Marlin Firearms spent the first half-century or so if its existence concentrating on center-fire rifles, shotguns and revolvers. However, after World War I, the company switched gears, made a play for the popgun market--, and got it nearly perfect right off the bat.
Why the 39?
Rimfire pipsqueak cartridges have been around since the 1850s when Smith and Wesson crafted the first .22 Short, which led in turn to the upgraded 22 Long some 15 years later and finally, in 1887, the .22LR. Even though these rounds are all well over a century old, they haven't changed since then with the exception of switching from black powder to smokeless around 1900 or so. With their popularity for gallery use in smashing clay ducks and pigeons, teaching youth and first-time shooters, and giving homesteaders and sportsmen a nice round to take small game with, these loads were extremely widespread by the end of World War I.
And Marlin, trying to introduce new guns after spending the Great War making machine guns for Uncle, jumped in with both feet.
No less a figure than John Marlin himself along with LL Hepburn had designed a short-action repeater that used an under-receiver lever to eject spent brass and simultaneously load fresh rounds from an under-barrel magazine tube. This rifle, the Model 1891 was a redesign of the solid-top Model 1889 in .32-caliber centerfire gun but also was shipped from the factory with an optional rimfire pin that could be changed out to allow the firearm to chamber and shoot .22-rimfire ammo. While this wasn't amazingly popular at the time, it was the first lever action rimfire rifle and some 12,000 of these guns were made before the design was put to pasture and went on to be the Model 1897 after some tweaks.
However, the company kept the plans around, just in case.
(The Model 39 as first introduced. Photo by Rock Island Auctions)
Fast forward to 1922 and the now Marlin-Rockwell company released an updated rimfire-only variant of the classic Model 91 that they dubbed the Model 39. Capable of holding both either .22S, .22L, and .22LR cartridges in its tube, this takedown rifle with a beautiful casehardened receiver and S-shaped pistol grip used a 24-inch octagonal barrel.
As a sign of modernity, the butt plate was hard rubber rather than the more vintage gutta purcha as seen on pre-WWI guns. With the long barrel, these guns could hold an amazing 26-rounds (if using Shorts), which made them extremely popular.
Models and production
The KGB65 gives his view on a 39 Mountie (includes some range time as well)
So many variants of the Model 39 have come and gone since 1922 that it is extremely hard to keep them separate. The standard 24-inch octagonal barrel variant, made 1922-38, is among the most prevalent with over 50,000 believed to have been produced.
Then followed a version made during WWII that had a round barrel and the 39A, which had a micro-grooved barrel and was made in no less than five different variants from 1939-87.
(The simpler post-1938 Model 39A, note the straight-stock and simple lever.)
Then came the strait-gripped Mountie series that debuted after the Korean War and remained in production until 1972, any number of presentation and limited edition guns, and the Golden series. Add to this limited runs of the Centennial guns made in 1970, a 39TDS model that ran in the late 80s and early 90s with a 16.5-inch barrel, so on and so forth.
(The current production Marlin 39A.Photo by Marlin Fireams)
The basic modern version of the M39, marketed as the 39A/AS has been around since 1994 and is billed by Marlin as the oldest and longest continuously produced shoulder firearm in the world (citing its origin as the Model 1891 even though it was redesigned in 1922 and several times after that. This version is rather true to the original, having a 24-inch barrel, a 26/21/19-round tubular magazine for .22S/.22L/.22LR, side ejection, a black walnut stock with cut checkering, and an overall length of 40-inches.
Moreover, yes, it's still a takedown that can be broken apart in two pieces with the help of a good-sized coin to turn the screw head.
Getting your own
The sweet spot for 39s in shootable condition seems to hover around $350-$500. Now this is typically for A-series guns made after WWII. MSRP for a new 39A is a bit higher while special runs and older pre-1939 rifles can bring very much more. How much more?
Well typically starting at $1200 and possibly reaching 3-4 times that amount for very early examples in excellent condition. With that being said, when evaluating very old Model 39 rifles be sure to get in touch with your serial numbers and, if possible, consult with an experienced firearms appraiser who knows vintage Marlins.
You may be pleasantly surprised.