Popular Culture

Rare Photo of Billy the Kid Could Be Worth $5M, Someone Paid $2



It’s the dream of everyone rummaging through their impossibly cluttered attics: find a rare piece of memorabilia you were going to throw away, discover it’s priceless, and become a millionaire.

One collector in Fresno, California wasn’t exactly going through his own junk; rather, he paid $2 for a tintype photograph in a junk shop auction that turned out to be a rare photo of Billy the Kid and his gang, The Regulators, playing a leisurely game of croquet. Oh, and the photo could be worth up to $5 million.

The photo was authenticated earlier this month by a numismatics firm called Kagin’s, Inc. The 4×5 inch photo shows the infamous Billy the Kid in the summer of 1878, and it was possibly taken at a wedding.

This photo is so valuable because there is only one other known photo of the famous outlaw. That photo was taken in 1880 in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and sold for $2.3 million at auction in 2010. Could the new photograph really be worth more than double that amount?

Billy the Kid is a fixture in Western frontier folklore. His real name was Henry McCarty, but he went by aliases William H. Bonney and Billy the Kid. He was a famous thief and gunfighter, and was captured and sentenced to death, only to escape after killing two guards.

Supposedly, Billy the Kid killed 21 men: one for each year of his life. He was finally captured and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett at Fort Sumner in 1881.

According to the numismatics firm, it took over a year to analyze the data provided in the photo, to make sure that the photograph was authentic beyond the shadow of a doubt. David McCarthy, Kagin’s senior numismatist, said:

“When we first saw the photograph, we were understandably skeptical – an original Billy the Kid photo is the Holy Grail of Western Americana. We had to be certain that we could answer and verify where, when, how and why this photograph was taken. Simple resemblance is not enough in a case like this – a team of experts had to be assembled to address each and every detail in the photo to insure that nothing was out of place. After more than a year of methodical study including my own inspection of the site, there is now overwhelming evidence of the image’s authenticity.”

The acquisition and authentication of the tintype is so important, it’s been called ” the single most compelling piece of Western Americana that we have ever seen.”

If you want to learn more about this historical photo, its acquisition, and the road to its authentication, a two-hour documentary will air this Sunday, October 18th, on the National Geographic Channel. Kevin Costner will narrate the documentary, which will cover Western Americana enthusiast Randy Guijarro’s journey to authenticate the tintype. It will also provide a historical context of the day the photo was taken, interviews with experts, antique photography, and vintage croquet sets.

“I love handling great treasure finds!” said Dr. Donald Kagin, president of Kagin’s, Inc. “This iconic, lively and fun artifact is history in your hand—a snapshot of the life style of one of the most notorious figures of the Wild West.”


Lisa Lo Paro
Lisa is a freelance writer and bibliophile living on the outskirts of New York City. She likes 2 a.m. with a good book, takes cream in her coffee and heavily filters her photos. Check out her blog The Most Happy, her Instagram, and Twitter.

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