Mr. W. Parker Lyons was from Fayetteville, New York, and migrated to California in the late 1800s settling in Fresno. He became Sheriff and was eventually elected mayor. He started the Lyon Van & Storage, became a millionaire and started collecting. Collector Parker Lyons began his collection of Western artifacts in 1910: Wells Fargo, saddles, leather, guns, country-store items and you name it. It grew into the well-attended Pony Express Museum until 1949, when Lyons died. It was sold to W.F. Harrah, who moved it to Reno in 1955, where it remained until it was auctioned in 1986. I have a book about the Harrah collection that might show the gun but there is another book out there, The Parker Lyon-Harrah's Pony Express Museum A Photographic Essay by Greg Martin. If this gun is indeed from that collection, at least the providence should be relatively easy to track.
The gun itself? It appears to be an English made gun sold in this country by and marked for the New England Arms Company. This is NOT the New England Firearms with which we are familiar as makers of the Handi-rifles, et-al. The trade name is believed to have been used by Charles J. Godfrey of New York City on shotguns made for the Rohde, Spencer Company of Chicago. Godfrey is listed as a Manufacturer, Agent, and Importer active around the turn of the 20 century (early 1900s). Godfrey was also responsible for importing a large number of English shotguns. That part fits in well with the official response on these shotguns from Wells Fargo but as you'll see, some other information would seem to mark the gun as "enhanced".
"Wells Fargo" marked shotguns have become a problem among collectors of antique firearms. In general, each town's Well Fargo Agent bought weapons from local stores carrying whatever was available — it was not a central headquarters function. Just as with companies today, Wells Fargo's offices did not keep outdated records. Therefore, there are no comprehensive lists of Wells Fargo firearms.
Additionally, in recent years, many people have added "Wells Fargo" to actual antique weapons. All of this makes it very difficult to know whether any shotgun currently for sale was or was not used by Wells Fargo, regardless of the markings.
I am pretty well convinced the gun is fake as the type would have been a local purchase, not a contract purchase, and it would not have had the stock carving and likely not a property "badge".
So now to describe the actual characteristics of the gun. 35" overall, the length of pull is 13-1/8" and the barrels are 19-1/2" long. The barrels are 12 gauge, damascus, with a matte rib marked "New England Arms". On the left side of the pistol gripped stock is a steel shield marked "W. F. Co's Guard 5 Express". On the left of the stock it is carved "Wells, Fargo & Co., S.F.CAL., EXPRESS". This "carving" almost appears to be laser engraved but is very shallow. The letters also appear to have been stained darker than the other wood. The stock does appear to have been refinished/cleaned on this side at some time. The action is a side-lock hammer gun with Greener cross-bolt. It is slightly off-face, i.e. loose. I don't think it was cleaned the last time it was shot but one can't determine when that might have been. If it was part of the Lyons collection it was auctioned by Harrah's in 1976 and has been wandering about the country since then. This gun also has the BELGIAN definitive blackpowder proof and is also marked "not for ball".
Of course I took some photos and here they are.
|Close up of the stock "badge"...|
|Close up of stock stamp/carving/whatever... Note the ill-fitting buttplate...|
|Left side close-up of receiver...|
|Close-up of receiver right side...|
|You can see it is clearly marked "BELGIUM" and has the proof mark as well as stamp for "WF&CO'S EX" on the barrel...|
|Not so good photo of receiver with patent and serial number...|