As everyone well knows, we have written a few blog posts about Wells Fargo fakes. (Here, here, and here in case you haven’t read them all.) Here at the Charlotte museum, we were challenged to figure out an item that a gentleman from Meriwether County, Georgia had just purchased from a small country antique shop. He was quite adamant that he had stumbled upon an authentic Wells Fargo item from the late 1800s and wanted to know more about it.
Upon further research I discovered that the item was a “human body” tag. I and my museum colleagues here felt it didn’t look quite right, and we were not aware of Wells Fargo having made any “human body” tags. But we wanted to know more information about the item ourselves, so that we could give the gentleman a thorough explanation of why the item is indeed not authentic. I contacted Jim Bartz, the author of the book, Company Property of Wells Fargo & Co’s. Express 1852-1918.
Mr. Bartz graciously informed us that we were right to question the item and that it is indeed a fake. Wells Fargo & Co.’s Express did occasionally transport human remains, but the process was always originated by county officials where the remains were shipped from. Coroners always referred to the shipment as “remains,” and never “human body” or “corpse.” That’s the first clue that the tag wasn’t authentic.
Legal permissions to transport were provided by county officials as well, and Wells Fargo Express would use those documents to ship. Hence, Wells Fargo never issued their own documents or tags for human remains because they didn’t need to do it—a second clue that the tag is not authentic.
There are a couple of other flaws on the tag from Georgia. The Wells Fargo name on the tag is incorrect, which is what made all of us question the item in the first place. Wells Fargo marked its material “Wells Fargo & Co,”or Wells Fargo & Co. Express;” and there are various ways we did that, too, over time. But never just “WELLS FARGO,” as on the tag from Georgia. The wrong name was the most obvious way to tell that it was not an authentic Wells Fargo artifact. (Notice that the fake tag we show here from our historical collection, also has the name wrong.)
Bartz told us also of other “red flags, too:” Express matter shipped wherever and whenever it was ordered, and the documentation was originated at that time. There was no need for dates to be embossed on some metal tag. The 1874 date on the tag from Georgia means nothing—the forger only put it there to make it appear more authentic.
I had to be the bearer of bad news for the gentleman, and inform him that the item was not an authentic Wells Fargo artifact. I did include in my letter to him what he needed to look for next time, to be on guard against another Wells Fargo fake.