Fakes

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.

William Fargo ingot (Click for larger image in a new window)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 Click here to learn about third-party website links, Dodge City Click here to learn about third-party website links, Deadwood, Kit Carson Click here to learn about third-party website links — and Wells Fargo. Over the years, people have applied our name to guns, tea kettles, badges and 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 nineteenth-century artifacts, but quality fantasy items created in the 1960s. They are solidly made of brass, using authentic nineteenth century art work. 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!”

Actual Wells Fargo buckle (Click for larger image in a new wiindow)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”!

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31 Responses to Fakes

  1. Dave says:

    Greetings Charles, I am in the process of moving into, and restoring a circa 1920′s Blacksmith Shop in Chico, Ca. The Andersen’s Blacksmith and Welding Shop has been boarded up for many years, and because the door was open while cleaning one day, a man peered in to say hello, and went on to tell of a summer he worked there back in 1969. While employed for the summer, he tells me he documented the replacement of iron wheels on one or more of the Wells Stage Coaches. I am restoring the original shop to be a working Blacksmith Shop/Museum. In doing so, I am searching out people and articles that would be of interest to visitor. Can you tell me if there might be any documentation or photo’s avaialable to display? Do you know of this Blacksmith shop, or have any knowedge of the job performed by Nels Andersen? I would be greatful of any information.

  2. Matt says:

    My father-in-law recently showed me his check book cover made in the 1970′s that was made to look like it came from the 1870′s that he got when he opened his Wells checking account in 1973. Real leather and still in pretty good shape.

    • Jim says:

      I still have the leather Wells Fargo Stagecoach checkbook cover I received when I opened my WF account back in 1978 in Pacific Grove, CA. Looks great…had to have the liner re-done once, but the leather is still hanging in there.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Boo – nothing for Earth Day???

  4. Charles Riggs says:

    Hi Dave —

    Your idea is a real winner! Please send me an email at “Feedback” below and we can kick this around.

  5. Charles Riggs says:

    Hey Matt —

    Thanks for the reminiscence.

    Wells Fargo did that sort of thing from time to time. Our Archives has a nice collection of coin banks that were given away over the years to kids. Some are near 100 years old.

    These promotions are actual Wells Fargo artifacts, with the sort of genuine value that fakes try to capture.

  6. Charles Riggs says:

    Hi Anonymous:

    I prefer submissions in advance over criticisms after the fact.

  7. randy coddington says:

    i have a marlin model 19 pump 12 gauge with hammer,stock has wells fargo co. express,s.f. cal. where you put shells in is,w.f.&co. oldest pat. date is 1894,newest 1904,i don’t think it’s a fake,but maybe you could tell me something about this gun,any info would be helpful,thanks randy.

  8. Charles Riggs says:

    Hello Randy:

    It is our experience that firearms with Wells Fargo identification are NOT authentic. Of course, this is not to say that every firearm with a mark is not authentic, but! —

    Wells Fargo did not distribute firearms over large areas, nor over long periods of time. Firearm purchases were local and armed personnel usually had their own equipment.

    Most important to this issue, “fakes” have been produced for decades, trading on the romance of the Old West. 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, Kit Carson — and Wells Fargo. Over the years, people have applied our name to guns, tea kettles, badges and trunks. The goal was to make an ordinary object more desirable. And over time, these objects may become believable due to their age. Some “fakes” are 100 years old — they have a value to some collectors in and of themselves!

  9. Dan Allen says:

    Most Wells Fargo reproductions on the market today are old looking lanterns, telescopes, gold scales, padlocks, etc with a small brass shield plate that says “Wells Fargo – San Francisco Division” soldered on. Small silver bars are also ALL fakes.WF & Co NEVER issued anything like that. CAUTION !! When buying or bidding on ANYTHING marked Wells Fargo, odds are 10 to 1 against you that it is a reproduction. Unfortunately, that is the state of the collecting market today. Authentic items are super rare, and go for big money. Finding a true WF & Co. “bargain” would be like hitting the “Pick-6″, and you know what those odds are………….DO YOUR RESEARCH.

  10. David says:

    So i have come across a 12 ounce silver bar stamped with wells fargo co. stamped on it. I know more than likely it fake but is there any way you can tell that it is real. It has a banker No.773, what looks like a tracking number 11281854, assay 90.7, and #110 stamped on it. If it is fake I will probably scrap it if it is even 900 silver at all. I know you get these questions all the time but any advice would be greatfuly appreciated. Thank you

  11. Ralph says:

    When in doubt on anything Wells Fargo, contact Jim Bartz, author of “Company Property”.

    jim@bartz.com

  12. kemp ellis says:

    Bob, Did Wells Fargo ever give a rifle to lawmen who captured, stage coach or train robbers, as a thank you gift? Many thanks k

  13. Charles Riggs says:

    Hi Kemp Ellis:
    Bob just retired, but sends his regards from the golf course.

    To your question, Wells Fargo often showed appreciation with gifts. We know of watches, silver bowls, a silver treasure box and even an umbrella with engraving. I myself got a lapel pin recently.

