|By Elizabeth Johnson
CINCINNATI, Ohio — William F. Cody once remarked, “My restless, roaming spirit would not allow me to remain at home for very long,” and the top lot of the Jan. 31 sale conducted by Cowan’s Auctions provided the photographic evidence to back up that claim.
More widely recognized as Buffalo Bill, Cody’s exploits were immortalized in dime novels, movies and his eponymous Wild West show. His combination of charisma, know-how and showmanship placed him squarely in the public eye, and by the turn of the 20th century, he was perhaps the most recognized American in the world.
An album containing 301 images of the iconic Cody, as well as family members, performers in the show and various locales, cataloged his travels throughout the American West. A combination of personal photos as well as professional studio portraits, the album realized $23,500 (with premium) against an estimate of $8,000 to $10,000.
A second album, this one recording several family gatherings and chronicling the Prince of Monaco’s 1913 visit to Cody, Wyo., sold for $11,750. Many of the 137 photos were credited in the negative to local photographer F.J. Hiscock, “The Picture Man,” who sold his images to tourists.
The albums were part of the Patsy Garlow Collection of William F. Cody family photographs, the largest privately held collection of Buffalo Bill images in existence. Most of the 213 lots in the sale were descended directly in the family of Patricia Garlow, the great-granddaughter of Cody.
Matt Chapman, specialist in American history at Cowan’s, noted there was some initial concern about putting so much similar material on the market at one time. Interest was strong, however, with buyers from across the country and Europe. “We were definitely happy with the sale,” he said.
While the albums were the top grossers of the sale, numerous individual images also saw strong bidding. A 1907 action photograph of Cody performing a shooting demonstration on horseback, blindstamped E.W. Glasier, Brockton, Mass., realized $4,406.25. Measuring 11.25 by 10 inches overall, the mounted and hand-colored photo showed Cody aiming at glass balls thrown in the air by an Indian riding beside him.
A silver gelatin print depicting a seated Cody flanked by business partner Pawnee Bill and Charles “Buffalo” Jones, each wearing a fringed and beaded jacket and gloves, Cody cradling a Winchester rifle and Jones dangling a lariat, was bid to $4,112.50. The circa-1908 studio image was uncredited but is thought to have been taken in New York. An albumen print from the late 1870s, a studio view of Cody and a fellow performer, each dressed in fringed buckskin and holding an 1873 Winchester rifle, mounted at roughly 10 inches by 7 inches and imprinted Scholten, St. Louis, sold for $3,642.50.
A rare photograph of Cody’s son, Kit Carson Cody, realized $2,702.50 against an estimate of $600 to $800. Measuring 6 3/4 inches by 4 inches plus mount, the photo showed a young boy with ringlets in his hair leaning against a rocky backdrop while cradling a toy gun. Cody’s son died of scarlet fever around the age of 6. Twelve childhood images of Cody’s daughter Irma, cabinet cards and a CDV, sold together for $1,057.50.
A silver gelatin photograph depicting a gaunt and haggard Cody outside his doctor’s office in Glenwood Springs, Colo., taken just days before Cody died of kidney failure in 1917, was hammered to $1,880. A second photo taken during the same visit was bid to $1,527.50. Both 8-inch by 5-inch images were copyrighted by C.E. Krueger.
Although the images offered were notable for the people they depicted, some also featured signs and posters promoting Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. A photograph of Cody with retired Lt. Gen. Nelson Miles showed a large banner advertising “Buffalo Bill (Himself).” Also tacked to the building was a broadside depicting Miles on horseback above text announcing “Indian Wars re-fought by the U.S. Army.” Embossed for Curt E. Engelbrecht, the photo measured 7 1/2 inches by 9 1/2 inches plus mount, and was bid to $2,702.50. Miles, one of the most respected American soldiers of his era, partnered with Cody for a one-night show in Springfield, Mass., on Feb. 17, 1915.
Advertising murals were prominent in an outdoor photograph showing hundreds of people clustered around the main entrance to the tents housing Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. The painted scenes flanked the entrance to the show’s annex and included a man with a giraffe, a royal couple and a three-legged horse referred to as a “Marvelously Wonderful Equine Curiosity.” Hammered down at $470, the print was 4 1/2 inches by 6 1/2 inches on an 8-inch by 10-inch mount.
The selection of cabinet cards included an early albumen vignette of Cody made during the days of Buffalo Bill’s Combination Acting Troop. The photo, with light wear, some staining and thumbtack holes to the top and bottom, sold for $2,702.50. It was probably taken during one of the group’s stints in Albany, N.Y., in 1877, and the mount had the gilt imprint of McDonald & Sterry.
A second vignette of Cody, this one the copyrighted work of Van der Weyde, London, realized $2,232.50. The bust portrait was noteworthy because it depicted the showman without his hat. The Deadwood Coach was featured in an Elliott & Fry albumen cabinet card depicting the conveyance in front of an arena backdrop in London. Bid to $1,292.50, the image showed six performers posed in and on the coach, including a woman resembling Annie Oakley.
Miscellaneous photographic images included a silver gelatin print of Mark Twain standing at the doorway of his boyhood home in Hannibal, Mo. Bid to $1,800, the photo was taken by H. Tomlinson and copyrighted 1902. Twain once wrote to Cody encouraging him to export the Wild West show, and its subsequent run in London helped establish an American national culture. Even Queen Victoria, who had not attended any public performances since her husbands’ death 25 years prior, was in attendance May 11, 1886.
An Annie Oakley cabinet card by Stacy, Brooklyn, with facsimile signature, realized $1,292.50. The studio image showed the sharpshooter with approximately 20 shooting medals pinned to her jacket. Cowgirls were less common than their male counterparts, as reflected in the strong price for a large-format photograph measuring 14 inches by 11 inches plus mount. By Burke & Atwell, Chicago, the photo sold for $1,116.25. It showed a female rider on a horse in full stride, the duo frozen in mid-air as they galloped toward the camera.
A real-photo postcard of Cody dressed in show regalia and holding a Winchester rifle, his horse with custom saddle beside him, sold for $2,937.50, almost tripling its estimate of $800 to $1,000. The reverse was blank, but the image was boldly signed “W.F. Cody / Buffalo Bill” in silver ink.
Artwork included a bust-length lithograph portrait of Cody, 24 inches by 18 inches, laid down on thick cardboard, which realized $1,645. Produced by W.J. Morgan and Co., Cleveland, Ohio, and bearing Cody’s facsimile signature, the work had several stains and tears.
For more information, see www.cowans.com or contact Matt Chapman at (513) 871-1670.