Special thanks to Monica Reardon, Smithsonian Affiliations summer intern, for authoring the 2013 #MuseumDayLive! Affiliate blog series.
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West had its start as a log building in Cody, Wyoming, resembling Buffalo Bill’s TE Ranch house. Mary Jester Allen intended the museum to be a national shrine and memorial to her uncle, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, and to the early pioneers of the American West. The collections grew and so did the Museum, with the intent of preserving and conveying the “Spirit of the American West.”
The Center has participated in Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day Live! since becoming a Smithsonian Affiliate in 2008. On view at the Cody Firearms Museum in time for Museum Day Live! this year are 64 unique firearms from the National Firearms Collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The exhibit is divided between patent firearms (the prototype design submitted by firearms inventors), firearms with interesting provenance, and international firearms with gorgeous embellishments. The collection includes a Smith and Wesson Lever Action Patent Model and a Colt Patent.
The Smith and Wesson Lever Action Patent Model was the first lever action prototype firearm designed by Smith and Wesson. Smith and Wesson’s original company, The Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. was actually named after the nickname for the pistol, the Volcanic pistol. However, this patent did not bring them financial success and they sold the rights to a shirt manufacturer named Oliver Winchester. Winchester would go on to use this patent; his lever action rifles becoming synonymous with the American West.
The Colt Patent is connected to Samuel Colt, another name famous in the American West, particularly for revolvers. Colt’s revolver is the first successful percussion firearm ever patented. The design from this model would go on to be the production type Colt Paterson. As noted by Ashley Hlebinsky,Firearms Curatorial Resident, “You pretty much cannot see a Western film without seeing a variation of a Colt Revolver and a Winchester Lever Action.”
Hlebinsky would like visitors “to not only see some amazing firearms and representations of engineering ingenuity, but to understand the people who made the firearms and who owned and used them.” She hopes that the “artifacts are able to convey a story about the people involved in the process – from the trial and error methods of the patent process (some patent models were never produced, while others became infamous) to the experiences of those who owned the guns.”