Published: February 17, 2016
By Michael Friedman
MESA, ARIZ. — The past few years have been challenging for nearly all segments of the antiques market, but you would never know it if you had attended Brian Lebel’s High Noon Western Show & Auction January 23–24. From the moment the dealers pulled their trucks up to the Mesa Convention Center, one could feel the sense of excitement and anticipation that I have not experienced at most antiques shows in recent years. They came to sell, they came to buy and they came to party.
To begin with, there were 170 dealers from as far away as New York with a diversity of objects both cowboy and Indian that boggled the mind. In addition to the two-day show that spread out over four very large rooms, there was the usual Saturday night auction, which included nearly 500 lots of extremely high quality merchandise. Cowboy art — both fine and applied — was evident in beautiful silver mounted spurs, firearms, tooled leather, braided horsehair, saddles and fancy chaps. On the Indian side of things there were many beautiful Plains beaded objects such as moccasins and pipe bags, as well as baskets, pottery, rugs, blankets and turquoise jewelry galore. In other words, the entire range of Western and Native American antiques and collectibles was represented in great depth. One interesting trend was the increasing interest in Mexican and Spanish-related material. Mexican saddles, spurs, sombreros and textiles were well represented and well received.
I spoke with many of the show’s dealers over three days and virtually all of them reported strong sales throughout the weekend. Brian Lebel reported record crowds at both early buying and general admission.
One notable item was a fully outfitted and historically correct Plains Indian Scout outfit from 1870 in the Rogues Gallery booth of Bob Coronato from Central Coast, Calif., and Hulett, Wyo. Not surprisingly, the outfit sold quickly to a museum in the mid-five-figures range.
Connecticut dealer Tony Cirone showed many wonderful Western movie posters, including a rare and beautiful Adventures of Buffalo Bill, in excellent original condition.
The dealers were happy to see Ralph Lauren’s top vintage buyer Doug Bihlmaier, who was seeking out the best of vintage Navajo jewelry, Pendleton blankets and other treasures headed for the RL stores and Lauren’s Double RL ranch in Telluride, Colo., which has been outfitted by Bihlmaier over many years.
Barry Friedman, who is a leading authority on Pendleton and Camp blankets, had a dazzling display of blankets. His new book Still Chasing Rainbows, a sequel to his Chasing Rainbows, was available as well. The book is gorgeous, informative and very funny. Yes, funny… You will be hysterical just reading the captions.
Oceano, Calif., dealer Danny Neill had a magnificent, circa 1920s silver mounted Mexican saddle adorned with more than 100,000 Piteado cactus stitches, which took more than two years to make. It sold immediately.
I enjoyed seeing old friend Mary Emmerling whose table offered all of her popular books, including her groundbreaking American Country West, which was really the first book to awaken the entire country to the beauty of Western architecture, décor and antiques.
Speaking of books, Mark Winter was on board with his monumental, 600-page volume The Master Weavers. This book is the culmination of more than 20 years of meticulous research on the Toadlena/Two Grey Hills weaving region. Winter, who lives among the Navajos, leases the 100-year old Toadlena Trading Post that continues to support the local weaving community. Many beautiful examples were available in Winter’s booth.
The auction was apparently record setting as well, with eight phone lines and 400-plus bidders. With the huge increase of online bidding, High Noon was selling to collectors virtually throughout the world. Lebel reports that the auction took in $1.4 million with a 93.5 percent sell-through rate.
The top lot was a rare and beautiful 1875 Blackfoot man’s beaded and hide war shirt, which graced the cover of the catalog. It sold to a collector for $109,250. Another lot that lit up the phones was an oil on canvas folk art painting by Ernesto Icaza depicting two churros roping a steer. It was hammered down at $12,980. I also loved the early and rare Horse Thief Detective star badge. It brought $1,573 from a happy collector.
Also crossing the block was an Edward Borein watercolor (pictured on the back cover of the catalog) that performed well above estimate at $51,750. Lebel’s auctions are well-known for Borein sales, as his June Old West Auction currently holds the Borein watercolor record.
Saddles, spurs and other cowboy items are also popular here, with a bit and spur set from Goldberg/Staunton bringing $40,250 after spirited bidding between the phone and the floor, with the floor winning. Historic firearms also did well, led by a trapdoor officer’s model sporting rifle that went above estimate at $19,550. A historic Ulysses S. Grant peace medal went out at $37,375 after another bidding war between the floor and the phones.
Once again the team of Brian Lebel and Melissa McCracken have put together a seamless mix of art and antiques from the Old West. The nearly 50/50 split of cowboy and Indian material provided an amazing range of objects for collectors at all levels.
Their next event will be the second annual Old West Show and Auction at the Amon G Carter Jr Exhibits Hall June 11-12 in Fort Worth, Texas.
For additional information, www.oldwestevents.com or 480-779-9378.
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