A rare Annie Oakley poster fetched $57,500 at auction.
Review And Photos by Michael Friedman
FORT WORTH, TEXAS — In its debut edition, 240 of America’s top dealers in Western and Native American antiques and collectibles gathered for Brian Lebel’s Old West show and auction at Fort Worth’s Will Rogers Memorial Center June 6–7.
Lebel has been presenting his Old West shows for 26 years throughout the West, but this was his first in Texas and it proved to be a stunning array of high-quality items in both the show and auction. Unlike other Western shows and auctions, what made this event more special was the seamless marriage of both cowboy and Native American objects in nearly equal proportions. The obvious connection between the two gave the public a rare look at the range, diversity and beauty of what was produced in the frontier American West during the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.
There was a noticeable energy and excitement during Friday’s setup and early buying, where many dealers reported brisk sales and lots of opportunities for buying and trading. One attendee said, “The number of great items here is truly amazing.”
Melissa McCracken, Lebel’s partner in life and business, said, “It seems everyone in the Fort Worth area is thrilled to have a show like this in Texas. It’s been fantastic and everyone has been very welcoming and excited to have us.” That would include the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, which hosted a dealer party, as did the National Bit, Spur & Saddle Collectors Association.
Almost every area of Western collectibles was on display. For the cowboy collectors there were bits, spurs, saddles and guns; saloon items and photography, as well as advertising and posters. For the Native American collectors there was all manner of Plains beadwork apparel, such as moccasins, pipe bags, shirts and leggings, along with tomahawks, artwork, textiles and vintage jewelry. If you could not find it at this show, there is a good chance you went to the wrong show.
Among the many offerings was a monumental hall settee in the booth of Austin, Texas, dealer Theodore Casey. It was nearly 10 feet tall and built for a Nineteenth Century beer baron’s country estate in the Adirondacks. The price was $125,000.
Cirone Gallery, Windsor, Conn.
Vintage poster dealer Tony Cirone of Windsor, Conn., had a large collection of cowboy posters in excellent condition. Included was a huge Randolph Scott poster from the 1951 movie Fort Worth. It was in mint condition and sold quickly.
Christopher Selser and Don Siegel’s booth had an interesting and beautiful selection of Indian pottery, baskets and Navajo jewelry. One of the standout booths of Native American material was Terry DeWald with fabulous baskets and weavings on display, while Sun Dog’s Bruce VanLandingham of Bozeman, Mont., created a virtual gallery of extraordinary Plains beaded moccasins from the late Nineteenth Century.
One of the show’s most talked about items was in the booth of New Mexico dealer Jeff Hengesbaugh — a life-size burro loaded with period antique accoutrements, including tools of survival and weapons from the 1840s. The price was $8,500.
Also worth noting was the museum-quality Mexican Bavia shield possibly used at the Alamo and a rare Eighteenth Century Spanish colonial leather suit of armor in the booth of Tucson, Ariz., dealer Michael Higgins.
Dealer/historian Mark Allen of Colorado showed a collection of authentic and historic items from the Old West, and Pennsylvania dealer Ron Van Anda showed up with his usual eclectic mix of high powered California Gold Rush-related material.
It was difficult to gauge the number of people attending the show as the venue is enormous, but many felt that while the gate did not appear as strong as it might have been, it was pretty much what one would expect given the fact that this was the show’s first year. Every dealer I spoke with indicated that he or she would return next June. “Usually it takes a few years to institutionalize a major show of this size and depth,” said one dealer.
The Dixie Thompson saddle was the high point of the auction when it achieved $195,500.
On Saturday evening, hundreds of people packed the auction hall. With 426 lots and bidders in house, on the phone and the Internet, there was something here for everyone. And, like every auction, there were some soft spots and some good old-fashioned Western shootouts. One such item was Dixie Thompson’s S. Loomis saddle with an estimate of $60/80,000. When the dust settled, it attained $195,500 from a determined phone bidder. This historic 1890 saddle outfit had everything the advanced collector could hope for. “This is perhaps the best saddle we have ever seen,” said Lebel, who likely has seen them all.
Another highly contested item was the J.O. Bass card suit spurs and bit. This rare signed set sold for $36,800. Notable is there were many pairs of spurs in every price range and style for collectors of every level and taste.
Show promoter Brian Lebel, right, and dealer Cliff Logan of Austin, Texas.
Overall, it is fair to say that show promoters Brian Lebel and Melissa McCracken have demonstrated their preeminence as the best in the West. It is hard to imagine a more interesting and complete show and auction. That is until next year, when Lebel plans to add even more dealers to what is already the largest of its kind in the country.
For additional information, www.oldwestevents.com or 480-779-9378.