Learning about your old rifle

By Craig Nyhus

Lone Star Outdoor News

Do you have your great grandfather’s rifle or shotgun in your gun case? If it’s old enough and if it’s a Winchester, Marlin or L.C. Smith, the people at the Cody Firearms Office can help you.

The office, part of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming that holds the best firearms collection in the U.S., officially holds the records for the three brands. Jessica Bennett is the firearms record specialist.

“For most, we can get you the manufacturing dates,” Bennett said.

With Winchester, records include the early iconic models.

“Winchester runs the gamut. We have records for the Model 1873, 1880, 1892 and 1894,” Bennett said. “Most of the records started petering out from 1907-1915; we can’t do anything on firearms newer than that.”

L.C. Smith made double-barreled shotguns, and the firearms office has records from the 1890s to the 1940s.

The number of records held in the Cody Firearms Office is astounding.

“We have more than 1 million Winchester records, 365,000 Marlin lever-action records and some shotgun records and 350,000 to 400,000 L.C. Smith records,” Bennett said.

What about that old Model 12 shotgun in the gun case?

“They began in 1912,” Bennett said. “But the records disappeared. We can tell an owner the day it was made, but not the configuration or special features.”

To determine the manufacturing date and information for a memorable rifle or shotgun that falls within the parameters, owners may take a few simple steps.

“They may contact us by phone or through the website, provide the serial number and we can get a factory letter to them in about four weeks,” Bennett said.

The fee to obtain the information usually runs about $70.

The Cody Firearms Office also has about 1,200 members, mostly collectors, buyers and sellers, and history buffs, along with some individuals who simply support the cause.

“We take care about 8,000 lookups for members and 3,000 to 4,000 factory letters for nonmembers each year,” Bennett said.

For firearms of other brands, the office can also help people with questions.

“If it is one we don’t have, we have a great staff that answers random questions, like explaining markings you don’t understand,” Bennett, who describes herself as an archivist, said. “We’re there to help educate people and let them know about firearms history.”

And more records are on the way.

“We’re starting to get Ithaca records,” Bennett said. “Within the next year we’ll be able to help with those.”

Gun collectors don’t always just exhibit their guns.

“On of our collectors has a group that hunts elk with their 1886 Winchester models,” Bennett said.