Friday, July 19, 2013

Wild West gold mine: Pennsylvania city auctions off artifacts to get out of debt

By Rick Leventhal, Kathleen Foster

Published July 18, 2013

An East Coast city that's been sitting on a Wild West gold mine is finally cashing in on the loot.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's state capital, is auctioning off thousands of antique artifacts this week, hoping the sale will help pull the city out of debt.

Back in 1980, the citizens of Harrisburg elected Stephen Reed as mayor.

He envisioned the city as a tourist destination, filled with museums, including one showcasing Harrisburg's one-time claim to fame as the gateway to the West.

He spent more than $8 million on roughly 10,000 pieces, including antique guns, old horse-drawn wagons, “Wyatt Earp’s Days of the Week Shaving Set,” Jesse James and Billy The Kid wanted posters and sheriff's badges.

The city built one museum, but went broke before it could build three more, as the mayor intended.

"He went about it in ways that were not exactly according to rules," said Arlen Ettinger, President of Guernsey's, the New York City-based auction house the city hired to sell the items.

"He took city monies to acquire things that he thought would look well in museums, and he was a great fan of the old West."

Harrisburg will take every penny it can get. Unlike most auctions, this one requires no minimum bids.

"If there was ever a sort of every person's auction, this has got to be it," Ettinger said.

"There are things that are going to be quite expensive, I suspect, and things that will go for very affordable prices and that makes it open to everyone."

In the first three days, the auction raised approximately $2 million, nearly half of it from antique weapons. Theodore Roosevelt's rare combination rifle and shot gun went for $115,000, 10 to 15 times more than expected.

Harrisburg will use the money to pay down loans and bonds, but this auction is not expected to make much of a dent in its mammoth debt, estimated at more than $300 million. That debt was largely caused by the building of a trash incinerator more than 40 years ago.

The incinerator was designed to collect and burn trash from across the state as a way to make a profit, but it never really worked properly and the city fell deeper and deeper in the red trying to keep up with payments on the money borrowed to build the burner.

Harrisburg's chief operating officer, Robert Philbin, says the auction signifies a turning point from the past into what he calls the “post-recovery future” for the city.

"This is the best way to do it I think. It will go to people who respect the collection and institutions that respect the collection rather than molding," Philbin said. "I mean it's not doing any good in a warehouse in the city of Harrisburg.”

The auction started Monday and runs through the weekend. Anyone interested in bidding can do so in person in Harrisburg or online at

Editor's Note:

This is from Guernseys website:
John James Audubon - Handsome Works of Nature

Early in our Nation's history... pioneers considered Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to be the "Gateway to the West".

Years ago, the then Mayor of the Pennsylvania state capital saw the wisdom in creating a museum paying homage to those pioneering days.

To create the magnificent institution he envisioned, the City spent millions for the acquisition of rare artifacts pertaining to the Old West.

In the process, the Mayor also saw fit to assemble collections relating to the Revolutionary, Civil and Indian Wars, and a wide range of other historic collectibles.

For various reasons, the Old West museum that the Mayor dreamt of was never built.

The staggering collection he amassed on behalf of the City - consisting of more than 8,000 antiques, artifacts, firearms, and rare documents - has languished in Harrisburg's storage facilities.

Now, in what is certain to be a massive and glorious event to be held in Harrisburg this July. Guernsey's will be presenting at Unreserved Auction this magnificent Collection.

This will be a Sales tax - free event. Those interested are urged to either follow Guernsey's website ( for auction updates or feel free to contact Guernsey's directly.
The Auction

The Harrisburg Auction will be taking place July 15 through July 21st. The Auction will be taking place at City Island in Harrisburg.

There will be an Auction Preview being held at the D & D Building, part of the Public Works Complex at South 19th Street, Harrisburg, July 11 thru 14.

Bidders can participate 1. live in person, 2. by written bid, 3. by telephone, 4. in "real time" via the Internet. Internet bidding will be taking place on and

July 15 - July 20 will consist of "structured" auction days devoted to specific categories of antiques, historic artifacts and collectibles.

On these days, bidders can participate in any of the four ways listed above.

