Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Yippy, Hi, O

QUESTION: I moved to New Mexico about a year ago. Items from the Old West fill many of the antique shops, and I often see things like spurs and branding irons at flea markets. I’d love to start a collection of cowboy memorabilia, but I don’t have a clue as to where to begin.  How should I go about starting my collection.

ANSWER: As with any antique or collectible, a collection begins with one item. Most people don’t know they’re beginning a collection—it just happens. At first, your collection will grow randomly as you discover items here and there that attract your interest. First and foremost, that’s the key to starting a collection—collect what you like and can afford. But collecting cowboy memorabilia can be tricky.

Western relics from the frontier up to the time of the early rodeos hold a fascination for many collectors. The Old West came to an end around 1900. In the time after the Civil War, the West exploded with growth as hundreds of soldiers, drawn to the promise of a new start, traveled along the great trails leading to fields of gold and rich farming land. Many of them became cowboys.

Eventually, those who migrated to the West needed tools and gadgets to make their lives more comfortable. And cowboys needed equipment to help them in their work. Enough tools, gadgets, and conveniences had been invented or adapted to settlers respite from constant labor. Tools wore out and had to be replaced by better models.

Now these items are trendy collectibles for those with an interest in Western Americana. Included are spurs, branding irons, saddles, ropes, chaps, kitchenware, furniture, horse tack, cowboy hats and anything used on a ranch.

You don't want items that have been repaired. New stirrup leathers, for example, and cobbled-up, relaced or relined things are all negatives. Instead of polished spurs, look for that nice old patina.

Don't overdo and try to make an antique saddle like new. Some people think they do good jobs but, instead of springing for real sheepskin lining, they use synthetic, or they don't even attempt to match the saddle color, decoration or leather thickness.

Use common sense when shopping for cowboy items. A glaring repair is one that wasn't done well. You shouldn't see a well-done repair. It's that simple. The more invisible the repair, the better the job, which helps the piece hold its value. Find somebody who actually repairs old  saddles and riding gear. Many do a great job. Unfortunately, it may not be your shoemaker.

Cowboy gear has been highly influenced by Spanish riding gear since Spain controlled what’s now the Southwest and California. While the average working cowboy can’t afford to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on his equipment, ranch owners and western riding afficionados can. Horse shows and rodeos all over the U.S. and Canada feature western riding events. The fancier the gear, the better.

Antique spurs come in all styles, from extremely ornate ones made of silver to going for over $2,000 a pair to plainer ones selling for just over $200.  Chaps aren’t as pricey, although a pair from 1900 can sell for over $800. Most people don’t realize how dangerous the work of a cowboy was and still is. Most wore leather cuffs to protect their forearms from rope burns. Simply tooled or leather ones go for around $100 while beautifully hand-tooled ones can sell as high as $850 and a early pair of studded cuffs can reach as high as $1,150.

Saddles are a cowboy’s stock in trade, his most prized possession. An early one from J.S. Collins & Company of Cheyenne, Wyoming, dating from before 1886, sells for $4,000 while an unmarked saddle sells for only $250. As with all antiques and collectibles, provenance means a lot.  Saddlebags are a necessary accessory for cowboys. Ones in good condition start at around $160 and climb to over $600.

Western horse tack includes bits and headstalls. Fancy bits are usually made of silver. Headstalls, or the set of straps that fit over a horse’s head, usually include bits attached to them. Prices range from around $160 to over $800 while bits alone can sell for as low as $95 to well over $1,200.

So you see, collecting cowboy memorabilia isn’t cheap. To create a good collection, you’ll have to spend a lot of money. Of course, living in New Mexico helps. Unlike collectors in other parts of the country, you’re in a location with a potential inventory of lots of items. But don’t hesitate to look online. However, because cowboy collectibles are pricey for the most part, there are a lot of fakes out there just waiting for unknowing novice collectors.

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