Any Winchester firearms collector worth their salt will instantly recognize the familiar logo-ed paper of a factory letter. Those documents open the doors to the often-interesting stories for century-old weapons. But how does one come across such a document?
Jessica A. Bennet authenticates such documents as the guardian of records for the Cody Firearms Museum, one of the most fantastic collections of old west firearms in the world, in Cody, Wyoming. If you ever come across one of these letters, you most likely have seen her signature at the bottom.
“I get to work with old paper and I get to help people find out more about something that is important to their history,” she said, describing her job. With her massive database of original factory records, she travels the world attending collector association events and large gun shows to remotely perform serial number searches for attendees. I met her at the Winchester Arms Collectors Association in Cody recently where she walked me through her process.
This actual Winchester letter for a Model 1885 rifle defines specifics such as barrel length, type, and weight, thus allowing the collector to know whether his or her rifle has been altered from original. Customer name has been removed for privacy. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/Guns.com)
To begin a search, Bennet will use the gun’s make, model and serial number to search her records. From there, she can locate more details. While some letters contains more information than others, they usually include general details about the gun’s date of manufacture, specifications, and features. Although basic, some patrons act as if they’ve won the firearms lottery. Those details help identify particular components on the gun that may be valuable or flesh out the historical context.
Through a basic search, Bennet said she once “came across an envelope that just said ‘Roosevelt’ and the factory record for Theodore Roosevelt’s Model 1895 was sitting in this box where it shouldn’t have been, for probably 50 years. That was a really cool instance of finding a storied gun in the records!”
Bennett explained getting your own factory letter from the Cody Firearms Museum is a simple process. If you find yourself in possession or considering buying an old Winchester, Marlin, LC Smith or Ithaca firearm, send the information to Bennet using the Records Office website. Orders can be sent online, through the mail or in person.
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