Best of the West 2017: Art & Collectibles Almost Burned: Jackson’s Rare Yellowstone Albertypes

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Thomas Moran, the artist whose illustrations joined William Henry Jackson’s photographs in bringing the wonders of Yellowstone to the world, is featured in the album. This image is not among the 13 rare photos.

In the early stages of his career, William Henry Jackson, his studio borne by a mule, photographed the first views of Yellowstone. He traveled as an expedition member for Ferdinand V. Hayden’s U.S. Geological Survey in 1871 to investigate the marvels that would eventually be preserved as America’s first national park—Yellowstone.

Discovered by photograph collector and San Francisco Bay resident Robert Enteen in the summer of 2015, the only complete copy of Jackson’s album from that expedition was showcased in an impressive exhibit at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, in 2016. That was followed by the auction of the album, which did not meet its reserve price, at PBA Galleries in San Francisco, California, in October.

The bound volume, produced in 1874, was made from Jackson’s glass plate negatives using the albertype process, a screenless, photomechanical reproduction technique developed by the Germans. This was a vast improvement from how photos were reproduced for magazines and books—copying the image to a woodcut, which diminished the original photo into a replica.

Edward Bierstadt, brother of noted artist Albert, was under contract by Hayden to produce these albertype albums of Jackson’s photographs. He created the proof albums, but got no further. A disastrous fire in his studio in early 1875 destroyed most of the albertypes he had printed as well as virtually all of the original glass negatives. Worst of all? This was not his first studio fire—a gas explosion occurred four years earlier. Perhaps Hayden should have investigated more the man whom he had entrusted with such an irreplaceable treasure.

Fortunately for historians, five sets of the Jackson albertypes survived the 1875 fire, yet the set discovered by Enteen contains the most unique images—76. Outside of two smaller sets, the next largest sets are at the Denver Public Library, with about 30 images, and at the Clark Art Museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with 56 prints.

When Enteen found his rare treasure, he worked  to document the album with the help of scholars at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and particularly Dr. Matthew Hermes, a national authority on Yellowstone history who shared the finding in the museum’s Points West journal. “The Jackson albertypes, had they been used as originally intended, would have been the first effort to promote Yellowstone by photographs,” Hermes states. “We like to think they would have been broadly popular, the first ‘coffee table’ book perhaps.”

Showcased at the bottom of this article are several rare Jackson albertypes of his foray into Yellowstone not found among the other sets.

Best Western Art Collection
Stark Museum of Art, Orange, TX

Surrounded by the piney woods of southeast Texas is a museum housing an astoundingly impressive Western art collection, started in the 1890s by Miriam Lutcher Stark. She passed the art collecting bug on to her son, H.J., and his wife, Nelda. Neither mother nor son lived to see the opening of their art museum, in 1978, but they accomplished their goal of enriching the quality of life in southeast Texas through the arts. H.J. and Nelda’s Racers at the Pueblo oil by Oscar Edmund Berninghaus is just one of the major works by the Taos Society of Artists featured at the museum. Explorer-artists George Catlin, Alfred Jacob Miller, John Mix Stanley, Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt carry a strong presence at the museum. The story of the American West, expressed so vividly and accurately in art by the West’s best pioneer artists, is splashed across these walls.

Readers’ Choice:
Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, TX


Best American Indian Collection
Plains Indian Museum, Cody, WY

You could spend days, if not weeks, exploring the amazing Old West collections at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. But if you have only one day, anyone who desires to learn the story of the Plains Indians peoples will discover, in this museum, why these historic nomadic tribes have become such an archetype in literature and art. You never know what you might see: Sitting Bull’s trade items; Red Cloud’s shirt; clothing worn by a Lakota performer during Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows. The most impressive Plains Indian artifacts are those collected by Paul Dyck, dating to the late 1700s to pre-1890s, a period Dyck identified as the “Buffalo Culture” era. In his final months in 2006, the Arizona collector gave the public a great gift by granting the center as the best place to preserve this largest private collection of Plains Indian art and artifacts. 

Readers’ Choice:
Smoki Museum, Prescott, AZ


Best Pioneer History Collection
Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City, KS

How incredible that a cemetery site created for a rotary convention in 1932 would lead to a world-class pioneer history collection, showcased in replica buildings of the Front Street originals destroyed by fire in 1885. The pioneer Beeson family collected most of the artifacts, which give visitors insight into early-day families and the lives they lived on the Kansas frontier. When you step into the museum’s Long Branch Saloon, you’re stepping into Beeson history—one of the owners was Chalk Beeson, before he sold his share to the notorious Luke Short.

Readers’ Choice:
Harold Warp Pioneer Village, Minden, NE


Best Old West Collectibles Auction
Heritage Auctions, Dallas, TX

The world’s largest collectibles auctioneer marked a milestone in 2016—more than one million online bidders. Heritage Auctions was one of the earliest to embrace mobile technology, and its free database of more than four million prices realized have attracted collectors from all over the world. Among other history offerings, the auction house regularly holds its prestigious “Legends of the West” auction. Its 2016 sale featured historical Tombstone collectibles purchased by another of this year’s winners, Jim Melikian. Every year is somehow better than the last; we continue to be impressed by the incredible Old West finds Heritage Auctions brings to collectors.

Readers’ Choice:
Brian Lebel’s Old West Auction, Fort Worth, TX


Best Old West Art Auction
Christie’s, New York, NY

The auction house that has broken record sales for many of our most esteemed Old West artists, Christie’s celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016. James Christie held his first sale across the pond, in London, in 1766. Not until 1970, though, did Christie’s hold its first sale in the United States, in Houston, Texas. Seven years later, the New York City salesroom opened. The American Art Department has since set more than 100 world records at auction, with one of its most outstanding for the master Old West artist Thomas Moran, when the hammer fell on Green River of Wyoming at $15.85 million. Christie’s is one home in the East where you can still find some of the greatest wonders of the West.

Readers’ Choice:
Coeur d’Alene Art Auction, Reno, NV


Best Western Collectibles Gallery
Cowboy Legacy, Scottsdale, AZ

Downtown Scottsdale is that gem in the desert where cowboys go to play, and the best respite from the ranch is Bill Welch’s gallery on Main Street. You may think you have wandered into Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, right around the corner, for all the museum-quality artifacts of the 1840s through the 1940s that hang on these walls, but this shopper’s haven offers all the Old West essence that can transform your home into a frontier history lover’s dream dwelling. Since 1966, Welch has been offering his expertise on high-end chaps and spurs, collectible saddles, bows and arrows, so browsing here under his helpful tutelage is not only fun, but also quite educational.    


Best Old West Firearms Auction
Rock Island Auction Company, Rock Island, IL

The most expensive single firearm ever sold at auction hammered down for $1.1 million at Rock Island Auction Company’s spring sale last May. After Capt. Henry Lawton helped convince Apache leader Geronimo to surrender for good, a friend of Lawton’s, who worked for Winchester Repeating Arms, gave Lawton the Model 1886 Winchester rifle that sold at the auction. Rock Island’s auctions sell historical firearms at prices that range from affordable to record-breaking, allowing the everyman and the rich man ample opportunities to purchase guns linked to the Old West era.

Readers’ Choice:
A&S Auction Company, Waco, TX


Best Treasure Hunting Device
AT Pro Metal Detector by Garrett Metal Detectors, Garland, TX

While diving off the Key West coast of Florida in 2008, Mike DeMar thought his metal detector had hit on a beer can; nope, nearly a pound of gold from the Santa Margarita ship that had sunk in 1622. Value: About $1 million. We all have dreams of finding fortune beneath our feet, but without the proper tool, we may just kick away that millionaire-making “beer can.” Whether you’re in the desert sands or in a shallow stream, hunt for treasure with the all-terrain AT Pro detector, made by the worldwide leader in metal detection technology.

Readers’ Choice:
TreasurePro by White’s Electronics, Sweet Home, OR


Best Western Painter
Sherry Blanchard Stuart, Scottsdale, AZ

Sherry Blanchard Stuart’s first word was “hoy-hoy,” which meant “horse.” She started drawing the majestic creatures long before she ever saw one in person. Although an avid horsewoman, she found the West in her artwork rather late in life, when she moved to Arizona in her 40s. She was living in a vast, empty, beautiful country—cowboy country—and on her first cattle drive, she found her calling to chronicle cowboy life. Whether she’s painting a 5th Cavalry soldier or a mountain man trading beads with Indians, the traditions of the West live again in her nostalgic portrayals of the landscape and people.

Readers’ Choice:
Andy Thomas, Carthage, MO


Best Western Museum
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, Scottsdale, AZ

After an impressive grand opening in 2015, the best museum of the West in the “West’s Most Western Town” showed no sign of slowing down in 2016. For nearly two years, art lovers got to travel with Lewis & Clark through Charles Fritz’s impressive paintings.  Paintings, etchings and books gave insight into cowboy artist Will James. Saddles and spurs glistened in the A.P. Hays Gallery. The stories of friendship and conflict between mountain men, American Indians, settlers and soldiers emerged in a collection of contemporary art. A retrospective of John Coleman’s art opened in the fall. And the new year will bring us artwork by the Taos Society of Artists. Western spirit? This museum’s got it.

