Brian Lebel’s Old West Show & Auction
A stunning photography collection and a Billy the Kid knife will hit the auction block at the Old West Show & Auction.
The best part about Brian Lebel’s shows is that they paint a whole picture of the West. Yes, there is art. But there’s also saloon bottles, poker chips, Native American blankets, saddles, chaps, rifles and revolvers, and every manner of Old West artifact. One year there were vintage spittoons. Thankfully, they were empty and clean. Lebel’s shows are one of only a few events where you can hear spurs jangling, which is music to Western ears.
All these items and many more will be returning to Mesa, Arizona, January 25 through 27 for Brian Lebel’s Old West Show & Auction at the Mesa Convention Center. The show comes on the heels of a tremendously successful Cody Old West Show & Auction held in June 2018.
It was the event’s inaugural show in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Turnout for both dealers and buyers was so great it served as a marketing tool for the Mesa show. “Those are the kinds of shows we live for,” Brian Lebel says. “If we would have known it would have been that successful we would have moved it to Santa Fe a long time ago. The response was tremendous, and we’re already looking forward to going back. If anything, that show’s success is also drumming up interest in Mesa.”
This year’s Old West Show & Auction will once again offer nearly 200 dealer booths, each packed with unique assortments of Western art and artifacts, as well as an auction component. Previous sales in Mesa have featured one auction held on Saturday night, but this year’s show has expanded to two sales, one on Friday and another on Saturday. Both start at 5 p.m. The expansion to two sessions was a welcome necessity after Lebel landed the Robert G. Mccubbin Photography Collection, the bulk of which will be sold on Friday, January 25.
“It’s the single greatest Western photography collection we’ve ever had,” Lebel says. “It’s just unbelievable what’s in it. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see these photographs, including some truly amazing cabinet cards, come to our bidders.”
The Mccubbin Collection includes a CDV— or carte de visite, a photograph type that was originally developed in Paris—of James
Beckwourth, the American mountain man and explorer who was born into slavery and eventually discovered a passage through the Sierra Nevadas. The photograph, estimated at $20,000 to $30,000, is a studio shot of Beckwourth with a rifle. “This photo must have originally been a daguerreotype or possibly an ambrotype. This is the only known copy. It is one of the most treasured photos in my collection, and one of the most sought after among my collector friends,” says Mccubbin. “The photo was requested by the Degolyer Library for their 1998 exhibition The Fur Trade in the American West, and was featured as the frontispiece in the catalog.”
Other images include a rare, and possibly only, cabinet card of Calamity Jane (est. $18/24,000); a cabinet card of Comanche leader Quanah Parker (est. $3/3,500); a cabinet card of Geronimo (est. $8/12,000); and a cabinet card of gunfighter and Dodge City sheriff Bat Masterson (est. $15/25,000). “This is the best and most important photo of Masterson,” Mccubbin explains. “This photo, with his derby hat and cane, became the standard for Masterson when portrayed in TV or movies.”
Other pieces include a cabinet card of Ben Thompson with inscription to King Fisher. Thompson had inscribed the photo to Fisher on the day both men were gunned down. The photo was taken from Fisher’s pocket and the back is stained with his blood. The card is expected to fetch $25,000 to $35,000.
One of the highlights from the photography
collection is the famous “Fort Worth Five” photograph of the Wild Bunch, which included outlaws Robert Parker and Harry Longabaugh, otherwise known as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. “This is the original photograph that was discovered by a police detective at the Swartz Photography Studio in Fort Worth, which was subsequently obtained by the Pinkertons,” Mccubbin says. “The Pinkertons had copies produced of each individual bandit for distribution to other police agencies.” The photograph, which was obtained by Mccubbin directly from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, is estimated at $100,000 to $150,000.
Two other noteworthy lots include a magnificent CDV of Wild Bill Hickock (est. $25/35,000) and a cabinet card of the outlaw Jesse James (est. $10/15,000).
While the bulk of the photography collection will be offered Friday night, other pieces from the Mccubbin collection will appear in the auction’s second session on Saturday. The big highlight for the session is Mccubbin’s Billy the Kid knife, which the outlaw was carrying when he was gunned down by Pat Garrett in 1881. The knife was used to cut meat and not a weapon, so it was never taken by authorities, though its presence was noted in many accounts of the shooting,
including in Garrett’s account. The knife was passed down through the Maxwell family, who owned the house where the outlaw was killed. It was later sold to Western historian Frederick Nolan, who later sold it to Mccubbin. Lebel, who is no stranger to Billy the Kid artifacts—he sold the famous tintype of the Western figure for $2.3 million in 2011—says the provenance on the knife is impeccable and includes affidavits signed by Maxwell family members and others.
“There are a handful of artifacts in the Western American collecting industry that have that ‘Holy Grail’ mystique and desirability about them,” Lebel says. “Billy the Kid’s knife, like authentic Kid item, is definitely one.”
Other auction lots include Joe Beeler’s oil The Hungry Sign (est. $20/25,000), Ray Swanson’s oil Old Navajo (est. $25/30,000), Olaf Wieghorst’s painting Horse Ranch (est. $30/40,000), and the Ed Mell bronze Jack Knife (est. $8/10,000).
Cabinet card of Commodore Perry Owens, 7¼ x 3¾” Estimate: $5/8,000
Visitors browse dealer booths at the 2018 Old West Show & Auction.
Billy the Kid knife, ca. 1870s Estimate: $800/1,200,000 “Fort Worth Five” photograph, 75/8 x 9¼”. Typed on paper affixed to verso: “THE WILD BUNCH / Left to Right: Standing: Wm. Carver; Harvey Logan / Sitting: Harry Longabaugh; Ben Kilpatrick, Geo. Parker, alias ‘Butch Cassidy’” Estimate: $100/150,000
Olaf Wieghorst (1899-1988), Horse Ranch, oil on canvas, 28 x 38” Estimate: $30/40,000
Joe Beeler (1931-2006), The Hungry Sign, oil on board, 20 x 34” Estimate: $20/25,000
Cabinet Card of Jesse James, 63/8 x 41/8”. Printed on front of card: “JESSE W. JAMES, / I hereby certify that the above is the only late Photograph of my deceased husband, taken before death. / MRS. JESSE W. JAMES.” Estimate: $10/15,000
CDV of Wild Bill Hickok, 4 x 23/8” Estimate: $25/35,000
Cabinet Card of Bat Masterson, 6½ x 4½” Estimate: $15/25,000