Back at the tail end of the 19th century, shooting sports societies centered on hyper accurate rifles were all the rage in polite society. It was during this time that many Marlin Ballard rifles became heavily modified for use in these events, and many picked up finely tuned Pope Barrels to produce the uber rare Marlin Ballard Pope Schuetzen rifle.
Confused? Keep reading
Serial #22268, 35-40, 32 3/4" No. 4 Marlin-Ballard Hartford Pope barrel #220 with a bright excellent bore. Sold for $9775.00 by Amos Keag Auction House.
What was the Marlin Ballard?
John Mahlon Marlin was a hard working gunsmith and businessman in New England in the 1870s, making Rollin White style revolvers. By 1873 the patents to the superb single-shot breechloading rifle of Charles H. Ballard of Worcester, Massachusetts were up for sale and a third party in New York, Schoverling and Daly, acquired the rights to the design. They soon put Ballard's rifle in production with the up and coming Marlin firm.
While the Marlin Ballards are an interesting subject on their own, they are really fit for a whole 'nother article. Suffice it to say that between 1876-1888 JM Marlin's small factory churned out a number of Marlin-Ballard single shots in at least 20 models and subvariants chambered in every popular caliber of the day ranging from .22 short to .40-65 Everlasting and .44-90 Sharps.
To this base falling block style breechloader, we add a very nice custom target barrel.
Enter Mr. Pope
Another New England gun genius, Harry M. Pope, started simply as well, crafting his first barrel from scratch at age 12. An engineer by trade, he worked in a bicycle shop in before turning to barrels full time in the 1880s, which he made by hand-- often from scrap and with nothing other than an old lathe and hand tools. He would spend two weeks or more creating a barrel and by the 1930s had made some 8,000 in this fashion.
But where these barrels any good?
Well, as retold in a 1934 article, "Once over a period of several days, he made 696 consecutive bulls-eyes at 200 yards and another time he placed fifty consecutive shots all within three and three fourths inches of dead center."
For his custom Schuetzen style target barrels, he would guarantee all their shots into a 2 1/2 inch group or closer at 200 yards. But we are getting ahead of ourselves...
What was a Schuetzen event?
Introduced into the U.S. in the 19th Century by German immigrants, the Schuetzen (German word for "rifleman") match was a long range single shot rifle competition that, in the 1870s typically went out to 600 yards or more but by its heyday in the 1880s had come down to about 200 (or 40 "rods"). The competitors could use just about any tricked out rifle so long as it wasn't a repeater and typically in .38-55 and .32-40 caliber or larger bore 40-65 and .44-75 calibers. As these "offhand" rifles were for target shooting and not field use, they typically weighed up to 15 pounds or more.
For instance the Marlin-Ballard Number 6, which was billed in 1876 as an "out of the box Schuetzen" came complete with a heavy octagon barrel, double set trigger system, peep back sights graduated to 800 yards, straight-wrist "German" (Swiss) style butts with a cheek piece and a nickel plated hook-pattern shoulder plate.
The American Single Shot Rifle Association (ASSRA) continues the sport today.
The finished product
Although the Marlin-Ballards did not come stock with a Pope barrel, many inherited one over time, making them the hattrick of Schuetzen shooters and collectors.
They are amazingly rare and desirable. Without further "ado," let's see some of them!
H.M. Pope Barreled Marlin Ballard Single Shot Target Rifle, #23701, .32-40 cal., 32'' H.M. Pope marked part-round barrel, factory engraved receiver in the Nouveau vignette style, appearing to be by the hand of Gough of Phila.; factory cheekpiece pistol-grip walnut stock and forend, brass Swiss buttplate, double set trigger, sold for $8500 through Carol Watson's Orange Coast Auctions in 2013.
Custom engraved Pope Marlin Ballard rifle in 32.-40 features a one third octagon barrel marked "H. M. Pope" on the left and right flats and "395, AE, small star mark," and "40" on the bottom flat, with a false muzzle numbered "395", brass bullet starter, and a spirit level windage front sight. Sold by Rock Island Auction Company for $8,000 in 2010.
SCARCE MARLIN BALLARD NO. 8 UNION HILL SINGLE SHOT TARGET RIFLE WITH POPE BARREL. SN 21508. Cal. 32-40. Beautiful target rifle with 30″ medium weight oct to rnd bbl with windage globe front sight, no provision for a rear sight and a short range vernier tang sight with 2-3/4″ staff. Valued at 7,500-12,500 by Julia
Pope Barreled Marlin-Ballard Custom Schuetzen Rifle chambered in 28-32 with False Muzzle and Reloading Tools. Valued at upto $25,000 by Rock Island
So with the above mentioned...if you come across a similar gun for a song, you may be well advised to take a risk...but be sure you get it professionally appraised if big bucks are involved.