Tintype photo, bought for $10 at a flea market, may show Billy the Kid and the guy who killed him; likely worth millions

According to the New York Times, in 2011 a lawyer in North Carolina picked up the following tintype for $10 at a flea market:

I don’t know who made the cheeks pink, but it doesn’t much matter, for the photo reportedly shows both the outlaw Billy the Kid (real name William H. Bonney; second from left) and Pat Garrett (far right), the man who would become a sheriff and kill Billy in 1881. If the photo proves to be authentic, it could be worth upwards of $5 million. The report:

The men appear on a tintype that is about the size of a man’s palm. (Tintypes are photographic images produced on thin sheets of metal. They became popular during the late 19th century and, as in this case, often show a version of reality that is reversed, left-to-right.)

In 2011, Mr. Abrams saw nothing more than a group of five men who looked like cowboys. He considered it a strange find, since most tintypes that ended up in North Carolina harkened back to the American South, not the Wild West. So he bought it for $10, said in a phone interview, and put it up in his home. It hung in a room where he hosted Airbnb guests. Mr. Abrams used to jokingly tell them that it was a picture of Jesse James.

A similar find — a tintype that experts said showed Billy the Kid playing croquet with friends — was valued at around $5 million in 2015. The discovery motivated Mr. Abrams to take a closer look at his own picture.

 He turned to Google and eventually zeroed in on the man on the right with the severe features and the dark hat. “Oh my gosh,” he recalled saying. “That is Pat Garrett in my picture.”

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Garrett and Billy the Kid were pals, but when Garrett became sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico in 1880, he told Billy to vamoose lest he be pursued. Billy didn’t, was captured, escaped, and then Garrett tracked him down and shot him in 1881. Billy was only 21, but had killed at least eight men.

Here’s Billy with his rifle:

And Pat Garrett, later in life:

 

 

 

36 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 16, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    And fake or not, someone just purchased a painting by Da Vinci, Salvator Mundi for $450.3 million.

    • Posted November 16, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      Obscene.

    • Posted November 16, 2017 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      And most of all, it’s not even sure if it’s a real da Vinci.
      For all other pictures there are testimonies of contemporaries, but not for this picture.

      • David Coxill
        Posted November 16, 2017 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

        I would be great if it turned out to be fake .

        • Posted November 17, 2017 at 3:57 am | Permalink

          The new owner will certainly not have the painting checked for authenticity. He will put it in a vault and offer it for sale after 20 years of waiting.

  2. Craw
    Posted November 16, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Is that a wedding ring on the putative Billy? I can’t say I really buy either identification. The tintype Garrett has a thin nose with a rounded tip. The older Garrett has a sharp tip, and possibly wider nostrils. Maybe that’s the image quality. But then image quality is maybe why some see a stronger resemblance.

    Skeptical here.

    • Posted November 16, 2017 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      Is that a wedding ring on the putative Billy?

      That’s his right hand you can see.

      Tintypes are photographic images produced on thin sheets of metal. They became popular during the late 19th century and, as in this case, often show a version of reality that is reversed, left-to-right

  3. GBJames
    Posted November 16, 2017 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    That’s really cool.

  4. busterggi
    Posted November 16, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Nope, the new ‘Billy’ looks too old and his eyes are more closely set while the new ‘Pat’ just looks too different.

    BTW, is it me or doesn’t that tin type look awfully doctored? Did all those guys really get onto that one horse?

    Is William Mumler’s name on the back?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 16, 2017 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

      Retouching of photographs was nothing uncommon in the day. Having a photograph of any sort was a novelty.
      I was wondering why a studio photo like this would be done with something other than wet- or dry- collodion on a glass plate, which was IIRC established by then. Wiki informed me (my emphasis) : “Because the lacquered iron support (there is no actual tin used) was resilient and did not need drying, a tintype could be developed and fixed and handed to the customer only a few minutes after the picture had been taken.” Which sounds fine for a booth at a travelling fairground, or an itinerant photo studio wagon and suggests reasonable scenarios around the photos origins.

    • Posted November 16, 2017 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      What horse? There’s no horse. There’s something that looks vaguely like a horse’s head, but it is actually alleged Pat’s left leg.

      • busterggi
        Posted November 16, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        My glasses need glasses.

  5. Posted November 16, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Eight people? Amateur.

    I wonder if today’s more prolific killers will ever inspire the same kind of adulation the outlaws of the Wild West do? Will there be ballads for Dylan Roof?

