In the 1930s, the wise members of Congress passed legislation that established the National Firearms Act, which regulated the civilian use and ownership of all the cool guns such as those, capable of full-auto fire, cane guns, pen guns, silencers, and short-barreled rifles. It is this last class that caught up a number of innocent Marlin lever guns in the dragnet.
A rare Chilean police-marked Model 94 Marlin saddle ring trapper in .44-40 (with a 900-yard ladder sight!) and a super short factory-fitted 15-inch barrel. Made in 1914 this gun predated the NFA by two decades. Photo via James D. Julia
The NFA classified a SBR as one that had a barrel length of less than 16 inches or overall length of less than 26 inches. While not making them illegal, Congress set up a $200 tax on these guns, which in 1934 was a small fortune (about $10,000 in today's dollars). While Marlin (and most other rifle makers) stopped making non-NFA compliant firearms except for military sales, there were a number of horses that had already left the stable so to speak.
Of the more that 500,000 rifles made by Marlin between 1898-1934, it is estimated that just under 2,000 of these were modern carbines with barrels shorter than 16 inches. These guns by and large were special order trapper models that were fitted at the factory with barrels that ran as short as 12-inches on the Model 92, 93, 94, and 95 rifles, typically in handy calibers such as 32-30 and .44-40 produced in the early 1900s.
The good news is that the feds eventually dropped these classic old rifles off their NFA list and instead put them on the Curios and Relics list (C&R), making them not liable for the tax stamp to transfer.
The latest Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Curios and Relics List https://www.atf.gov/file/5311/download includes just 747 vintage Marlin SBR lever guns. While there are undoubtedly guns out there that are not on the list, sadly, they are likely to be in violation of the NFA, as they are not registered. Here is the breakdown of what's known to exist:
This is the Holy Grail of Marlin short-barreled rifles, as just one example, S/N 386485, a Model 92 chambered in .44-40, is on the C&R List.
Some 73 Model 1893s are on the list, all 15-inchers, in .30-.30 WCF (5 guns). .32-30, .32-40, and .32 HPS. You do know HPS don't you? If not, its "High Power Special" and was Marlin's take on the old .32 Winchester Special.
Most of the guns on the list (517) are Model 1894 carbines in .44-40 caliber (.44 WCF) with 15-inch barrels. This makes them by far the most popular of all Marlin SBRs, accounting for about 70 percent of the total. The reason for there being so many in this configuration is that in 1910 Marlin landed a contract to supply the Mounted Police (Polica Fiscal) of Chile with this model and there were some over-runs. While most of these are not marked with Chilean markings, at least ten are.
According to Brophy, the Chilean inscription will be along the top of the frame in small letters.
The Chilean Polica Fiscal were hard charging horse-mounted gendarmes who patrolled the often-wild countryside fighting rural banditry every bit as tough as the gangs of the Old West. Moreover, they did so with Marlin Model 94s. Today the force is known as the Carabineros de Chile-- after their historically short-barreled rifles.
Other 15-inch barreled Model 94s include 4 in .32-20, 52 in .38, 25 in .32, 15 in .25, 11 rifles chambered in .44-40 and a pair in .25-20.
Marlin 1894 Trapper 32-20 caliber carbine with 15" barrel via Collectors Firearms
Besides the 15-inchers, there are two 15.25-inch guns (one chambered in .38-40, the other in .44-40)
For those who feel the 15s are still just too long, there 32 Model 94s with 14-inch barrels of which all but two which are in .38, are chambered in .44-40.
Still not short enough? At least six Marlins, all Model 1894s, came out of the factory with 12-inch barrels chambered in .25 caliber.
Just eight Model 95s were short enough to make the cut (pun intended), all with 15-inch factory fitted barrels. If you are ready to have your shoulder taken off, there are five of these shorty carbines in .45-70 Government as well as one in .38-56 and a pair in .40-65.
Getting your own
Since these guns are extremely collectable and legal SBRs that can be transferred without a stamp, they are among the most expensive Marlins in existence with prices typically running $3,000-$10,000 depending on the condition.
Nevertheless, if you find one on a shelf somewhere, and you have your tape measure and serial number list, you could be in luck.