With a company, that has a history now in its third decade; it shouldn't surprise anyone that Marlin has made everything from break-top revolvers, to machine guns for the military, to rifles in calibers from .17HMR to .458 Magnum. They have even made some shotguns to include a very nice boxlock double.
(Although discontinued in 1959, the Marlin Model 90 can still make a great upland game piece. Photo from 16-gauge World)
These guns came about in 1936 when Sears asked Marlin to build an over-under shotgun to compete with the Browning Superposed and Winchester 21. Mr. Ole Horsrud produced the very modern design that consisted of a removable trigger/hammer pack that fit very neatly into the finely shaped receiver.
Patent #2,376,358. Doesnt look that complicated does it?
Double triggers worked each barrel in turn and the American walnut stock and forearm was every bit as nice as those found on their competitors were. They were light, at just 6.25 pounds and handy with a 14-inch pistol grip buttstock. The gun was designated the Model 90 while Sears branded these guns as "Ranger" models before World War II, and "J.C. Higgins" afterward.
TreyVs giving some love to an heirloom Model 90. These things are crowd pleasers.
Sold at a MSRP of $30 in 1936 when they debuted, which is about $525 in today's cash, they were still a little pricey, especially for the Depression. However, they came in many options to include .410 (after 1939), 20, 16, and 12 gauge, and either 26 or 28 inch barrels, there was something for everyone.
A subvariant was the Skeet King which was made to a higher level of fit and finish to include hand-rubbing, black walnut stocks, and engraving for a few years prior to WWII.
There were several engraved models made in Marlin's prewar heyday that left the factory. One of these, given to Western star Tom Mix in appreciation for his help marketing Marlin's M100 .22 caliber rifle, was extensively inlaid and even carried Mix's signature on the receiver. (By the way, its still out there somewhere and surfaced at auction in 2011 with a value starting at $27,500).
Mix wasn't the only Hollywood Model 90 owner. Clark Gable of Gone with the Wind fame was an extensive clays shooter and Carol Lombard gave him one for his collection.
After 1954, a factory standard single-trigger model was offered. Those found on guns before that date were optional market conversions using Miller triggers.
Speaking of rare Model 90s, there were a very small number of combination guns, with a shotgun barrel over a rifle barrel, made for trial purposes. These included a .410/.218 Bee, .410/.22 Hornet, .410/.22LR and a 20-gauge/.30-30 variant. It is thought that less than a hundred of each were made and when these are encountered they run pretty pricy, well into the four-digit number range.
Production halted for a few years during World War II as the company turned to making submachineguns for the military.
However, in 1949 the line was reopened with the gun offered in two important submodels: the single trigger Model 90-ST, and the double-trigger Model 90-DT. In this form, they stayed in production for another decade before Marlin finally set the sun on these really rakish designs.
(A post War Model 90-ST)
By the time they were discontinued, the price had risen to $140 which, adjusted for inflation, was about $1200. They just weren't a budget over/under by the Nixon era.
Getting your own.
In all, spread across the myriad of variants mentioned above, just about 33,000 Model 90s were made, with about half before WWII, and the balance after. The good news is, with the exception of a few Marlin collectors who grab every one of these they come across, and a few double-gun enthusiasts, these guns often don't get a lot of love.
Common are the stories of unengraved "simple" Model 90s, especially Post-War JC Higgins examples, sitting dusty on gun shop racks for as low as $200. More minty variants, especially in online sales where the collectors can spot them, often run twice that with rare guns and .410s going up to $1K.
Col. William S. Brophy, in his "Marlin Firearms, a History of the Guns and the Company that Made Them," published in 1989 by Stackpole Books (you can find used copies out there for about $75-ish) spends a lot of time going into the details between the years, offering some input that can help you narrow down just when between 1937 and 58 your gun was crafted. However, some Marlin collectors who argue that he is wrong about the date the solid web between the barrels disappeared (Brophy says 1949, others contend it was 1950-51) have questioned even his expert analysis. Still, if it is a good price buy it, if not, have it appraised or pass it on by.
You won't be disappointed.