Frequently Asked Questions: F.A.Q.
Our Cody Firearms Museum staff answers these frequently asked questions about gun research, Winchester collectibles, and more.
Q: What is my firearm worth?
A: “What is my gun worth?” Unfortunately, our response is that we are unable to tell you. Federal tax law prohibits the Cody Firearms Museum staff from supplying appraisal services. Additionally, the Code of Ethics of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West expressly forbid this activity.
However, there are a number of methods available to determine the value of your firearm:
- Pay for the services of an independent firearms appraiser in your area.
- For a general figure and with a common firearm, ask a local gun dealer with a reputation for honesty, or a friend who is knowledgeable about firearms.
- Perform the research yourself.
Several reference books widely used as value guides are available at many libraries, book stores, news stands, and at most gun shows. Check their suggested values against the current advertisements in such publications as Gun List and Shotgun News, which are also widely available. Many of these books are published periodically; always search out the most recent edition to get a more accurate estimate. These books are all outstanding sources of information about firearms, and contain invaluable data for their proper identification.
Q: What is the value of the whole Cody Firearms Museum collection?
A: For the response to this frequently asked question, view this video!
Q: What can you tell me about my firearm?
A: For questions specific to Winchester, Marlin, or L.C. Smith firearms, such as original manufacture date and firearms configuration, the Cody Firearms Museum Records Office is often able to help. Serial number searches result in a factory letter specific to your firearm. Click here to visit the Records Office page for current pricing information. Such a search can provide information such as date of production, warehousing, shipment, original configuration of the firearm, and sometimes other data from the original factory ledgers.
Contact the Records Specialist at 307-578-4031, [email protected], or write:
CFM Records Department
Buffalo Bill Center of the West
720 Sheridan Avenue
Cody, WY 82414
Q: What are “Winchester” Collectibles?
A: People may be perplexed when they discover the name “Winchester” on things like kitchen utensils, fishing equipment, and work tools. It seems a bit strange for a name that is usually associated with historic and contemporary firearms. Click here for the story.
Q: Should I have my old gun reconditioned?
A: Do you prefer things that are bright, shiny, and new, or things that are old, dull, and rusted?
When the question is put that way, most of us will say the former; we like things that are pretty and new. However, if asked whether you prefer new things or antiques, many of us will respond that we like antiques, because of their age, craftsmanship, or beauty. The perplexing enigma involved is that, even though we profess to like old things, we frequently want them to be in “as new” condition. Something like this pertains to people who acquire old firearms. We are fascinated by their antiquity, but it troubles us that they often look old and dirty, and particularly if we are not sure whether or not they function properly.
So, we are often asked: “Should I have my gun reconditioned?” The answer, interestingly, is “no” and “yes.” The answer is “no” if you want the firearm to retain its collector interest and value. Reconditioning a gun almost invariably reduces its monetary worth, even if the job is well done by a skilled professional. There are some experts who are known for their ability to “restore” a firearm to something approximating its original condition. The results can be very impressive. From all appearances, the gun seems to be almost unused, as if it just came out of its original box. To a seasoned collector, though, there are clues to such a restoration, and their interest in the gun and estimate of its worth are severely diminished. In addition, a quality restoration job is quite expensive; it can easily surpass the value of the firearm itself.
On the other hand, the answer can sometimes be “yes.” A restoration can be worthwhile if the firearm is to be displayed privately, never put up for sale, or if it is to be used by the owner. Even a gunsmith’s reconditioning of a gun is justifiable under similar circumstances. If you want it to look good, and function properly, and are not concerned about its appraisal or market value, you will probably not regret having it done. It is wise to remember that it is an irreversible procedure.
This question almost invariably gives rise to another closely related one: “Should I shoot my antique firearm?” The answer is, only after having it carefully examined by a skilled and reputable gunsmith, and, even then, it is frequently advisable to have the gun X-rayed to detect internal fissures and weaknesses. If this seems a bit extreme, just remember that your eyesight, or even your life, could be at stake. When you’re absolutely certain that the firearm is safe to shoot, make doubly certain that the ammunition is carefully tailored to the age of the firearm and well below the recommended maximum black powder loads in more than one reloading manual.
An antique firearm can truly be “a thing of beauty and a joy forever.” Just be sure to make careful choices about its disposition…and safe choices about its use.
Q: Will the Cody Firearms Museum display my firearm?
A: What a fascinating experience! You are looking at the world’s foremost collection of American firearms. Well over 5,000 guns and gun-related items are on display because of their historical significance or their aesthetic and artistic appeal. To the dedicated firearms enthusiast, it is an enthralling place. Then suddenly it hits you. “This is where the old family gun should be on display…right here at the Cody Firearms Museum!”
There are labels by each firearm listing the lender or donor, and stating if the gun is in honor, or in memory, of someone. “My name would be there as having put the gun on display as a tribute to a family member. It would be seen and enjoyed by nearly 200,000 people every year. I wonder if they’ll display it for me?”
It is a very good question…and one that we hear, in one form or another, many times. It deserves—and receives—our thoughtful response. There are questions/guidelines the Cody Firearms Museum staff must ask in making decisions as to whether to accept gifts and loans:
- Is your firearm appropriate for our collection?
- Does it help interpret how firearms aided in the development of the American West?
- Did it belong to a prominent person in history or is it associated with a notable event?
- Is there some other pertinent and significant reason for us to display it?
- Does your gun fill a void in our collection, i.e. is it something that is not currently represented?
Acceptance of a gift is not a guarantee that your firearm is to be displayed immediately. Our display and storage spaces are limited. With 6,000 firearms and another 4,000 – 5,000 firearms-related objects in the collection, you can well imagine our quandary when faced with decisions related to adding to the collection.
These same issues also affect treatment and acceptance of loans. We generally accept loans only under very special circumstances, such as when a gun or collection is of unusual merit. Loans and their annual renewal require a great deal of time and expense as compared to unrestricted donations or gifts.
Some of the benefits related to donating your firearm to the Cody Firearms Museum include a tax deduction for your charitable donation, the knowledge that the firearm you owned is in a safe environment, is cared for, and your gift helps to educate others about firearms and the American West. Incidentally, there is a “wish list” for gifts to the Cody Firearms Museum.
Even if we were not a bit biased, we would have to concede that the Cody Firearms Museum is a wonderful place to display a cherished firearm. If the preceding criteria seem appropriate to your gun or collection, please give us the opportunity to consider having, and displaying, it for you and for our thousands of visitors.