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Roy Rogers’ Auction is Truly the Last Roundup for Movie, Early TV Cowboys

by Harry Rinker (08/02/10).

“I’m heading for the last roundup
Gonna saddle old Paint for the last time and ride
So long, old pal. It’s time your tears were dried
I’m heading for the last roundup”

— Billy Hill, 1933

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

The last roundup is fast approaching for the B-movie, black-and-white western and early television cowboy stars. Gene, Hoppy and Roy—the Big Three—are distant memories. Those who remember Orvon Eugene Autry (Sept. 2, 1907 to Oct. 2, 1998), William Lawrence Boyd, a.k.a. Hopalong Cassidy (June 5, 1895 to Sept. 12, 1972) and Leonard Franklin Slye, a.k.a Roy (Nov. 5, 191l to July 6, 1998) are reaching or well past their 60s. Although Gene, Hoppy and Roy and their B-movie counterparts still appear on late night or weekend television, their frequency continues to lessen. The 100th anniversary of Boyd’s and Autry’s birth passed without fanfare. The same will be true for Roy.

Roy “Dusty” Rogers, Jr., and the family moved the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum from Victorville, Ca., to Branson, Mo., in 2003. Declining attendance, a result of the Great Recession and an aging fan base, resulted in the museum’s closing on Dec. 12, 2009. Roy instructed Dusty to close the museum if it reached a point where it failed to maintain itself. Following Roy’s instructions, the family sent the museum contents to auction.

The Rogers’ heirs were singing “Happy Sales” instead of “Happy Trails” when the Christie’s July 14-15, 2010, auction of a portion of the museum’s holdings fetched $2.98 million. The prices paid had more to do with hero worship than collector value or common sense. Nostalgia, and emotions, ran high.

Roy and Dale, aware of the need to preserve their legacy, systematically saved items associated with their movies, music and other business dealings. During a visit to the Will Rogers Museum in the late 1930s, Roy was surprised to see how few pieces belonging to Will Rogers were part of the museum’s collection. Roy had no intention of making the same mistake.

I visited the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum when it was housed in its pseudo-palisade structure in Victorville. I have vivid memories of walking down the gallery that featured stuffed mounts of Trigger, Bullet, Buttermilk and Trigger, Jr. While they retained their fresh look, I could not help thinking: “What will they look like a 100 years from now with a century’s worth of dust?” I had dust on my mind, but not from the trail. As a former museum director, I am aware of the difficulties involved in maintaining exhibits. The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum’s maintenance left much to be desired. Many of the exhibits were dusty and dirty. Further, inappropriate lighting was discoloring and destroying several displays. Clearly, the family members in charge had no museum/curatorial training.

Trigger sold for $266,500.

The sale of Trigger, Bullet, Buttermilk and Trigger, Jr. made news. Trigger sold for $266,500, Bullet for $35,000, Buttermilk for $25,000, and Trigger, Jr. for $18,750. While the museum was named the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans museum, the sale focused on Roy. Dale was nothing more than a sidekick, a second banana, in show biz parlance.

Who bought the items provides insight into some of the key players in today’s auction marketplace. Patrick Gottsch, owner of RFD-TV, a rural cable network based in Omaha, Neb., bought Trigger and Bullet. Gottsch plans to display these—and other treasures from the auction—in the lobby of his office building. Dusty has been hired to introduce a series of Roy Rogers movies that Gottsch will air, beginning Nov. 6. Essentially, Trigger and Bullet are tax write-offs. Gottsch received millions of dollars worth of national and international publicity for a mere $301,000. Thousands of fans wrote to Gottsch, thanking him for preserving these critters. Gottsch is fortunate. There will be no such response for the next owner of Trigger and Bullet. The mere passage of time ensures this.

Few of the pieces were bought by collectors or museums. Do not confuse display with museum. Gottsch’s claim that he is creating a museum must be taken at face value. His purchases are momentary trophies, momentarily displayed. There is no endowment to secure the collection’s long-term future. When Trigger and Bullet have outlived their usefulness, they will be sold again. Museums, especially private ones, are fickle commodities. Several private museum collections are sold annually by regional and national auction houses.

If established museums such as the Smithsonian or Autry Museum of Western Heritage purchased items, it was a well-kept secret. Would either have accepted Trigger or Bullet if offered? I doubt it.