July 21 will be an "unstructured day" where a wide variety of less valuable, but nonetheless interesting, items will be sold.

Bidding on this day (the 21st) will be in front of a live audience only (i.e., no Internet). There is no charge to attend the Auction.

The Auction categories will include:

•The Wild West: which ranges from items relating to specific historic figures including Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill and Doc Holliday, on to such items as original horse drawn wagons, frontier clothing, saloon and gaming paraphernalia, even the largest known casting of Frederic Remington's Bronco Buster, approximately 12 feet tall!

•American Indian

•Firearms and Swords

•Spanish Colonial

•The Early Wars: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Indian Wars

•Mercantile: featuring objects sold in the general stores of the Old West, advertising, etc.

All additional information, including specifics start times and the daily auction schedule category by category can be found on Guernsey's web site - or by contacting Guernsey's at 212-794-2280 or

Online Bidding

Those who are unable to attend the auction but would like to participate can view the full catalogue online, and leave advance absentee bids, as well as bid live as the sale is taking place at and


Interested bidders should review the Terms & Conditions, as well as the Bidder Agreement form, and the Absentee Bid form.

Driving Directions

City Island: (Auction Location) Driving in either direction on I-83 Take exit 43 for Capitol/2nd St. Turn left on to S. 2nd St. Turn left on to Market St. Continue on to the bridge Turn right on to Championship Way Continue to parking lot.

D&D Building: (Preview Location) Driving in either direction on I-83 Take exit 44B for 19th St Turn right on to S. 19th St Turn right into the Public Works Complex Continue on road, the D&D Building will be on your left.
Following is a small sampling of the significant items to be sold:
Personal Binoculars
Advertising Board for Colt Revolvers
Advertising painted on board for Colt Revolvers with a specimen of the product mounted.

Colt Revolvers The Choice of the Texas Rangers with a mounted Texas Rangers emblem.

James Buchanan Gillett, Proprietor, former Ranger and El Paso Marshall.

On the back, printed letters Colt Adev 583 30 Marfa-Texas 26 1/2"H. x 20" W.

Estimate: $2,000 - 3,000
Personal Binoculars
The Owl Slot Machine
Oak cased, raised owl decoration, patented Nov. 1898.

Side door opens to empty the money bag. 58" high x 22" w x 12" deep.

Estimate: $10,000 - 15,000
Personal Binoculars
Pair Black Feet Beaded Hide Chaps & Jacket
Beaded decorations with rabbit fur embellishments. Stamped and painted decorations 36'L.

Estimate: $4,000 - 6,000
Personal Binoculars
Snowflake Black on White Pitcher C. 1100-1200AD
C. 1100-1200AD / Salado. Four lobed pitcher. Location: Barth Ranch, Arizona. This four lobed pitcher is a rare form. It has an unrepaired rim "kill". The bottom of the bowl has been restored in an no design.

Estimate: $4,000 - 6,000

Personal Binoculars
Remington Revolver, Shoshoni Beaded Holster

14 1/2"L.

Estimate: $4,000 - 6,000
Personal Binoculars
Jessie James The Missouri Outlaw Poster

The Sensational Western Life Drama Jesse James, theMissouri Outlaw. Lige and Eliza Making Soldiers Toes Out. Donaldson Litho Co. Newport, Kentucky #2650. Some creases. Minor paper losses in the margins. 41"H. x 27"W.

Estimate: $1,000 - 1,500

Personal Binoculars
Wells Fargo Blickensderfer No. 5 Typewriter

In case. Typewriter marked Blickensderfer No.5 Stamford, Conn. Case marked Wells Fargo & Co. and a plaque marked Wells Fargo Office, San Francisco, Calif. 12 3/.4"W

Estimate: $1,000 - 1,500

Good hunting!


  1. I think an auction was a great idea. Too bad Detroit has nothing to sell.

  2. The story of "Gateway to the West" is awesome.. I like cowboy stories.. The blog is very interesting.. fall in store lawsuit

  3. I wish I had that Remington pistol with the fancy Native American holster. Would look great in a display case.


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