Marlin 93: Classic collectable cowboy rifle

  1. Editor
    In the tail end of the Old West, Marlin was still a new company. However, they were punching far out of their weight class with an innovative solid-framed lever action rifle in a variety of calibers for hunters, and homestead defenders alike. Today we simply remember it as the Model 93, and if you run across one for a good price, you are a lucky cowboy indeed.

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    Why?

    When John M. Marlin hung his shingle out for the first time in 1870, he spent the first decade of the company's history making revolvers and derringers (with two R's), as fitting his previous experience working for nearby Mr. Colt. Switching to lever-action long arms in 1881, the company started churning out a series of large and small frame 'Safety Repeating Rifles."

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    Marlin consistently took on lever action giant Winchester, and in 1893, that company's John Browning-designed Model 1892 had just come out. Chambered for a variety of revolver-caliber rounds, Marlin stepped up to the plate with a new gun.

    Design

    Tapping L.L Hepburn, Marlin's version of John Browning, to revamp his popular solid-top framed, side-ejecting Model 1889, and the designer created a new locking bolt system, which was patented (#502,489) in August 1893. This basic design would remain in one way or another in use by Marlin for the next hundred years. This stronger action allowed the new Model 1893 rifle to accommodate larger "big game" rounds such as the .25-36 Marlin, .32-40, and .38-55. The latter, with its fat 255-grain bullets, were capable of taking deer and bear out to 300-yards.

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    (Photo by RIA)

    Coupled with an impressive 11-shot tubular magazine, and a long (26-30 inch) barrel, the Model 93, as it soon was shortened to, was one of the most superb hunting rifles of its day. In a pinch, it could also keep desperados at a healthy distance away from the ranch if needed. They were still light enough, at 8-pounds, for field carry, while being strong enough for serious work.

    Made with a simple straight stock and furniture sans checkering, the rifle's distinctive D-ring cocking lever and rounded semi-circle butt was attractive and functional. Deluxe engraved models with pistol grip stocks (with curved levers), octagonal or part-octagonal barrels were also made available, and some extremely nice examples of these remain out there. This was expanded to include checkering patterns and inlays of all kinds as well as tang sights to replace the "Rocky Mountain" sights that came standard, and the occasional brass-bodied telescope.

    Models

    Hitting the market in late 1893, this was one of Marlin's most enduring designs of its early era. Annie Oakley even had one. The company made these in a staggering amount of variants including 6-pound carbine length guns (with 15-inch barrels and 5-shot magazines!), take-down models, and full-length target "Musket" models (with 32-inch barrels). The calibers were updated to include .30-.30WCF and .32 Winchester Spl.

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    (Takedown Model 93 Carbine with pistol grip stock, curved lever, Lyman tang sight. Photo by RIA)

    Then, after 1905, versions came out with better metallurgy to allow for smokeless cartridges.

    During WWI, production was halted briefly so that Marlin could make machineguns for the military, and resumed in 1922. However, it was finally discontinued in 1935, after some four decades of continuous production. Legend has it that some guns were still assembled from leftover parts as late as 1937 (out of serial number range-to the despair of collectors).

    Getting your own

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    Klaus Kinski in the Clint Eastwood classic 1965 Italian spaghetti western For a Few Dollars More with a Marlin 1893. Photo by IMFDB

    Bottom line is these guns are some of the most collectable JM-marked rifles out there. All constructed by hand in North Haven in the old days, they are functional works of art. While some common models in poor "in the white" but still working condition can be found for as low as $700, the prices go up from there dramatically with early "1893" marked guns, carbines, and Sports Carbines (SC) being among the most sought after.

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    (Model 93 SC. These guns, especally in 30.30, are still legitimate deer-getters.)

    Engraved models can bring anywhere from $1500 to $6,000. Beware of guns that have been molested by being reblued, or bubba'd up far beyond what they came from the factory. These rifles rarely bring over $500-$600.

    Remember, unless you have rust and/or pitting issues, it's generally better to get a gun with little case color left than one that has been reblued, especially by an amateur.

    Consult Brophy and the various serial number databases to try to ascertain just what variant of the 1893/93 that you have.

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    Note that pre-1905 guns were designed to fire black powder loads only with more modern guns being marked, "Special Smokeless Steel" on the barrel. Even with these newer guns, keep in mind that the youngest M93 on the market is 79-years old and a competent gunsmith should inspect all of these before attempting to shoot.

    Still, if you find one in good condition, for what you feel as the right price, jump on it.

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