    There are many gifts for many reasons and we know of at least one firearm presented to a hero. But this was definitely out of the ordinary.

    Thanks for your interest!

  14. wade alcorn says:

    we bought a pair of binoculars that have a brass stamp that says property of wells fargo @co express sanfrancisco division. we wonder if it is real? please email if anybody knows. thanks wade

  15. J C Pansegrau says:

    Check out the Winchester books for info on guns. In R.L Wilson’s book page 289 is a Wells Fargo 125 anniversary winchester model 1894 30-30 lever action. About 20,000 issued There are others made as gifts also. Hope this can help. John P

  16. Pam says:

    So now that I’ve read these comments on items with WELLS FARGO, I’m sure that the spittoon I have is not the real deal also. It does have the triangle emblem and it only stainless on the bottom. I checked it with a magnet. It is in very nice shape and has the rim on the inside. The brass is not very shiny and does not have much or any oxidation at all. I really am afraid to clean it. Anyway, letting me know would be helpful, if it COULD be authentic. Thank you much!

    • Hi Pam: Thanks for asking. I wish my answer wasn’t “Nope.” Just as Wells Fargo today would not produce and circulate dental instruments, for example, we did not produce and circulate spittoons 150 years ago. For heaven’s sake, why would we? It’s just not our line of business. What you have there is a nice antique that somebody stamped many years ago in an effort to sell it to someone for an extra dollar. Take it to a reputable dealer and find out what it’s worth. Then tell everyone the story. If nothing else, fakes are good conversation!

  17. cal fan says:

    I have an Agents badge from 1960 that was made by Wells Fargo as a promotional item, does anyone know if they have any real value

  18. Susan Aguilar says:

    I have a brass and copper spitton that is stamped PROPERTY OF WELLS,FARGO&CO. EXPRESS SAN FRANCISCO DIVISION.The stamp is inside a border somewhat like the shape of an old sheriff badge.These 2 stamps are centered back and front of spittoon. It is in excellent condition considering my granddad used it to spit his tobacco in before he entered the house and I’ve cleaned it and stored it since 1985 in my storage. How would I tell if it is authentic and if it is, what would be the value of it today? I’d like to sell it.

  19. Susan Aguilar says:

    Regarding the comment/question i sent earlier about the spittoon: an old neighbor told me a few years back that the spittoon was from 1901 and that supposedly it was at the enterence of the Wells Fargo Bank which was destroyed by the San Francisco earthquake in 1901 or whatever year the earthquake happened there. He seemed to know alot about the spittoon etc. but when I finally became interested he and my other grandfathers friends had all passed away and gone to “Blues Heaven” (they all played and sang the Blues when they were alive). Thankyou for any info you can give me on this spittoon.

  20. Michael says:

    Hello, I purchased a set of handcuffs at an estate sale the gentelman the sale was for was over 90 years old and I need help some varifying if they are an authintic set or not,
    they are marked-
    ‘W.F. & Co S.F. CAL’
    They are black with some brass color showing thru from wear, I can provide pictures if needed
    any help and/or comments would be appriated
    Thank you / Michael

  21. Brittany says:

    I have a small brass plaque that shows the Wells Fargo stage express routes. Are those all fakes or is it possible that mine is genuine? Is there any way I can find out?

  22. Marsha says:

    My Grandfather owned a Wells Fargo & Co Trunk that through my research looks like it was used by Wells Fargo stagecoaches in the American West from 1860-1870′s. I was just curious as to the value of it today.
    Thank you

  23. Nick Roschinsky says:

    I have a collection of various Wells Fargo Items. I have a 1977 W. F. Winchester 30-30- Commemorative rifle along with two boxes of nickel plated 30-30- ammo in boxes with the W.F. name printed on them. I also have a 6 oz sterling silver belt buckle which was a special order in which the buckle has the same serial number as the W.F. rifle.

    I also have from W.F. bank, pewter cuff links,leather checkbook wallets, both styles of the brass belt buckles. and a bunch of other items.

    As a gift from my brother-in-law about 42 years ago, I recieved a W.F. belt buckle made by Tiffany & Co. N.Y. I found out about two years ago that Tiffany never made W.F. belt buckles. It’s still a nice buckle to have in my collection of W.F. items.

  24. Dana says:

    This will make you chuckle. Watching the TV show Pawn Starts last night, a gentlemen came in with several Wells Fargo “Tiffany and Co” belt buckles that were indeed fake. He paid $100 for them, they valued them at $50, but said he had a good conversation piece :)

  25. steve henkel says:

    we have a stagecoach at dobbys frontier town in nebraska is there a way to tell if it is a wells fargo stagecoach thanks steve

  26. c johnson says:

    Help me find a leather check book cover with the Wells Fargo stage coach logo on the front.

  27. bryan cleaver says:

    did wells fargo ever issue checks that were made of leather. someone I know says he has one but wont show me. have been collecying coins and currency for 40 years and have never seen or heard of one

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