Published: February 19, 2019
MESA, ARIZ. – The more than 500 people who attended the live auction of the Robert G. McCubbin photography collection conducted by Old West Events on January 25 were treated to an exciting night of fantastic prices alongside great bargains. The top lot of the night was outlaw John Wesley Hardin’s personal photo album containing a rare tintype of Hardin himself. It sold for $129,800, well over its low estimate of $75,000. Other high-performing photographs included the cabinet card of Ben Thompson that was inscribed to King Fisher and stained with Fisher’s own blood, which realized $94,400 (almost four times its low estimate); and the rare carte de visite of frontiersman James Beckwourth, which fetched $70,800. In total, 30 lots sold above $10,000, 17 lots sold above $20,000 and seven lots sold for more than $50,000. One of the most anticipated photographs of the evening – the famous “Fort Worth Five” Pinkerton photograph of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch – realized $118,000 to a bidder on the sales floor. The Friday photography auction boasted a 100 percent sell-through rate.
The excitement continued the following evening, Saturday, January 26, when the McCubbin collection of artifacts and ephemera crossed the block as part of the 29th annual multi-consignor Mesa Old West Auction. Saturday night total sales topped $1.3 million, for a weekend total of more than $3.1 million in realized prices. The top lot of the Saturday night session was the knife held by Billy the Kid when he was shot by Pat Garrett, which realized $118,000. The knife had been estimated to sell for considerably more ($800,000-$1.2 million), but auction owner Brian Lebel said he was still happy with the outcome. “Estimating auction lots is not easy,” said Lebel. “Especially when an item is truly one-of-a-kind and has no ‘comps’ to compare it against.” He added, “Every collector we are aware of who had the interest and wherewithal to purchase the Kid’s knife was bidding in our sale. As a result, now we know the actual market value of that particular artifact. That’s important information for our whole industry.”
Old West Events is home to Brian Lebel’s Old West Shows and Auctions. These are conducted every January in Mesa, Ariz., and every June in Santa Fe, N.M. Each annual event consists of a weekend vendor sale with hundreds of dealers, along with an exciting, live Saturday night auction. Both the events feature the best authentic western art, antiques and artifacts available for public sale. The Old West Auction is best known for the 2011 sale of the only authenticated photograph of Billy the Kid (the “Upham tintype”) for $2.3 million.
The Saturday night session saw even larger crowds than Friday, with a standing-room-only crowd of more than 600 attendees. An additional few hundred more registered to bid online, by phone or absentee. The Saturday sale boasted an extraordinary sell-through rate of more than 99 percent. Lebel said he is proud of the weekend results: “That we hit a home-run with both the Friday and Saturday night sales proves to me that the market for Western art and artifacts is as strong as ever. Our audience for these sales was large and international, with bidders attending from around the world. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Successful though it was, the weekend was not without some drama. Approximately 30 lots of McCubbin ephemera were withdrawn just days before the sale. Consisting of Lincoln County, N.M., court documents, the lots were pulled as a result of requests from both the Lincoln County clerk’s office and the State of New Mexico Attorney General’s office. On Saturday evening, excitement was created in the auction preview room when, just prior to the beginning of the auction, a man attempted to remove a painting from the wall and exit the premises. He was detained by the Mesa police and arrested on several criminal counts. The painting did not sustain any damage.
In conjunction with the weekend auctions was the 29th annual Mesa Old West Show. Consisting of more than 190 Western vendors, this year’s show hosted a record-breaking number of dealers, as well as record-breaking attendance. Many dealers reported having their best show ever, and a number also remarked on how many younger people were in attendance. Show manager and co-owner Melissa McCracken said she attributed this increase to social media exposure. “Instagram and Pinterest are instrumental to us in getting the word out to younger potential customers,” she stated. “The younger demographic is very enthusiastic about vintage and antique items, they just didn’t know about us. With social media we can reach people who weren’t finding us through more traditional marketing channels.”
Brian Lebel began the Cody Old West Show & Auction in June 1989 in Cody, Wyo., as a way to bring together like-minded collectors of cowboy and western antiques and trappings. The event was conducted in Cody every June for 19 years, before moving first to Denver, Colo., then to Fort Worth, Texas, and finally to Santa Fe. In spring of 2014, Lebel purchased the annual High Noon Show & Auction in Mesa, and formed a new venture: Old West Events. The company prides itself on its reputation for honesty, quality and authenticity.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house.
Old West Events will host the 30th Annual Cody Old West Show & Auction June 22-23 at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. Like the Mesa format, the event will consist of a weekend vendor show and accompanying Saturday night live auction. Dealer space for the show is sold out, though interested parties are encouraged to join the waiting list. Auction consignments are currently being considered for both the June 2019 and January 2020 sales. Next year’s Mesa Old West Show & Auction will mark the event’s 30th anniversary and is scheduled for January 25-26, 2020. For information, www.oldwestevents.com or 480-779-9378.
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