The Gentleman's Friend: Marlin's Standard Pocket Wheelgun

  1. Editor
    The Marlin Firearms Company started in New England as a maker of small, pocket-sized revolvers-- often constructed entirely by hand-- and only later moved into rifles and shotguns. One of their most iconic 19th Century designs was the Standard.

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    Marlin origins

    John M. Marlin was born in Connecticut in 1836 and as a young man worked in the Colt Factory in Hartford. When Colt went near belly up after the Civil War, Marlin ventured out on his own and started making derringer-style pistols by hand in small batches with names like "Never Miss" and "Stonewall".

    In 1873, he was granted patent number 140,516 for improvements to the 1855 Rollin White patented revolver made by the American Standard Tool company, which had gone into receivership (the 1870s were hard times for gun makers as the market was flooded with surplus Civil War era guns at scrap prices).

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    This handy little revolver became known as the Marlin Standard.

    Design

    Beginning production even before the patent was granted in 1872, the Standard series was a single-action, five-shot wheel gun with a 3-inch tip-up barrel. Originally sold with a core-cast brass frame and chambered in .30 caliber rimfire short (blackpowder) and .22, it was a small gun, weighing just under 12 ounces when fully loaded. The cylinder had to be removed to facilitate loading and reloading. Grips were either in rosewood, pearl, ivory, walnut, bakelite, or (later) hard gutta purcha style rubber marked with a distinctive MFACo logo.

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    A spur trigger and small bird's-head style grip provided the bee's knees in concealability.

    Then came offerings in .32 rimfire (the No.32) and in 1878 a steel-framed 18-ounce .38 caliber short (the No.38). Even in its largest offerings, these guns were perfect for vest and coat pocket carry by shopkeepers, gamblers, bank tellers, and the like.

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    While basic .22 caliber models with plain finishes and grips could be had for as little as $4 (about $90 today), really nicely New York style engraved No. 32 variants with real ivory grips ran just $14 ($300 in today's cash).

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    There were even offerings with DeGress grips, who were a contemporary of the Tiffany and Company, for those waxed mustached dandies who wanted to pay a little extra to impress the ladies.

    Production

    As noted extensively by Brophy (please consult for more information), some 82,000~ Marlin single-action Standards were made in nearly a dozen different versions over the course of about 15 years.

    In 1887, Marlin introduced a double-action revolver design and the old single action Standards, No. 32s and No. 38s, were put out to pasture. Of these, about half are .32s while the rest are spread out between the other three calibers.

    Getting your own

    The newest of these Curio and Relic eligible guns are 128 years old and their numbers over the years have steadily dwindled. With blackpowder rimfire .30, .32, and .38 out of production since before WWII, these guns soon became consigned to rattling around in old desk drawers. Many collectors in the 1940s and 50s, with vintage Colt Single Action Army's and Smith and Wesson No.3's going for $20, eschewed the humble Marlin. This led to many being destroyed, melted down, or simply thrown out.

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    That continues even today, tragically. Just this month a Marlin 1875 revolver was turned in along with 281 guns in a buyback program in Ocala, Florida. The fate of that classic? Melted down with no reprieve, even though the newspaper article that mentioned it stated that it was an antique.

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    With that being said, occasionally collectors can luck up and find these old Marlin tip-ups in gun shops and gun shows for a song. Other, plainer, models go for anywhere from $125-$500 in online auctions and vintage trading companies depending on the condition and the seller's desire to get rid of it.

    When considering shooting any of these old BP guns, keep in mind the funny metallurgy of the 1870s, the preciously small pool of spare parts, and your own safety. Always have the gun inspected by a certified gunsmith experienced with the design before contemplating firing it. There is some .32RF ammo out there but most examples are sold for collecting purposes rather than for range duty.

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    Very nice working models, those with standard factory engraving, special finishes or the rare DeGress grips can start at $1,000 and go up very high from there.

    However, no matter what, don't let it be melted down!

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