Firearms are great artifacts and collectors items due to their recorded history in factory records and archives. Here is a take on my records experience when I had an interesting heirloom gun that I wanted to know more about.
After I graduated college my grandfather said he had something to give me. It had been handed down to him, and now he wanted to pass it down to me. Knowing my interest in firearms, my grandfather gifted me a Winchester Model 1890 Slide Action .22 caliber rifle. Interestingly, he mentioned that his grandfather had put a Stevens barrel on the gun! I was so proud to have this heirloom gun, and it is a prized possession of mine hanging in my room today. I was even more excited when I knew I would be headed West to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West where I would be in touch with the Cody Firearms Records Office. Like many who call in with serial numbers and questions, I wanted to learn more about this Winchester.
Here at the Cody Firearms Museum the Records Office has factory records from manufactures Winchester, Marlin, and L.C. Smith. About 3 million of the records are Winchesters, and about 750,000 are Marlin and L.C. Smith. The Records Office provides individuals with information from the original factory records based on the make and serial number of the firearm in the form of factory letters or serial number searches. Before I began my journey West, I made sure to gather all of the information about my gun I could. The more information you have when you contact the records office, the more likely they will be able to pinpoint your specific firearm. Once I arrived I met Jesi Bennett, the Cody Firearms Records Specialist. She was able to identify my firearm with the serial number and photographs provided. The Winchester Model 1890 from my family was made on August 13th 1915, making it 100 years old in just a few weeks! This date was the only bit of information for my gun. The reason for this is that around 1906-1907, many of the records did not survive. So many records were lost at once during this time due to the switch from ledger books to notation cards. While exact specifications couldn’t be found on my firearm, the records office can usually provide all of the original specifications that were made on a firearm. Records can include barrel length, caliber, sights, stock configurations, smoothbore/rifled/ etc. Jesi explained to me that Model 1890 Winchesters usually took about two weeks from the time the serial number is stamped on the receiver, to the time that it arrives at the warehouse. I was so excited to learn so much about this gun. But what about the Model 15 Stevens barrel?
If any questions go beyond the records office, they will patch you over to our curatorial staff. Cody Firearms Curator, Ashley Hlebinsky, and Curatorial Assistant, Dan Brumley, answer specific questions pertaining to firearms. After interviewing Dan, he mentioned that it was not an uncommon practice for individuals to replace barrels if they needed it. Instead of paying and waiting for a new barrel from the factory, a replacement barrel of the same caliber could do the trick. Some barrels are even rethreaded to the receiver. Even though the value of a full original Winchester 1890 is depreciated due to the alterations on the gun, it is amazing to see a firearm that has been manipulated and worked on by a family member of mine from generations past. Here is a gallery for a closer look at the firearm.
If you have a firearm that you would like more information on or a factory record, give us a call! You can find more information about the Cody Firearms Museum at https://centerofthewest.org/explore/firearms/ and the Cody Firearms Records Office at https://centerofthewest.org/explore/firearms/firearms-records/ .