Pam Weidel purchased Nellybelle, a silver Jeep, for $116,500. She has fond memories of Pat Brady driving Nellybelle on “The Roy Rogers Show,” a 100-episode television production that premiered on NBC on Dec. 30, 1951 and last aired on June 19, 1957. Weidel is not a collector.

Weidel has loaned Nellybelle to the private museum of John B. Haines IV, in Pennsburg, Pa. Rinker Enterprises is located in Vera Cruz, Pa., less than 15 miles from Pennsburg. In the 20-plus years I have lived and worked in the area, I never heard of John B. Haines IV or his museum. A Google search reveals Haines is an owner of Haines & Kibblehouse, a company specializing in construction materials, site contracting and demolition services. Haines lives on a 24-acre estate in northern Montgomery County that includes the restored Andreas Reed house, a tannery (circa 1740), and several barns. The barns house his private collection of antique trucks, vehicles and equipment. No information about public access to view Haines private collection is available.

Jane Nudie, the granddaughter of Nuta Kotlyarenko (a.k.a. Nudie Cohn, 1902-1984), bought the Pontiac trailer designed as a covered wagon that Nudie gifted to Roy Rogers in the 1960s. Nudie used the trailer to promote his products. Estimated by Christies’ at $5,000 to $8,000, it sold for $3,000, one of the few bargains in the sale.

Roy's 1964 Pontiac Bonneville convertible decorated with 150 silver dollars that sold for $254,500.

While the buyers of Trigger, Bullet, Nellybelle and the Nudie trailer have been identified, the remaining buyers are largely unknown. Who bought the 1964 Pontiac Bonneville convertible decorated with 150 silver dollars that sold for $254,500 or the silver-mounted saddle with matching bridle, breast collar and studded leather saddlebags for $386,500? How about the dozens of costume items, some of which sold in excess of $10,000, or the Rogers family Bible that brought $8,750?

At the moment, the new owners are relishing in their acquisitions. Most will proudly display their trophies, regaling those privileged to view them with their personal remembrances of Roy and Dale and how they acquired their piece of the western couple’s history.

Fame is fleeting, and so is memory. Their children and grandchildren will not view these items with the same awe. The nostalgic celebrity bounce associated with the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum auction will fade within a year. When items from this auction re-enter the secondary market in 10 to 25 years, the owners or their heirs will not be happy with the results. Most items will sell for considerably less than was paid in 2010.

Thanks to the strength of the Western Americana market, there will always be a small cadre of collectors for B-movie western memorabilia. However, like so many sub-categories, value will rest only in the top pieces. Prices for the middle and low ends of the market will be minimal.

I cannot resist speculating what the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum collection would have realized had it been sold in 2005 rather than 2010. My guess is 25 to 35 percent more. The nostalgia factor would have been much higher. The willingness to spend was much greater than now.

Finally, as someone who is facing the prospect of dispersing his collection, Roy and Dale were blessed. They died with their collection intact. Happy Trails, Dale and Roy. Do not roll over in your graves. The fate of your collections is no different from that of most inherited collections. Sale is an inevitable part of a collection’s life.

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Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site.

You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site: http://www.harryrinker.com.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. You can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2010

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2 Responses to “Roy Rogers’ Auction is Truly the Last Roundup for Movie, Early TV Cowboys”

  1. Bill Castle says:

    Roy Rogers memorabilia enjoys some bounce due to syndication and reruns. I’m sure Gene Autry items do too. Other western characters aren’t so fortunate.

    For example, at one time, Hoppalong Cassidy was an industry unto himself. Nowadays, we get very few hits on the comics, movie posters and other items on our website.

    Other stars are even less fortunate. Where is the market for vintage items from Tim McCoy, Johnny Mack Brown, or even Lash La Rue?

    Of course, part of the issue is reproductions and fakes. Too many people have the attitude “Why pay for real when this is cheaper?”

    The general Western market is a bright spot, but in a lot of cases that’s not collecting, it’s decorating. Big difference.

    Perhaps someday there will be a revival. For now, it looks like another boomer trend winding down.

  2. KathyM says:

    I think it is great that the items sold well. There are many museums that come to a slow end and it appears these folks tried to make a go of it by moving to a more tourist oriented area and even that didn’t work. It is ALWAYS about acquisition – museum or not. And it is always about money and noteriety of the collection – museum or not. I was surprised by the cynacism of the article.

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