With a small professional military of less than 1,000, since the British previously had provided the defense until the 1860s, the newly formed Dominion of Canada relied on militias.
Militias were called on in 1885 to put down the North-West Uprising with the assistance of a Connecticut National Guardsman with a Gatling gun. When the United Kingdom fought the Boer War in 1899, more than 7,000 Canadians volunteered. When World War 1 broke out, the United Kingdom fought again, this time alongside the Canadian Expeditionary Force of 600,000.
In the early days of World War 1 when invasion by Germany was feared, militias took on the role of home guards, ready to defend the homeland. One of those militias, the Montreal Home Guard, ordered Savage 1899 lever action muskets. A few years later the gun would be designated the Savage 99.
A Savage 1899 musket with a matching bayonet manufactured in 1915 and delivered to the Montreal Home Guard is on offer in Rock Island Auction Company’s Feb. 14-17 Sporting & Collector Auction.
This Savage Model 1899 musket, later the Savage Model 99, was sent to the Montreal Home Guard in the run-up to World War 1. It and its accompanying bayonet are available in the Feb. 14-17 Sporting & Collector Auction.
Who Gets the Savage 1899?
Militias were popular in Canada at the dawn of the 20th century, but took on the appearance of social clubs at times. They offered events and extra-curricular activities like rifle associations with sponsored meets, bicycle corps, boxing clubs, and bands. A militia, the Victoria Rifles, bought the first Maxim gun for Canadian military use.
Militias provided “a clear affirmation of manliness” as gender roles were changing in the workplace, wrote historian Carman Miller. They also upheld a separation of the haves and have-nots as those who couldn’t afford the required equipment were quickly cut from activities, both martial and social.
It was into this environment that the Montreal Home Guard existed. The Montreal Home Guard was affiliated with the Quebec Savings and Trust Co. in Montreal with members ranging in age from 40 to 70, past military age. As fears of Germans reaching Canada’s shores increased, the members of the Montreal Home Guard had to be prepared. They could provide their own rifle or buy a Savage 1899.
This Savage Model 1899, later renamed the Savage Model 99, was shipped to the Montreal Home Guard as World War 1 neared. This intact musket and its accompanying bayonet are a scarity available in the Feb. 14-17 Sporting & Collector Auction.
Members’ cost for a Savage 1899 musket, bayonet, and uniform was $35. Montreal Home Guard Savage 1899 muskets were stamped with the member’s name into the buttstock or engraved on the receiver. The owner’s number or purchase number must also be stamped into the butt plate to recognize it as a Montreal Home Guard Savage 1899. Between 800 and 1,000 rifles were likely shipped to the home guard, as records on the size of the shipment vary.
The Savage Montreal Home Guard musket is, of course, not a muzzleloader, but like the Winchesters that preceded it, instead refers to a factory configuration. Similar to Winchester muskets they were primarily determined by barrel length and the resultant changes to the stock and hardware. However, while commercial Savage Model 1899 muskets came with 28-inch barrels, those for the Canadian militia were equipped with the same 26-inch barrel as their standard sporting rifle counterparts. The Canadian “musket” Model 1899 featured an elongated forend (with finger groove) that ended in a metal cap with bayonet lug just a few inches from the muzzle, a hand guard on top of the barrel, and barrel band to bind the two together.
Here the differences can be seen between the Savage 1899 Musket (top) and the Savage 1899 rifle. The rifle will also be available in this auction.
Behind the Savage 1899 and Savage 99
Arthur W. Savage was many things in his life: coffee plantation owner, cattle rancher, automobile and railroad investor, entrepreneur, and inventor. Inventing firearms is where he found his passion. He saw the importance and advantage of the newer smokeless gunpowder and designed guns that could withstand the pressures of the new propellant. Coming at the end of the lever gun renaissance, Savage developed the Model 1892 rifle, the first hammerless rotary magazine rifle. Without a visible hammer, the rifle provided a streamlined appearance. Savage presented it to the U.S. Army for adoption but lost out to the Krag-Jorgensen 1892.
Savage founded the Savage Firearms company in 1894, and he made improvements on his rifle, introducing the Model 1895. Two years later, the company was incorporated. The Savage 1899 built on the previous two models with the most notable changes being a squared off breech block and a cocking indicator. It was known for its reliability and for its revolving magazine that could hold 5+1 cartridges. The company offered to convert the Model 1895 into the Savage 1899 with a new breech-bolt, hammer indicator, sear, firing pin, hammer, extractor, and retractor for $5. A new Model 1899 was priced at $20.
