people think of the “Old West,” they usually imagine cowboys and Indians
because those were the images fed to them over the years by Hollywood.
Whether it was hokey cowboy heroes in white hats saving towns from the
bad guys in black ones, or Indian war parties attacking wagon trains,
the result was the same----a stereotypical vision of what it must have
been like west of the Mississippi in the second half of the 19th
The initial exploration of the West occurred in the first half of the
19th century, but it was the aftermath of the Civil War that drove
hundreds of people west seeking a better life. Besides homesteading
farmers there were also villains of which the legends of the “Old West”
So what exactly is the “Old West.” Some historians say that it was a
time period extending from 1870 to 1890—the time of the Indian Wars. But
it lasted much longer than that. In fact, the “Old West” extended well
into the 20th century, or at least until Arizona became a state, the
last mainland territory to do so.
The Old West as a collecting category holds something for everyone,
whether they’re interested in history, folk or fine art, or Native
American artifacts. To say the “Old West” is just cowboys is ridiculous,
for it means different things to different collectors., whether they’re
interested in the post-Civil War era, guns and rifles, mining
paraphernalia, beaded clothing, Native American baskets, paintings by
Frederic Remington and Charlie Russell, or props and costumes from
western T.V. characters like Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger.
They’re all collectible.
Choose a Subject to Collect
Because of the wide variety of categories and interests, it’s important
for collectors to choose a subject to collect, Some begin with an old
photograph or a pair of spurs found at a flea market for $10. Others
begin with an old Sheriff’s badge or a poster from Pawnee Bill’s Wild
West. Still others go for ephemera like old stock certificates. But
collectors realize the need to focus
their Old West collections. Subjects range from famous people of the Old
West to the Pony Express, the railroads, whore houses, saloons, and so
much more. But no matter what subject area a collector chooses, he or
she soon learns that research is very important. It helps to identify
authentic pieces and enables collectors to see through scams and fakes.
loves a cowboy, of course, and cowboy collectibles cover a wide range of
19th and early 20th-century items. Saddles, spurs, chaps, ropes,
boots—the list goes on and on. The neat thing about cowboy collectibles
is that a collector can find items of the same type for both low and
high-end budgets. Take spurs, for instance. There may be
two pair of identical looking spurs. But an experienced collector will
look closely for the maker’s mark. The less expensive pair, selling for
a few hundred dollars, may have been made by August Buermanns while the
more expensive one by L.D. Stone may sell for several thousand.
There are collectors who are into saddles. An early half-seat saddle
from the 1885 Sears Catalog might cost $400, but a similar half-seat
model from Main & Winchester of San Francisco will sell for nearly
$60,000. Generally speaking, the cost of cowboy collectibles is on the
rise, so it’s imperative to buy from reputable dealers.
Wild West Show Memorabilia
other vehicle romanticized the Old West like the Wild West shows that
were popular from the 1880s to the 1920s. They brought the Old West to
the world. While Buffalo Bill’s Wild West stands out from the crowd,
there was also Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show, Texas Jack's Wild West,
Jones Brosthers' Buffalo Ranch Wild West, and "Buckskin Joe" Hoyt. All
endeavored to capture western history while they were making it.
Collectibles from this era range from photos, posters, programs,
firearms, costumes and assorted other memorabilia. Authentic show
souvenirs sell for as low as $20, but items belonging to some of the
shows’ famous performers, such as Annie Oakley, can go for hundreds of
gold rushes and the various silver discoveries had a dramatic effect on
the Old West. Mining artifacts, including implements, tools, and
equipment, have caught the attention of collectors. Hammers, drills,
lanterns, helmets, blasting items, and more are readily available to
collectors. There’s also a variety of related items, such as mining
photos, stock certificates, badges, safety awards, company documents and
letterheads, and commemorative items, and more.
Native American Artifacts
Native American artifacts have become increasingly popular with
collectors in recent years. Some collect Yavapai baskets, others Navajo
rugs or Native American clothing. Many collectors like to hunt for
rare quilled items can be just as colorful. Prices for these items are
reaching stratospheric levels—large baskets or pottery jars can sell for
five figures or more---making this category out of reach of beginning
western collectors. A small basket or pottery bowl can go for several
hundred dollars. As with other high-priced antiques, condition really
matters, as does age. But remember, not everything that looks old
actually is. Native Americans living on reservations began making items
for the tourist trade with the encouragement of the Bureau of Indian
Affairs, so many items actually date from the 1940s or 1950s or later.
Western art is another hugely popular category for Western Americana
collectors. Frederick Remington and Charlie Russell are household names,
but paintings by Thomas Moran sell just as well. Each of these artists
endeavored to capture the romance of the Wild West. For those who cannot
afford original paintings, there are plenty of prints and posters on the
market. Those who can’t afford an original Remington, selling for
upwards of a million dollars, can purchase the same image in a 1940s
oil-on-canvas reprint for $75. Movie or travel posters are another
was just coming into its own at the start of the Civil War. Matthew
Brady and other photographers roamed the West recording life as they
found it, rather than romanticizing it the way the painters did..
Photographs of famous Old West figures, such as Kit Carson, Buffalo
Bill, Sitting Bull, Jeronimo, are an exciting subcategory. The basic
price for most old photos of cowboys or Native Americans is about $50.
However, original photos of famous people can sell for much more. But
collectors need to be careful. Unless a photo of a famous western
character has a provenance that states that the person in the photo is,
in fact, the actual famous person, then it’s just a photo of person out
Hollywood and the Old West
help make Hollywood. From the early days of the silent films to the
elaborate sagas of today, westerns have been a major part of the film
genre. Vintage posters, starting at $10, are an ideal way to get into
collecting western movie memorabilia. But there are also parts of
costumes and props from old westerns that can fill out a collection. For
those longing for those days of yesteryear, items associated with the
1950s T.V. westerns might be just the ticket. Items belonging to the
more famous stars like Tom Mix are expensive, but others, even character
actors like Gabby Hayes, are much more affordable.
It’s worth it for collectors to look for great examples in their price
range. It’s also important to learn what’s out there, how much it’s
selling for, and its availability.
< Back to Collecting Archives