DENVER – Legendary outlaw Billy the Kid had his “picture made” 130 years ago in Fort Sumner, N.M., posing for what is now considered the most recognizable photo of the American West. A single, original tintype is the only authenticated photo of the Kid in existence today. Descended through one family, and never before offered for public sale, it will be sold at auction June 25, 2011 at Brian Lebel’s 22nd Annual Old West Show & Auction, to be held at the Denver Merchandise Mart in Denver. A famous, historical item with impeccable provenance, the tintype is estimated to bring between $300,000 and $400,000.
Nearly as legendary as the kid himself, the photo has been studied, copied, scrutinized, portrayed in films, re-imagined, and immortalized. Once thought to prove Billy was “The Left Handed Gun,” it later proved he was not. While on loan to the Lincoln County Museum in New Mexico (the only time it has ever been available for public viewing), rumors emerged that exposure had darkened the image beyond recognition. “That’s simply not true,” says Old West Auction founder Brian Lebel. “We’ve all seen this image of Billy countless times, but when you hold the actual, three-dimensional tintype in your hands, it’s a whole different experience.”
Other purported photographs of Billy the Kid (aka William Bonney and William Henry McCarty) have surfaced over the years, but none have ever been authenticated. “This is it,” says Lebel. “The only one.”
Lebel’s annual show and auction is well-known by collectors of cowboy and Western Americana, and last year received mainstream attention for auctioning the gun collection of “King of the Cowboys,” Roy Rogers. This year’s live, 300-plus item auction (which also offers Internet, phone and absentee bidding) is one part of an annual weekend event that includes an expo-style sale of Western art, antiques and apparel; downtown gallery parties; and VIP events in and around Denver.
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