Vintage Toys 2

King of the cowboys

Roy Rogers provided happy trails for collectors

How were you first introduced to Roy Rogers? Were you a kid going to the movies and saw him in 1935’s The Old Homestead as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers and later as one of Republic Pictures biggest box office stars? Or were you a fan of television’s “The Roy Rogers Show” or “The Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Show” from the 1950s and 1960s? Maybe you were a fan of “The Roy Rogers Show” western radio programs that broadcast from 1944 through 1955.

Or maybe you saw him for the first time appearing as himself on “Hee Haw” in 1971, or on the “Muppet Show” in 1978, or opposite Lee Majors in “The Fall Guy” in 1983 and 1984. Or maybe you’re like me, and saw him for the first time in the 1977 episode “Bushwackers” of ABC’s “Wonder Woman.” (A little trivia about that episode: Rogers thought it inappropriate for Wonder Woman to wear a “bathing suit” for the whole episode, so the costumers created a red shirt and white chino pants outfit to give Lynda Carter a fully clothed and more Western look.)

A real American hero

The remarkable career of Roy Rogers touched generations of fans from the 1930s until his passing in 1998. Born as Leonard Slye in Cincinnati in 1911, Rogers moved to California with his family during the Great Depression and began performing with several cowboy-type bands including the Sons of the Pioneers. Discovered by Decca Records, the group recorded their first hit, “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” in 1934 and the rest is cowboy hero history.

Rogers met Dale Evans while both were entertaining the troops at Edwards Air Force Base in Lancaster, Calif., and she became his leading lady in 1944’s The Cowboy and the Senorita. Evans became his leading lady in life when they wed Dec. 31, 1947. Rogers and Evans were joined by their horses, Trigger — “The Smartest Horse in the Movies” — and Buttermilk, Bullet “Roy’s Wonder Dog,” and sidekicks Gabby Hayes, Pat Brady and Smiley Burnette in a string of successful films, a popular radio show and the television show that brought their wholesome family values to audiences nationwide.

More than 30 years of media exposure created quite a fan base for Rogers, who licensed hundreds of products with his name and likeness to three generations of eager young cowboys and cowgirls. This prolific merchandising effort gives today’s collectors quite a variety of items to collect and covet. But sorting through them all will probably take time and a little assistance.

Collecting Roy Rogers

For that assistance, I turned to Ron Lenius. A life-long Rogers fan and collector, Lenius is the author of The Ultimate Roy Rogers Collection: Identification & Price Guide. The continued demand for Roy Rogers items might surprise the uninitiated, but to Western fans, a love of Roy and Dale translates into a desire for the collectibles.

“Roy and Dale are icons of American culture,” Lenius said. “They were personified by the family values that they espoused in their movies, radio and television shows and in their personal lives. They lived it on screen and practiced it in their home, and I just don’t think you find that today, for celebrities to be that genuine, and that open and accessible to their fans.”

Research and diligence will help collectors acquire their desired pieces at fair prices. “Do your homework,” Lenius said. “Acquire knowledge and do your research before you purchase a single item. Talk to collectors and seek recommendations from reputable dealers. It’s a life-long education, the more you collect, the more you learn.”

The market for Roy Rogers collectibles is strong, especially for mint-in-box items. “Prices are higher right now,” Lenius said. “I think that more people are looking for MIB items and prices for those are really taking off. More people are interested in the hobby and more are seeking high-condition pieces. People are looking for rare items. For example, paper items weren’t very popular five to six years ago, but they are becoming hot.”

As with any hobby, there are several items that top collectors’ want lists. “The most desirable piece is a Kilgore Long Tom cast-iron cap gun with Roy Rogers’ signature. It goes for around $1,200 to $1,500,” Lenius said. “Then after that is the Dale Evans cap gun holster set. There weren’t many made, and it’s highly collectible. The Nellybelle pedal car goes for $3,000 to $5,000, and because of its very limited production, it is so hard to find today. The first four-color comic books in 1944-1947 are worth upwards of $2,000 to $2,500 each. The Roy Rogers Chuck Wagon tricycles are rare. Bicycles and trikes of any western hero are scarce and very desirable. And of course, the Hartland figure made in the early 1950s, remains a favorite. Condition means everything, and the box can be worth more than the figure. Hang tags are very rare and add considerable value. MIB for a Roy Rogers can run between $650 and $750 at auction.

And remember, the Dale Evans Heartland figure was first issued in a green outfit and later in lavender shirt, and is worth between $200 and $250. Add $150 for box.”

Happy trails!