Because it didn’t use a tubular magazine, the Savage 1899 could fire more aerodynamic spitzer rounds that were faster and flatter shooting, making the gun popular with hunters. Other lever action rifles had to use more blunt or flat-nose bullets in their cartridges to avoid accidental discharge because the tubular magazines put the bullet head against the adjacent bullet’s primer. The Savage’s sturdy receiver was also stronger than other lever gun designs and could handle higher pressures. It even featured a cartridge counter and cocking indicator. It’s a wonder it never surpassed the more established lever actions in the market.
On the lower left of the receiver of this engraved Savage Model 1899 rifle is a cartridge counter. After World War 1, the gun was redesignated the Savage Model 99. This rifle is available in the Feb. 14-17 Sporting & Collector Auction.
Savage also tried to convince the state of New York to adopt the Savage Model 1899 for its National Guard, but was turned away again courtesy of New York politics (and a complaint from Winchester) which sent their soldiers to the Spanish-American war armed with Springfield Trapdoor rifles. The Montreal Home Guard was the only quasi-military organization to accept the Savage Model 1899. Arthur Savage sold his firearms business in 1905.
In the military trials of 1907 when the Army wanted to adopt a new handgun, Savage went up against Colt and four other gun makers. The companies were to provide 200 pistols each that were tested by the cavalry in 1908 and 1909. In 1911, the board convened for selecting a pistol, chose Colt and the legendary M1911 was born, leaving Savage to ponder another lost government contract.
Savage 1899 becomes Savage 99
During the world wars, Savage was part of the industrial war machine. During World War 1, Savage manufactured the Lewis machine gun for the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Called on when demand for the Thompson submachine gun rose at the start of World War 2, Savage manufactured more than 250,000. The company made 2.5 million firearms during the world wars. Shortly after World War 1, in 1920, the company changed the gun’s designation from the Savage 1899 to the Savage Model 99 simply to be more modern.
In the years after the Great War, many of the Montreal Home Guard muskets were sporterized with shortened forends and the hand guard removed. The rifle lugs of the accompanying bayonets were ground off to convert them to hunting knives. That makes the Montreal Home Guard Savage available in the February Sporting & Collector Auction a scarcity for being intact and still accompanied by its bayonet.
The small round piece in front of the screws on top of the receiver is the trigger indicator. When it is raised, it lets the user know the hammerless Savage Model 1899 and Savage Model 99 is cocked and ready to fire. This Montreal Home Guard musket is available in the Feb. 14-17 Sporting & Collector Auction.
Initially chambered in .303 Savage, by the end of its run 100 years later, the Savage Model 99 had been manufactured for more than a dozen different cartridge sizes. Small technical changes were implemented over the years, like a detachable magazine, varying sights, and receiver changes. The Savage 99 was produced in twenty-eight different versions, from a saddle-ring carbine to a military musket. It continued to be shipped until 2003.
Arthur Savage went west to pursue other business opportunities, among them oil speculating, gold mining, and growing oranges, but failed to find success. He founded a successful tire company and submitted the earliest U.S. patent for the radial tire. Still, the radial tire didn’t find widespread popularity until the late 1960s, well after Savage’s death on September 22, 1938, at the age of 81.
A Savage Model 1899 shipped to the Montreal Home Guard before World War 1 and the exhibition quality engraved Model 1899 shown here are among the Savage Model 1899 and Model 99 rifles available in Rock Island Auction Company’s Feb. 14-17 Premier Auction.
Savage 99 for Sale
The rotary magazine rifle, Savage Model 1899 or, later, Savage Model 99, came on the heels of the lever action guns of the 19th century but found popularity that would sustain it into the 21st century. Beautifully engraved Savage 99 models have realized well into six figures at Rock Island Auction Company.
The Montreal Home Guard Savage Model 1899 available in Rock Island Auction Company’s Feb. 14-17 Sporting & Collector Auction offers a sweet maple syrup hint of Canadian history along with the opportunity to obtain a rare, early, and intact version of this interesting and popular firearm in its original configuration.
‘Savage & Stevens Arms Collector’s History,’ by Jay Kimmel
‘The Ninety-Nine, A History of the Savage Model 99 Rifle,’ by Douglas P. Murray
‘The Montreal Home Guard,’ by Joe Koprash, Savage Shooters
‘The Savage Musket,’ by James R. Johnson
‘Review: Savage Model 99,’ by Craig Boddington, Guns and Ammo
Rock Island Auction Company