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William F. Cody Family Collection of Photographs

Don Johnson | January 31st, 2014


Cody family photo album including personal and professional portraits, Wild West shows, and Western scenery, 301 images on black album paper, $23,500. Garlow collection.


Indian chiefs and U.S. officials, including William F. Cody, at Wounded Knee, large-format photo, imprint of John C.H. Grabill of Deadwood, South Dakota, 9¾" x 12¾", light soiling, minor damage to mount, $2937.50. Garlow collection.


Two albums of William F. Cody at leisure, compiled and presented by illustrator R. Farrington Elwell, very good condition, $11,162.50. “All in all, an exceptional and unique album capturing Cody and friends out of the spotlight,” the catalog noted. Garlow collection.


William F. Cody (center) holding a Winchester rifle, with partner Pawnee Bill and Charles “Buffalo” Jones (with lariat), circa 1908, silver gelatin print, 9¼" x 7½" plus mount, minor wear, $4112.50. Garlow collection.


Cody family album documenting the Prince of Monaco’s visit to Cody, Wyoming, in 1913, as well as Cody family gatherings, 137 photos, about half the photos pasted down, cover stained, $11,750. Garlow collection.


Irma Cody’s Wild West show album, 65 photos, light soiling, $9000. Garlow collection.


Portrait of William F. Cody by Eugene Pirou of Paris, signed by Cody to his daughter, “To Arta from Papa, W.F. Cody,” 12 5/8" x 8¾", light wear, toning, and soiling, $4406.25. The photo was taken during Cody’s first trip to Paris in the summer of 1889. Arta Cody Thorp (1866-1904) was Cody’s first-born child and would have been 22 years old at the time of the photograph. Eugene Pirou (1841-1909) was a celebrated Parisian photographer and is notably credited with producing the first pornographic film in 1896. Garlow collection.


William F. Cody and an unidentified fellow performer posed in fringed buckskin outfits and armed with 1873 Winchester rifles, revolvers tucked in their belts, from the late 1870s, by John Scholten, St. Louis, albumen print on a 9 7/8" x 6 7/8" mount, thumbtack holes and small tears, bumped corners, light stains, $3642.50. Garlow collection.

Buffalo Bill’s Romances, a four-volume anthology, each inscribed “To my beloved daughter Irma/ From Father-W.F. Cody ‘Buffalo Bill’/ North Platte, Neb., Mar. 28th 1896,” some toning and tears, binding tight, shelf wear, a few leaves uncut, $9400. Garlow collection.

Cowan’s Auctions, Cincinnati, Ohio

Photos courtesy Cowan’s Auctions

Deep in the sale of the Patsy Garlow collection of William F. Cody family photographs, held by Cowan’s Auctions on January 31, in Cincinnati, Ohio, an image of another American celebrity turned up, seemingly unexpectedly. The lot consisted of a 1902 photograph of Mark Twain standing outside his boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri. The photo sold for $1800 (includes buyer’s premium), fetching more than some of the more mundane lots related to Cody, who was better known as Buffalo Bill.

For those who understood the connection, it was no wonder the photo came out of the Cody family archive. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

The collection itself, the largest private holding of Cody family images, was the property of Cody’s great-granddaughter. According to Matt Chapman, an American history specialist at Cowan’s, the collection had passed down through the family to Cody’s grandson Fred Garlow, Jr., who lent a large amount of the material to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, from the 1960s to the 1990s. At that point the material was returned to the family, going to three heirs, including Patsy Garlow. Two of the heirs kept a few items but donated the majority of their holdings back to the museum. Patsy kept her entire portion, which eventually made its way to Cowan’s.

“This is roughly a third of the photographic archive [the family began with],” Chapman noted.

Although a relatively small sale, with only 213 lots, most of which came directly from the Cody family, the auction represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In all, there were about 700 photographs. Many were unique.

“Some of these were intensely personal photographs,” said Wes Cowan, president of the auction house.

Buyers understood the rarity—not just in regard to some of the individual pictures and groupings, but also for the
opportunity to buy images that came directly from the family. “This is it,” said Cowan. “There are not going to be any more.”

The top lot of the auction consisted of an album that included portraits, Western scenery, plus photos from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows. The 301 images ranged from studio photographs to snapshots to real-photo postcards. Selling for $23,500, the album epitomized the personal nature of many of the lots. Some images depicted Cody dressed as Santa Claus with a group of children. Another shot recorded him as a showman, wearing a fringed jacket, beaded gloves, and leather boots, posed with a Winchester rifle before a studio backdrop of an outdoor setting. There were behind-the-scenes photos from the Wild West show, including two with Chief Iron Tail. The variety continued: Cody in civilian attire, Cody and his family preparing to take a sleigh ride, Cody reading in a den.

