We all know and love Marlin firearms for their legacy of fine rifles of all sizes and types. However, part of what has made the company great is their willingness to adopt new ideas and give the people what they want. Moreover, what the people have wanted over the past couple centuries were pump-action shotguns.
And, yes, Marlin has made several.
Let us look at them in their evolutionary order
In 1898, Marlin produced their first shotgun. To compete with Winchester's very popular Model 1894 series of pump guns, Marlin produced this Model 1898 for seven years. Although they had patented pump actions as far back as 1889, they didn't produce a gun until almost a decade later.
(The 1898 was a striking shotgun)
(...And took down neatly)
This classic takedown gun looks (shockingly) like a Winchester '94 with its narrow receiver, exposed hammer and long grooved walnut handled slide action over a 5-shot magazine tube. A 12-gauge 2 5/8ths-inch chamber, it was modern for its time and offered four different barrel lengths, all with standard-cylinder chokes. The thing is, in its time most guns were proofed just for black powder, which means shooting one of these today is a no-no for safety reasons.
(All of Marlin's exposed hammer pump guns had the same basic action)
Speaking of safety, Marlin put out a notice several years back that their older pumps with a visible hammer should not be considered safe to shoot with modern shells these days. Just saying.
An update on the 1898, the Model 16 replaced it in 1907. The name came from the fact that the guns were chambered in 16-gauge, which was the most popular shotgun shell in the U.S until the 1960s. Sold in two different barrel lengths (26 and 28) and four different grades of finish. Going from Grade/Class "A" for the most basic, to "D" as the highest, some of these guns are breathtakingly beautiful.
Shooting the Model 17, all visable hammer Marlin pump work similarly to this.
The Model 16 proved popular enough that a pair of 12-gauge half-brothers, the basic vanilla Model 17 (which was sold as an inexpensive brush and riot gun) and the loaded Model 19 that came with extensive engravings and very nice hardwood options as well as a choice of barrels than ran from 24-32 inches. However, the whole line was scrapped by 1910 when they were replaced by the...
In 1907, while working on the Model 19, Marlin engineers took the design of that series of shotguns and added an improved double-extractor that gave a better ejection of shells. Remember, back in this time the most common shells on the market were paper-hulled or, if you could afford them, all-brass. This meant that if your shotgun was a sloppy extractor you were bound to have issues with jammed hulls. This new extractor was placed in a strait walnut stocked (English stocked) 12-gauge with the same general internals of the Model 19 and sold as the Model 21 Trap for a year in 1907-08.
(Highly engraved Model 24 D Grade shotgun)
Unpopular with the market, it was discontinued but the same design, with a more standard pistol grip stock and an automatic recoil safety lock to prevent accidental discharges on the return stroke as the Model 24, which debuted in 1908 to replace all of the company's previous pump action guns.
Sold in a number of different grades, this gun and its Model 26 and 30 half-brothers remained in production until the United States entered World War One in 1917 and the company began production of machineguns and other implements needed by Uncle Sam's doughboys going 'over there.' While these guns all varied in finishes, barrels, chokes, and stock types, they all shared the same common action and internals.
This series was rebooted after the war in 1922 as the Model 42A, still with its distinctive visible hammer and was made until the depression.
WWI and beyond
In 1913, Marlin deigned a 12-gauge shotgun that did away with their longstanding external hammer, replacing it with a striker contained inside the body of the gun itself. This gun, the Model 28, with a very easy to spot smooth-backed receiver looks like an angular version of the popular Remington 870 of today-- only it predated that gun by a half century.
(The guns in this series all had strikers rather than visable hammers)
Updated continually as the Model 31, 43A, 44 (in 20-gauge), 53, and 63, these guns remained Marlin's go-to slide action throughout the 1920s and 30s. As with the earlier 'teen' and 'twenties' series guns, these retained the same collective 5-shot magazine tube, action, and internals with different grades, barrels, and stocks across the various models.
The Modern Age
For more than thirty years, Marlin shied away from the pump-action shotgun market, with the Model 63A ending production in 1933. Then putting a toe in the waters, the company imported a small number of French-made (by ManuFrance, that company's version of Sears) pump-action shotguns in 1961. These guns, sold under the 'Premier' model name, sold well enough to inspire Marlin to go back into production.
(The Model 120)
Then in 1971, the company brought out a new gun to strike while the iron was hot against newcomers Mossberg, who was marketing their Model 500 as well as Winchester's 1200 and Remington's Model 870 who had been on the market for some time.
Departing from the slant-back design of the older Model 28/43/63 series, Marlin went modern with a smooth back, which blended well with the Remy, Whinnies, and Mossies. This gun, sold as the Marlin 120, was also marketed as the Glenfield 778 in big box stores. Sold in 12-gauge only, it was the first Marlin pump with a 3-inch chamber and designed from the outset to use plastic-hulled shells.
The neat facet of these guns was that they came with an option to use any one of four interchangeable cylinder-bored barrels in 26-inch (Improved), 28-inch (Modified), 30-inch (Full), and 40-inch (Long Tom Goose). These guns remained in production as late as 1985 and were still on dealer's shelves new well into the early 1990s.
Now, sadly, Marlin no longer makes a pump gun and with the company currently owned by Remington who markets the classic 870, odds are they may never again.
There is a good general guide out there for those who would handle these old pumps as well as the forums here.
What are they worth?
These guns largely are forgotten among collectors and most versions can be had in working condition for under $250. There are a few models, however, such as the rare and extensively engraved "D" class shotguns made in the 1920s, that can reach prices of $4000 or more.
With that being said, if you are rummaging around a gun show, pawnshop or swap meet and come across a working Marlin pumper that you like and can afford, why not give it a good home?