"Hands Up" Pinkerton Painting by Ludcke


Original oil painting used by the Pinkerton Detective Agency for their famous "Hands Up" advertising poster. No matter where you move, the robber’s gun is always trained on you.

36" x 20"

Signed lower left: Ludcke

Framed to 44" x 28"

In 1891 a Reno gambling house was held up by a masked gunman. A suspect was arrested and charged with the robbery because he could not give a satisfactory account of his movements or why he had a considerable amount of gold. The suspect was Tom Horn.

At the trial, those present at the robbery were summoned as witnesses for the state. The defense attorney asked that all the witnesses be excluded from the courtroom except when testifying. The first witness identified the prisoner as the man who had committed the robbery. When asked if he had a gun and why he made no effort to stop the hold-up, he testified he did have a gun but could not make a move because the robber had his gun pointed directly at him. One by one the witnesses were brought into court, each testifying much the same.

The defense attorney pointed out to the court that twelve men had sworn they were covered by one gun at the same time. He claimed that was ridiculous and the men must be liars. The lawyer made the state witnesses the laughing stock of the trial and the accused was discharged from custody.

A German by the name of Ludcke, known as the “Cowboy Artist,” was in the courtroom. He thought that one man with one gun could appear to be covering all twelve people. A cowboy posed for him pointing a gun and the result was this life-size oil painting the artist titled “Hands Up!” It showed clearly that one gun could appear to cover a dozen people, or more, at the same time. The painting ended up in a hotel in Spokane.

Later William Pinkerton of the Pinkerton Detective Agency was in Spokane on business and saw the painting. On being informed of how it had come to be painted, Pinkerton said that his interest in the painting was because one of his detectives, Tom Horn, was the man on trial as the robber. At the time of the robbery Horn was working on a railroad case and it was necessary that his identity remain a secret. Pinkerton was made a gift of the painting and it was hung on the wall of his New York City office. The Pinkerton Company then later used the image in popular black and white advertising posters.

Lot 635, Brian Lebel's Old West Auction - January 25-26, 2019. Mesa, AZ.
Sold $9,440.