Also bringing strong interest were two albums of Cody at leisure, having 158 photos compiled and presented by illustrator R. Farrington Elwell. The albums, described in the catalog as “capturing Cody and friends out of the spotlight,” sold for $11,162.50.

Elwell (1874-1962) was a self-taught artist who sketched Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in the 1890’s and became Cody’s ranch manager in Wyoming. His illustrations appeared in some of the top publications of the day. Paired with each photo was an inked caption, while scattered throughout the pages were small accent illustrations, including Western wildlife, campsites, and tepees. Candid photographs pictured Cody at the T E Ranch, at Pahaska Tepee, and on a hunting and camping trip in the surrounding wilderness in November 1904. Photos of Iron Tail showed the Indian chief in full headdress and regalia, seated on a blanket, playing a game of cards with an unidentified man in woolly chaps. A pair of views depicted Cody directing men working three-horse plows. It was the out-of-the-limelight nature that made collectors and institutions take note.

Also generating strong interest was an album that included images of the Prince of Monaco’s visit to Cody, Wyoming, in 1913, as well as shots of Cody family gatherings. Having 137 photos, many by F.J. Hiscock, the album sold for $11,750.

Cody’s international fame led to his hosting dignitaries from around the world. Prince Albert I visited in 1913. Images included Cody welcoming the Prince of Monaco and his party, Cody and the prince near a campfire, a parade of cowboys and Indians through the town to celebrate the prince’s arrival, and Cody introducing the prince to Chief Iron Tail. Personal images included more than 20 shots of Cody relaxing with loved ones and playing with his grandchildren.

Family-related images throughout the auction included one of Cody’s only son, Kit Carson Cody (1870-1876), taken in 1876, less than a year before the boy died of scarlet fever. The image sold for $2702.50. A dozen early photos of Cody’s daughter Irma Cody brought $1057.50 for the grouping.

A previously unknown studio portrait of Cody glancing over notes with his older sister, Julia Melvina Cody Goodman (1843-1928), sold for $998.75.

There were also images of Cody’s cohorts. A studio portrait of Cody with his partner Pawnee Bill and Charles “Buffalo” Jones, all dressed in fringed and beaded jackets and gloves, Cody gripping a Winchester rifle, and Jones in woolly chaps and holding a lariat, believed to be from a New York sitting circa 1908, sold for $4112.50.

Many of the images pictured Cody and members of the Buffalo Bill Wild West troupe overseas. Here the image of Twain comes into play. The Wild West show, which Cody started in 1883, quickly became a success in the United States. However, Twain might have helped push it abroad. The auction catalog quoted from a letter Twain wrote to Cody after viewing the show in 1884. “It is often said on the other side of the water that none of the exhibitions that we send to England are purely and distinctively American. If you will take the Wild West show over there, you can remove that reproach,” Twain claimed.

Whether persuaded by the author’s encouragement or something else, Cody took his show to England in 1887, the first of eight trips over the next two decades. The production was wildly popular as English and Continental audiences clamored to see portrayals of the American frontier. Numerous images offered from the Patsy Garlow collection were taken in England and Europe.

In addition to photos, some three-dimensional items having a family connection were also sold. One of the most sought after was Buffalo Bill’s Romances, a four-volume anthology of dime novels, with each book inscribed from Cody to his daughter Irma in 1896. The set sold for $9400. Other lots included a chair at $1800, a mirror at $2467.50, and a set of Canon City prison spurs at $4700.

Of everything in the auction, two of the more memorable photos were taken in front of a physician’s office in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, in January 1917. A photo of just Cody sold for $1880, while one of him and Dr. W.W. Crook sold for $1527.50. On that visit, a worn-down Cody collapsed. Realizing Cody’s failing state of health, the doctor sent him home to Denver, where Cody died of kidney failure days later at the age of 70.

The auction attracted international interest, with buyers from England and Europe. Among the American buyers were the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming, and the Lincoln County Historical Museum, North Platte, Nebraska.

For more information, phone Cowan’s at (513) 871-1670 or visit the Web site (www.cowans.com).

Albumen copy photo of William F. Cody’s only son, Kit Carson Cody (1870-1876), 6¾" x 4" plus mount, with “Conant 1876” imprint, toning, horizontal crease, wear, and pinholes, $2702.50. The young Cody was struck with scarlet fever and died on April 21, 1876. Garlow collection.

Mark Twain and His Boyhood Home, copyright 1902 by H. Tomlinson, Hannibal, Missouri, silver gelatin print, 7 5/8" x 8 7/8" plus mount, lightly faded, $1800. Garlow collection.

Hand-colored photo of  William F. Cody performing a shooting demonstration on horseback, the Indian beside him throwing glass target balls, blind-stamp of F.W. Glasier of Brockton, Massachusetts, dated 1907, 11¼" x 10", light soiling, mount worn and possibly trimmed, $4406.25. Garlow collection.


Originally published in the May 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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