Against a backdrop of New Mexico’s majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains lies America’s oldest capital city, Santa Fe. It’s a place that, for more than 400 years, has served as a crossroads for Native American and Spanish traditions, outlaws and lawmen, and ranchers and railroad barons seduced by the “Land of Enchantment.” There could scarcely be a more appropriate setting for Morphy Auctions and Brian Lebel’s Annual Old West Show & Auction, most recently conducted there on June 21-23, 2024.

The bustling specialty show held at the Santa Fe Community Center featured more than 100 top dealers, all displaying their finest Western and Native American art and artifacts, firearms, cowboy apparel and equine tack. Day two of the show was followed by an on-site evening auction that tallied a robust $2.2 million, with a 91% sell through rate.

“We were extremely pleased with the results,” Morphy’s president and principal auctioneer Dan Morphy said. “The quality of goods was outstanding and included the types of rare, historically important pieces that only come along once in a blue moon. Collectors of Western Americana know when they see something special, and if they want it badly enough, they’ll fight for it. That was reflected in the many winning bids that went way beyond the high estimate.” Morphy added that the auction opened to a full saleroom and attracted brisk bidding even into the late evening hours.

Two of the country’s most celebrated collections of Western and cowboy artifacts shared the auction spotlight: the George Pitman collection of premier Edward H Bohlin silverwork, and the Ron and Linda Gillett collection of rare and exceptional engraved spurs, bits and chaps.

A fine variety of antique, vintage and modern items could be seen in the 439-lot auction, with uncompromising quality as the common thread throughout. General categories included: Western fine art, working-cowboy antiques and equine paraphernalia; Native American relics and clothing; Hollywood cowboy memorabilia, Old West gambling and saloon antiques; belt buckles and other silverwork; antique advertising and lithography; and Western decorative arts and furniture. 

The event’s big winner was an extraordinary Edward H. Bohlin silver and gold mounted San Gabriel-style parade saddle that had been custom-ordered for industrialist, political kingmaker and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Justin W. Dart Sr. (1907-1984). It uniquely featured swell caps decorated with gold images of “Cowboy” Mickey Mouse twirling a rope. The name “Walt Disney” appeared in gold letters below the cartoon depiction, a nod to the legendary animator. It is known that Dart and Disney were connected through their mutual friendship with Ronald Reagan, and it has been suggested that the use of the copyrighted Mickey Mouse image and Walt Disney name only could have appeared on the saddle with Disney’s prior approval. The decorated saddle, previously part of the renowned George Pitman collection, was off to a new corral after selling for $307,500 against an estimate of $125,000-$175,000.

Another dazzler from the Pitman collection was a lavish parade saddle created by early 20th century Danish/Southern Californian saddle-maker and silversmith Frank Coenen. Carved and extravagantly adorned with heavy-gauge sterling silver mountings and three-dimensional gold and silver figures, it was further embellished with elegant tiered conchos and silver serapes with multiple silver danglers. Heavy silver plates with stylized scroll mountings also added to the bling. The coveted saddle, which was the Equestrian Blue Ribbon winner at 1997 Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade, sold for $153,750 against an estimate of $80,000-$120,000.

Previewers lined up to examine a Colt .45 Single Action Army Revolver that was part of a 10-gun shipment to the infamous Dalton Gang, and attributed to either Bob or Emmett Dalton. Shipped from the Colt factory on August 18, 1892, to a Kansas hardware store, the pearl-gripped gun was numbered 147306 and purportedly engraved by legendary Colt engraver Cuno Helfricht. Historical documentation indicates that the five Dalton Gang members received two Colts each the day before the ill-fated Coffeyville Raid, when they attempted to rob two banks at the same time. The impeccably documented firearm conveyed to the winning bidder with an extensive archive of relevant ephemera and a copy of the Colt factory letter. It sold within estimate for $228,000.

The Ron and Linda Gillett collection was the source of a pair of circa 1915-1920 Jesus Tapia (Los Angeles, California, 1856-1931) inlaid spurs bearing many of the artisan’s distinctive design elements, including classic engraving, intricate filigreed cutout floral silver inlays on stylized rooster head shanks, and bands encircled by twisted coin-silver inlaid rope. In very fine original condition, the duo sold for $66,000 against an estimate of $30,000-$40,000. Another prize from the Gillett collection was a pair of Qualey Bros (Grangeville, Idaho) inside-marked spurs with a silver-overlaid shield and dome mountings. Each shank displayed the maker’s trademark split end with an impressive 3-inch, 48-point rowel. Illustrated in David Stoecklein’s 2003 reference The Spur: History, Art, Culture, Function, the showy pair achieved $25,200 against an estimate of $10,000-$15,000.

The Pitman collection also boasted stellar spurs from revered early 20th century brands. A pair of JF Echavarria (San Jose, CA) maker-marked silver spurs, fully mounted with Juan Francisco’s trademark engraving, featured a target-pattern heel band front and double crescent moon off-side, and 12-point silver-inlaid spoke rowels. Landing near the high estimate, the spurs sold for $28,800.

Prison-made horsehair bridles are extremely popular with collectors, as evidenced by the price paid for a Rawlins State Penitentiary (Wyoming) bridle with hitched horsehair panels displaying a pink and turquoise diamond pattern and edged with purple hair. Its hitching was deemed comparable to that of an example crafted around 1928 by Herbert Brink, a Rawlins inmate who was sentenced to be hanged. The bridle was bid to $25,300 against an estimate of $7,000-$10,000.

Notable amongst the fine art entries, a Mark Maggiori (France/Kingman, Arizona, b. 1977-) acrylic on canvas painting that was untitled but known as Native on Horseback was signed at its lower right in the artist’s “MM” monogram. Measuring 11 by 13-1/2 inches (sight), it sold within estimate for $18,000.

“This was one of the most exciting sales we’ve had in over 34 years. Many of the dealers told us they were more than pleased with the attendance and the sales they made,” Lebel said. “Just as important was the number of folks talking about how much fun they had, not only at the show and auction, but in Santa Fe in general. We’re proud that we are viewed as a destination event by those who are enamored with the lore and history of the Old West.”

To learn more about vendor space at the next Morphy Auctions Old West Show or to consign to Brian Lebel’s Old West Auction, call Lebel at (480) 779-WEST (9378) or email brian@brianlebel.com, and online at www.oldwestevents.com. Morphy Auctions can be reached at (877) 968-8880 or email info@morphyauctions.com and online at www.morphyauctions.com.