Wells Fargo artifact . . . or not?
Because the history of Wells Fargo and the Old West resonates with so many people, “artifacts” turn up all the time. Most are fakes — and some aren’t even that old!
I get emails all the time from folks who have Wells Fargo stuff. There’s a lot of Wells Fargo stuff in circulation out there — souvenir stuff, that is. Trouble is, most of it is, um, inauthentic.
We get asked about guns and belt buckles most often. But the items folks ask about are dramatically varied: binoculars, lanterns, brass plaques, scales, Bowie knives, axes, handcuffs, mirrors and desks. And that’s the short list.
Because the Old West resonates so much with people, things that seem authentic can be “made” authentic by applying another Western personality on them: Tombstone, Dodge City, Deadwood, Kit Carson — and Wells Fargo. Over the years, people have applied our name to guns, tea kettles, badges and a trunk. My personal favorite fake is the Wells Fargo spittoon. What company in its right mind would have something custom-made for that?!
The goal was to make an ordinary object more desirable and get a better price. If you have an old-looking object, its age can be “proved” with a fake Wells Fargo mark emblazoned on it. Suddenly, junk becomes artifact. Over time, these objects may become believable due to their age. Some “fakes” are 100 years old. They have value to some collectors in and of themselves!
As to guns, Wells Fargo never had guns made. Armed personnel supplied their own equipment. Of course, one never knows what might turn up out there, but it’s pretty safe to say that your firearm with the Wells Fargo markings is not authentic. Most belt buckles people ask about are not 19th-century artifacts, but quality fantasy items created in the 1960s. They are solidly made of brass, using authentic 19th-century artwork. But they are not 100 years old.
And why would Wells Fargo make a bunch of belt buckles, anyway? Of all the things they would have brainstormed about in 1896: “You know, men, our agents in the field are having their pants fall off at an alarming rate! We have to issue company belt buckles as soon as possible!”
Nope. Didn’t happen, friends.
Wells Fargo Bank produced two belt buckles as commemorative pieces. In 1973, noted graphic artist Mike Dolas designed a rectangular brass or silver buckle with a stagecoach on it. Another buckle was oval in shape and sported an agent’s star. Both have Wells Fargo Bank markings on the reverse. These were intended for sale as gifts and are modern.
Well, I guess 1973 ain’t so contemporary. It’s pretty close to “antique-hood”!
Note: This story was originally published on April 20, 2009.