure how to apply some of the comments, i.e. the "C" and "c" markings (prefixes?) so set me straight there -

Again, I really appreciate the comments - However including too much detail may run me into a wall, space-wise. And I know there is a LOT of detail!

John
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Old 01-21-2014, 09:31 PM
NVaVettes
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It is my understanding that the Model 1891 and 1892 are considered solid-frame rifles and not "take-downs".

The thumb-screw allows the right-hand side-plate to be removed, but the rifle does not then break into two parts.

The Model 1897 was the first rimfire lever rifle to use L.L. Hepburn's take-down design.

Don
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Old 01-22-2014, 07:54 AM
vepr762
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Originally Posted by NVaVettes View Post
It is my understanding that the Model 1891 and 1892 are considered solid-frame rifles and not "take-downs".

The thumb-screw allows the right-hand side-plate to be removed, but the rifle does not then break into two parts.

The Model 1897 was the first rimfire lever rifle to use L.L. Hepburn's take-down design.

Don
Absolutely correct! Great catch. The side plate came off for easy cleaning, of the internals.......nothing more.
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Old 01-22-2014, 04:15 PM
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interesting read , thanks
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Old 01-22-2014, 04:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NVaVettes View Post
It is my understanding that the Model 1891 and 1892 are considered solid-frame rifles and not "take-downs".

The thumb-screw allows the right-hand side-plate to be removed, but the rifle does not then break into two parts.

The Model 1897 was the first rimfire lever rifle to use L.L. Hepburn's take-down design.

Don
Thanks. Dead on. I changed the original post to reflect that fact. Further comments welcome.

John

Last edited by PALADIN85020; 01-22-2014 at 04:37 PM.
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Old 01-22-2014, 10:24 PM
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A question I can't seem to find the answer for: When were the drilled and tapped holes for tang sights eliminated - what year?

Thanks,
John
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Old 01-23-2014, 07:27 AM
vepr762
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1952
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Old 01-23-2014, 07:32 AM
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David you beat me to it.

Tim
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Old 01-23-2014, 08:03 AM
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It looks like a good article to me. I do not know if this is the proper place to ask but I know nothing about how an article like this is marketed. Do not even know if marketed would be the right term. Do you have to explain your sources of information? Does the place that is publishing the article check the accuracy? Do you need several sources for each fact? Answering my own question it probably depends on who is publishing it. I the past if you wanted to know something you had to go to “official” type sources for info catalogs, manufactures costumer service, etc. Today I think the public tends to get a lot of info from “Internet Experts” (people who post opinion on a forum rather than proven facts). On the other hand a person can usually size up any poster fairly quick. We are lucky to have some very knowledgeable people on this forum. I am probably thinking way over my pay grade this morning. Thanks
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Old 01-23-2014, 08:44 AM
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Today I think the public tends to get a lot of info from “Internet Experts”

Wikipedia.....the leader in factual errors.
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Old 01-23-2014, 10:57 AM
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Originally Posted by PALADIN85020 View Post

I was not sure how to apply some of the comments, i.e. the "C" and "c" markings (prefixes?) so set me straight there -
The letters refer to the Marlin system of SN prefixes, different for every year, from 1946 through 1968, when a system of using the first two SN digits were started to be used as the year of manufacture code.

The system(s) are in our sticky's: https://www.rimfirecentral.com/forums...d.php?t=126777


.
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Old 01-23-2014, 07:20 PM
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There are older firearm designs "still being made." Might want to change that to "oldest firearm still in continuous production?"
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