The year 2020 was a dramatic and trying period of change, although a lot of time-tested gear weathered the COVID-19 pandemic better than many modern contrivances. Marlin’s 1894 is among the rugged veterans that thrived. It managed to retain its second-place sales position among lever actions purchased through FFLs using the services of Gunbroker.com last year. Were it not for its younger sibling, the 1895, it would have claimed top honors.
The term adaptable may not come instantly to mind when you think of the gun, but the famed rifle also survived the Spanish flu outbreak more than 100 years ago. What makes 2020’s performance even more notable, though, was the fact that the Marlin factory ground to a halt late in the year as its parent company, Remington Outdoor, went through bankruptcy proceedings. Adding salt into the financial wounds was the fact that last year Marlin was celebrating its 150th anniversary.
Ruger now owns Marlin, its intellectual assets and machinery. The equipment has been relocated, teams assembled and we can expect to see new models coming out of the factory later this year. Factory fresh is a more accurate term, though, because Ruger has announced it won’t be changing anything dramatically from the old designs—at least not in the near future. It intends to honor the Marlin legacy while improving quality control. The famed centerfire lever actions will be the first to reappear on sporting goods shelves, including the 1894.
The rifle was introduced more than 100 years ago with side ejection and now-familiar tubular magazine. It had a short receiver to chamber pistol cartridges—the kind of versatility obviously still appreciated by handgun owners—improved one-piece trigger and all-new locking bolt.
Its looks, chamberings and style remained largely the same throughout its history, but in 2018 the company introduced two new versions—the CBSL and CST. Both remained true to their pistol chambering in.357 Mag./.38 Spl. The magazine capacity was eight cartridges, receivers were stainless steel, but stocks were either laminated wood or wood with a painted finish. The look was a departure from the company’s traditional American walnut furniture. Both wore 16.5" barrels, one of them threaded for muzzle devices. MSRPs at the time came in at roughly $1,200, although there’s no word if we can expect to see either model roll out of the factory soon.
The 1894 Dark, recently reviewed by Frank Melloni for American Rifleman, was another big cometic change. With ghost rings, rail-mounted receiver and .44 Mag. chambering the all-black version had an MSRP of $1,099. “The tactical lever gun may not be for everyone,” he wrote, “but the concept has its place, and the features offered by Marlin’s Model 1894 Dark make it one of the most capable such options on the market.”
Octagonal barrels, stainless or blued metalwork, folding buckhorn sights (on select models) and different wood finishes provided a variety of options in the 1894s produced. There’s no shortage of versions, although we have to wait to see precisely which ones come out of the new factory first.
In the meantime, you can find some of the old models still available. Lightly used models in the original box are fetching more than $1,500, if you’re lucky enough to find one you want. Those 1894s used heavily are less, depending on condition.