Art & Antiques by Dr. Lori: Riding Shotgun - Wells Fargo memorabilia

Dr. Lori appraised a Wells Fargo shotgun at an appraisal event in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of Dr. Lori

When a youngster runs toward his Mom’s car and calls out “I’m riding shotgun” to his little brother, everybody knows they are calling dibs on the passenger seat. But, in fact, that child is referencing the longstanding history of one of America’s best known brands and companies associated with the taming of the Wild West.

Wells Fargo & Co. was founded as a bank on March 18, 1852, and named for its founders, Henry Wells and William Fargo. In July of 1852, Wells Fargo opened for business in San Francisco and Sacramento, California.

Wells Fargo & Company grew its reputation during the years following the Gold Rush. They were first known for the firm’s responsible way of dealing with people’s savings by offering banking and express delivery services. The image of the horse-drawn stage coach filled with gold bars quickly became a symbol of the firm and its services.

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As part of its business, Wells Fargo ran stagecoach lines from circa 1866 to 1869. The stagecoach lines extended west from Nebraska to California, and north from Utah to Montana and Idaho. While stage coaches were a minor aspect of Wells Fargo’s business, the historic vehicles remain associated with the bank and its role in expanding westward.

Both stage coach drivers and wagon drivers worked for Wells Fargo. These drivers delivered for Wells Fargo in both towns and cities from the late 1860s until the end of World War I, circa 1918.

Wild West souvenirs associated or marked with the “Wells Fargo” brand name were popular collectibles in the 1960s, such as belt buckles, badges, Bowie knives, brass tags and stagecoach plates. Interestingly enough, none of these objects were commissioned or produced by Wells Fargo.

In the 1970s, Wells Fargo issued a commemorative belt buckle and a commemorative star-shaped badge in the manner of a sheriff’s badge. They are clearly marked on the back of these collectible items as “copyrighted by Wells Fargo and Company.” These collectibles are valued today at $40-50 retail.

At an event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I appraised a Wells Fargo shotgun and authenticated it for the owner, whose great-grandfather drove stage coaches. Shotguns marked “Wells Fargo” are collectible firearms today.

These firearms used by a stage coach driver or wagon delivery man working for Wells Fargo were not commissioned by Wells Fargo, but rather they were purchased by a Wells Fargo agent locally and used by drivers along their delivery route. The guns provided much needed security and protection as the Wells Fargo delivery driver traveled throughout the Wild West.

Wells Fargo shotguns were not distributed from a central headquarters and these antique guns were not inventoried by the home office. Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive list or inventory record of Wells Fargo firearms. As a result, there are fakes and lots of them.

Period firearms are commonplace and some show attributes where someone has added the famous Wells Fargo name or logo to the gun in an effort to hoodwink a future buyer. There are Wells Fargo shotguns that were purchased by a Wells Fargo agent for use by the Wells Fargo drivers and were property of the firm. These were marked “Wells Fargo,” just as you might mark some item that belonged to you with your name. The Wells Fargo markings on such guns were merely a sign of company ownership.

In addition, other items have been associated with Wells Fargo in the collectibles arena. Common Wells Fargo collectibles that come to market regularly include Messenger Wells Fargo employee magazine issues worth $10, Toy Wells Fargo stage coach wagons worth $15, Wells Fargo exchange certificates dating to the 1860s-70s worth $8 and Wells Fargo cast metal wax seals with the Wells Fargo imprint from various western towns worth $250.

Some people have brought silver bars marked “Wells Fargo” and a dollar amount on them to my appraisal events. These are typically contemporary souvenirs. Like the shotguns, these bars were not made by Wells Fargo & Company either. The firm was in the business of shipping 100 lb. bars of silver nationwide from western mining towns to various locales. The authentic silver bars shipped by Wells Fargo were not marked Wells Fargo but instead were marked with the mine’s name on them.

It is interesting to note that there are Wells Fargo museums in cities throughout America, including Minneapolis, Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Anchorage and Charlotte. The museums feature exhibits based on the role that Wells Fargo has played in the expansion of the west, the rise of American commerce and security in banking from the early 1850s to the present day.

Celebrity Ph.D. Antiques Appraiser, author and award-winning TV personality Dr. Lori hosts antiques appraisal events worldwide. Dr. Lori is the star appraiser on Discovery channel’s hit TV show, Auction Kings. Visit www.DrLoriV.com/Events, www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori or call 888-431-1010.