Book Review of
A Collector’s Guide to the
SAVAGE 99 RIFLE
by David Royal
The names of a fair number of American firearms manufacturers have become household words. Some specific models from these makers are icons and are covered in depth by writers and researchers almost year in and year out. Other models, perhaps from even the best-known of these great firms, are covered thinly if at all.
The Savage Arms Company is a case in point. In business for more than a hundred years and having produced tens of millions of small arms, you would think information about one of their most famous products – the Model 1899 rifle and its kin – would have drawn plenty of notice. It was one of the most advanced rifles of its day, and more than a million of them were manufactured. Surely it must have gotten plenty of attention from authorities and historians of firearms. If that’s what you think, you would be very wrong. Until recently I was able to find only one book devoted to the Savage Model 1899. Douglas P. Murray wrote it, and it was published in 1985. But now, after the passage of 31 years, we have another equally important work on the Model 99, this one by David Royal. The good news is, like Murray’s book before it, the author is a very knowledgeable enthusiast who has created a most welcome addition to gun literature.
Royal’s book doesn’t dwell as much on the 99’s design as Murray’s did, but it shines in other ways that will gladden the heart of Savage lovers. Residing between beautifully wrought hardcovers, the book contains more than 250 color images devoted not only to regular production models but also to a number of special-order items. Several pages of engraved guns are identified by grade. Most interesting of all is a section on Model 99 prototypes, including a short-action “baby” model that was about as engaging as any gun that ever was. Fortunately for Winchester, the “baby” model never made it into production or it would’ve been strong competition for the many Winchester lever guns chambered for small cartridges. If I were King of the World, we would still be making rifles for these little fellows today. I’m talking about cartridges like the .218 Bee, .25-20, .32-20 and – of a more recent bent – the .256 Winchester and the .357 and .44 Magnums. I was aware of the Savage “baby” model, but until reading Royal’s book I didn’t know there also had been a prototype Model 99 action in .30-06 length.
The Savage M1899 wasn’t the first rifle to use a rotary magazine, but it was the first rifle to introduce the concept to American shooters. It also was the only American-made firearm featuring a rotary magazine until Ruger came out with its 10/22 semiauto in 1964. The now-discontinued Ruger Model 96/44 lever-action bears some resemblance to a Model 99 and is likely as close as we’ll ever get to a short-action version of that gun. Rotary magazines represent the ultimate in controlled feeding and are notoriously dependable if fed with proper ammunition. They also allow the use of ballistically superior, sharp-pointed spitzer bullets that are verboten in tubular magazines. The Model 99 was a slick-handling, slick-operating rifle that was much more advanced than anything Winchester offered. But Winchester rifles were out there doing the Lord’s work civilizing and making nation long before the Savage was off the drawing board, which gave Winchester a head start impossible to overcome. Nevertheless Savage Model 1899s served with the militia and fed a lot of folks, and the fact that they never matched Winchester’s popularity takes nothing from the 99’s utility and its refined and elegant design.
As befits a firearms reference book, there is considerable discussion of different varieties, production dates and serial-number ranges of the Model 99. Excellent photographs illustrate variations in everything from carbines to muskets and butt-plates to front-sight installations.
Pleasant armchair ruminating aside, the new Savage book pays homage to one of the greatest repeating sporting rifles of the Golden Age of American arms-making. Savage collectors will find it helpful, and the curious enthusiast will find it enlightening. It’s a beautiful, 160-page book with a handsome dust jacket and contemporary styling, layout and organization. It’s priced at $59.99 plus shipping and handling. For ordering information, contact: