Collector's Showdown For Hot Western Collectibles
By Wes Cowan
The definition of what is considered the "West" has certainly changed over
the years. When there were only thirteen colonies, any territory west of the
Appalachians was considered the "West." The vast Northwest Territory included
what is known today as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
years, collectors have placed a premium on things associated with U.S. westward
expansion. These items of interest include books, printed materials,
photographs, firearms and other weapons, and cowboy and Indian artifacts. You
name it, and there are serious collectors willing to spend big bucks to acquire
A prime example is a book known as the Maxwell Code, a work
of exceptional rarity. Named for William Maxwell who printed it in Cincinnati in
1796, the book contains the first codified laws designed to regulate life on the
frontier. No one knows the exact print run, but it is estimated to be as few as
200 copies. The best existing copy of this important volume sold in 1997 for
just over $80,000.
In a similar vein, the first published account of Lewis
and Clark's expedition up the Missouri River is a holy grail for collectors. A
copy of the book routinely sells in the $10,000 to $15,000 range. Lewis and
Clark's own personal account of the expedition fetches far more. The two-volume
set was not published until 1814. One copy, complete with a folding map to
illustrate their route, recently sold for a staggering $130,000.
Civil War, the lands west of the Mississippi River became known as the "West."
The government sent teams of scientists into these territories. Photographers
accompanied the teams and produced a remarkable record of the land and its
inhabitants. The books and images from these expeditions are highly prized by
William Henry Jackson was a Washington, D.C.-based photographer
who accompanied a team during an 1872 expedition. He explored present-day
Wyoming. His photographs of the magical lands along the Yellowstone River were
used to convince Congress to set aside the first national park in the United
States. Photographs from this expedition typically fetch between $3,000 and
While these prices may not fit the budget of all collectors, many
fine Western books and photographs can be purchased for far less. The range is
vast and a person of modest means can assemble a fascinating collection.
About the author: Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan's Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An
internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television
series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. He can be
reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Maxwell Code, the first book printed in the American "West"; 1796.
William Henry Jackson took this photograph of the future Yellowstone National
Park in 1872.
The first account of the Lewis and Clark Expedition