$1.7 Million Realized at Old West Auction of the McCubbin Photography Collection, With $3.1 Million in Total Weekend Sales


The highly anticipated auction of the photography collection of Old West historian Robert G. McCubbin realized over $1.7 million in total sales on the first night of the historic weekend that ultimately realized over $3.1 million in total auction sales.

Mesa, AZ - The 500+ people attending the live auction of the Robert G. McCubbin Photography Collection this past January 25th in Mesa, Arizona were treated to an exciting night of fantastic prices alongside great bargains. The top lot of the night was outlaw John Wesley Hardin’s personal photo album, (containing a rare tintype of Hardin himself), selling for $129,800, well over its low estimate of $75,000. Other high-performing photographs include the cabinet card of Ben Thompson that was inscribed to King Fisher and stained with Fisher’s own blood, which realized $94,400 (almost 4 times its low estimate); and the rare CDV of frontiersman James Beckwourth, which fetched $70,800 (estimate $20-30,000). In total, 30 lots sold for above $10,000, 17 lots sold above $20,000 and 7 lots sold for over $50,000. One of the most anticipated photographs of the evening – the famous “Fort Worth Five” Pinkerton photograph of Butch Cassidy and The Wild Bunch – realized $118,000 to a bidder on the sales floor. The Friday photography auction boasted a 100% sell-through rate.

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The excitement continued the following evening, Saturday, January 26th, when the McCubbin Collection artifacts and ephemera crossed the block as part of the 29th annual multi-consignor Mesa Old West Auction. Saturday night total sales topped $1.3 million, for a weekend total of over $3.1 million in realized prices. The top lot of the Saturday night session was the knife held by Billy the Kid when he was shot by Pat Garrett, which realized $118,000. The knife had been estimated to sell for considerably more ($800,000-$1.2 M), but auction owner Brian Lebel is still happy with the outcome: “Estimating auction lots is not easy,” says Lebel. “Especially when an item is truly one-of-a-kind and has no “comps” to compare it against.” He adds, “Every collector we are aware of who had the interest and wherewithal to purchase the Kid’s knife was bidding in our sale. As a result, now we know the actual market value of that particular artifact. That’s important information for our whole industry.”

 The Saturday night session saw even larger crowds than Friday, with a standing-room-only crowd of over 600 attendees. An additional few hundred more registered to bid online, by phone or absentee. The Saturday sale boasted an extraordinary sell-through rate of over 99%. Lebel is proud of the weekend results: “That we hit a home-run with both the Friday and Saturday night sales proves to me that the market for Western art and artifacts is as strong as ever. Our audience for these sales was large and international, with bidders attending from around the world. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

 Successful though it was, the weekend was not without some drama. Approximately 30 lots of McCubbin ephemera were withdrawn just days before the sale. Consisting of Lincoln County, New Mexico Court documents, the lots were pulled as a result of requests from both the Lincoln County Clerk’s Office and the State of New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. On Saturday evening, excitement was created in the Auction preview room when, just prior to the beginning of the auction, a man attempted to remove a painting from the wall and exit the premises. He was detained by the Mesa Police and arrested on several criminal counts. The painting did not sustain any damage.

 In conjunction with the weekend auctions was the 29th annual Mesa Old West Show. Consisting of over 190 Western vendors, this year’s Show hosted a record-breaking number of dealers, as well as record-breaking attendance. Many dealers reported having, “Our best show ever!” and a number also remarked on how many younger people were in attendance. Show manager and co-owner Melissa McCracken attributes this increase to social media exposure. “Instagram and Pinterest are instrumental in us in getting the word out to younger potential customers,” she states. “The younger demographic is very enthusiastic about vintage and antique items, they just didn’t know about us. With social media we can reach people who weren’t finding us through more traditional marketing channels.” 

Old West Events will host the 30th Annual Cody Old West Show & Auction this June 22-23, 2019 at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Like the Mesa format, the event will consist of a weekend vendor show and accompanying Saturday night live auction. Dealer space for the show is sold out, though interested parties are encouraged to join the waiting list. Auction consignments are currently being considered for both the June 2019 and January 2020 sales. Next year’s Mesa Old West Show & Auction will mark the event’s 30th anniversary, and is scheduled to be held January 25-26, 2020. For more information on both events, visit www.oldwestevents.com or call 480-779-9378.

 About Old West Events

Old West Events is home to Brian Lebel's Old West Shows and Old West Auctions, held every January in Mesa, Arizona, and every June in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each annual event consists of a weekend vendor sale with hundreds of dealers, along with an exciting, live Saturday night auction. Both the events feature the best authentic western art, antiques and artifacts available for public sale. The Old West Auction is best known for the 2011 sale of the only authenticated photograph of Billy the Kid (the “Upham tintype”) for $2.3 million.

 Brian Lebel began the Cody Old West Show & Auction in June 1989 in Cody, Wyoming as a way to bring together like-minded collectors of cowboy and western antiques and trappings. The event was held in Cody every June for 19 years, before moving first to Denver, Colorado, then to Fort Worth, Texas, and finally to Santa Fe, New Mexico. In Spring of 2014, Lebel purchased the annual High Noon Show & Auction in Mesa, Arizona, and formed a new venture: Old West Events. The company prides itself on its reputation for honesty, quality and authenticity.