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted November 16, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      But you have to consider the gun he had available in the 1880s. One shot at a time and then manually eject and load a shell. Just thinking, the rifle Billy the Kid used could not even be conceived of by James Madison. It would have looked like a terrible killing machine.

      • Posted November 16, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        “One shot at a time and then manually eject and load a shell.”

        In the photo above I can clearly see a revolver on his hip.

        ??

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted November 16, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

          Sure, and it holds 6 cartridges and then has to be unloaded and reloaded. Do you know, is it single or double action? Also not nearly as accurate at any distance, like the rifle.

          • Posted November 16, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

            I have no idea what single action v double action is. LMG – pulling the trigger alone fires the gun is single action while double action is …. ummm….you squint real hard while you pull the trigger?

            • Posted November 16, 2017 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

              nvrmd – I googleated it.

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted November 16, 2017 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

                sorry. So you know single action means you must cock the pistol before pulling the trigger. Kind of slow things down a bit. I should have just said no semi-automatic weapons and then shut up.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted November 16, 2017 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

                As I understand it, though, single-action was considered more accurate in that it had a much lighter trigger pull so was quicker (once cocked) and the effort of pulling the trigger was less likely to put ones aim off.

                cr

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted November 16, 2017 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

                Sure, the trigger pull is lighter because all it is doing is releasing the hammer. Double action has to pull the hammer back with the trigger pull and release it. But single action means you have to pull the hammer back with the thumb. Pistols are inaccurate pieces of shit unless you are close. If you are close enough for a shotgun, I’ll take the shotgun any time. And if too far for a shotgun you need a rifle because you can’t hit anything with a pistol 75 yards away unless you are very good. All this assumes some else is shooting at you, otherwise, why are you doing this.

  6. Christopher
    Posted November 16, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Kid and Garrett? Hmmm…maybe, but I think there’s more than a bit of wishful thinking going on there. Neither are displaying any distinguishing features that would absolutely prove their identities beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a fine $10 tintype though.

  7. Curt Nelson
    Posted November 16, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Look at Billy’s solo picture. His eyes are not even – the right one is higher. The group picture Billy has even eyes.

    The Pat Garett in the group picture is the gaunt type and the solo Garett isn’t at all. And the group Garett has a different nose from the solo one, as Craw noted above. Solo Garett’s nose is slightly hooked but group Garett’s isn’t at all.

    • GBJames
      Posted November 16, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      “Pat Garett in the group picture is the gaunt type and the solo Garett isn’t at all”

      You would say the same thing comparing a photo of me as a young man vs. me as a middle aged fellow.

      • Posted November 16, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

        In addition, if is IS Pat Garett, then the likelihood of the other guy (who is much less clear) being the Kid is much higher than if that guy is not thought to be Garett.

        So it rests kind of heavily on ol’ Pat.

      • Craw
        Posted November 16, 2017 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        Me too. But the burden of proof isn’t on skeptics is it? It doesn’t really look like Garrett to me, and if you are conceding, yes they look kinda different, then how does that bolster the identification?

    • Posted November 16, 2017 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

      I disagree. I think the people in the tintype could be Billy the Kid and Pat Garett. I don’t think alleged Billy the Kid’s eyes are even and the difference in Pat Garrett could be explained by age.

      I am still sceptical though. What are the odds that a random photo from the 1880’s just happens to be of a famous person?

  8. Curt Nelson
    Posted November 16, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    The guy in back to the right is who intrigues me. Did Vincent Van Gough ever come to America?

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 16, 2017 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Even though for the Tar Heel barrister, it’s more like knockin’ on the bank’s door:

    That look exchanged between Slim Pickens & Katy Jurado at the end is priceless.

  10. chewy
    Posted November 16, 2017 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been searching and have yet to find the “experts” who have validated it. 95% certainty it isn’t what the pseudo-modest owner says. The report on KQRE TV in Albuquerque was so in awe, it made the Tweets of Trump look like Nobel-quality literature.

  11. Petu W
    Posted November 17, 2017 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    No resemblance at all! The thruth is that Pat Garrett looked a bit like James Coburn and the Kid was very much like Kris Kristofferson in the early seventies.

  12. Posted November 17, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Notice in the authenticated photo that Mr. Bonney’s eyes are at quite different levels. In the new photo, the person indicated as Mr. Bonney has eyes at the same level. They must have had really good plastic surgeon’s back then.


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