Readers’ Choice:
Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY


Best Western Art Gallery
C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, MT

The C.M. Russell Museum is more than just an impressive home to the collection of the world-famous cowboy artist—the museum has preserved Charles M. Russell’s real home, a two-story frame house, along with his log cabin studio. You can span the artist’s lifespan through the works that grace the museum’s walls and then immerse yourself in the place where he created all of it. The C.M. Russell Museum truly is a one-stop homage to the self-taught artist trademarked by his iconic buffalo skull. People love this museum so much that, in 2002, an anonymous bidder at the museum’s annual benefit auction paid $240,000 for Russell’s Waiting watercolor and then donated it to the museum. How many folks will buy a painting to keep a museum going and then donate that painting to the museum? Apparently, more than one. The trend continued as recent as 2012 with the donation of the Russell watercolor, The Bucker. Russell devotees already know this place is the best. The rest of the world should too.

Readers’ Choice:
Whitney Western Art Museum, Cody, WY


Best Western Art Collector
Tim Peterson

To say that Minnesotan Tim Peterson idolizes explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark is no small point. Art lovers got the good fortune of seeing his collection of Charles Fritz’s masterful portrayal of the Corps of Discovery’s 1805-06 transcontinental journey, in a fabulous exhibit at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. Peterson’s collection of art portraying Mountain Men and fur traders elevated the museum into a world-class art haven. He grew up hunting, fishing and canoeing with his dad, who took him, at the age of eight, to an art gallery, where he purchased his first piece of art: Paul Calle’s Something for the Pot. This print of a mountain man, carrying his hunt of the day, kindled his passion for the frontier West.


Best Western History Collector
Jim Melikian

Arizona businessman Jim Melikian has been a collector most of his 61 years, but the Old West finally caught his fancy in the summer of 2016. When he opened Heritage Auctions’ catalog, “Legends of the West: The Tombstone and Arizona Territory Collection,” he thought, “This is cool, but is it rare?” He turned to experts to find out, including True West’s Bob Boze Bell and Arizona historian Jack August. Rare? Unbelievable, they told him, noting it was unprecedented to have nearly 190 lots from 1870s-80s Tombstone come up for auction at one time. Melikian bought the bulk of the collection, some of which went on display at the Arizona State Capitol. He can’t decide on his favorite. Is it the bank draft cashed the day of the shoot-out behind the O.K. Corral, or is it the petition—signed by Tombstone founder Ed Schieffelin—nominating John Brannick for Tombstone constable? Or it could be…well, he has a lot to chose from.

Meghan Saar is the editor of True West and writes the magazine’s Collecting the West column. Her first auction report appeared in the November/December 2003 issue.

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The USGS En Route William Henry Jackson set up this monumental shot of the Hayden Expedition, all mounted, standing beside a lake shore that the USGS identified as Mirror Lake, at the head of Pelican Creek. Expedition leader F.V. Hayden rides second from the right. – All William Henry Jackson photographs Courtesy PBA Galleries, October 20, 2016 –

 

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Tower of Rock The only vertical shot among the rare William Henry Jackson albertypes never seen before, this offers a view of a tower of breccia volcanic rock near the brink of Tower Falls on Tower Creek.

 

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Grand Cañon of the Yellowstone Above is a late afternoon view of the Grand Cañon of the Yellowstone from the brink of the Lower Falls.

 

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Christie’s New York holds the auction records for both Thomas Moran, William Henry Jackson’s artist counterpart on the Hayden survey, and Albert Bierstadt, brother of Edward whose proof album of Jackson’s images went up for auction in 2016. A collector purchased Bierstadt’s 1862 oil, Indians Spear Fishing (above), for a $6.53 million bid, while Moran took the gold with a $15.85 million bid for his 1878 oil, Green River of Wyoming (below). – Courtesy Christie’s New York, May 21, 2008 –

 

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The Upper Falls of Yellowstone.

 

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Virginia City, Montana.

 

What do you think?

Meghan Saar

Meghan Saar is the editor of True West, the world’s oldest, continuously published Western Americana magazine. She has worked in niche publication content development since 2002, and she has a B.S. in Journalism and Creative Writing from the University of Arizona—Tucson.