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Tintype photo of outlaw Billy The Kid sold for WHAT?

Posted 4 years 133 days ago ago by Gary Sullivan     2 Comments


Billy the Kid, original tin type image
The only authenticated photograph of legendary outlaw William H. Bonney, more commonly known as Billy The Kid, was recently sold for $2.3 million, but that's not the most interesting part of this story! The tiny 2" x 3" tintype image set a new record for an original photograph when it was sold to a collector at a Denver auction.

Decades ago, based on this image, Billy The Kid became known as the left handed gun. A movie by that name was produced in 1958, starring Paul Newman as Billy. Only problem was, he wasn't left handed! But wait, he can clearly be seen here holding an 1873 model Winchester rifle in his right hand and wearing a revolver on his left hip. Confused? Apparently those who assigned him the left handed gun moniker were not students of early photography. It seems that the process of creating a so called tintype photograph generally produced a reverse image, so it appears as a mirror of the actual subject. Close examination of this image, with the help of National Firearms Museum Curator, Phil Schreier, holds the key to Billy's actual right handedness. The images shows the rifle's loading gate on the left side of the rifle, when it is actually on the right. Reverse the image so the rifle is correctly oriented, and Billy transforms into a righty.

Legend has it that the young outlaw, who's true name was William H. McCarty, killed 21 people, one for every year of his short life. The actual number was likely much lower. Regarded by those who knew him as charismatic and fun loving, Bonney met his demise at the hands of the equally legendary lawman Pat Garret. After being sentenced to hang for murder, Bonney escaped from prison by killing his two guards. In July of 1881, Sheriff Garrett, following a tip, entered the house where Bonney was hiding out and shot him once in the chest.

Billy the Kid, original tin type image


  • 4 years 129 days ago
    Indeed it is fascinating that all along people had thought Billy was left-handed. Even the historic 1958 western movie starring Paul Newman even got it wrong in their title! And then such a huge amount for such a small tin-type!! Wonder if this will eventually sell for some even higher amount in the future? Is it an invenstment which will gain further value and have its ownership transferred down the road? Or instead is it a highly-prized unique collector's item that now will never again surface for the public to see and appreciate? Only time will tell with this little image of that famous dude. Interesting blog. Too bad Billy didn't wear glasses too (not expected in someone so young who fired a pistol with accuracy. Those eyeglasses would really have become famous (and expensive). Thanks. David

    • Gary Sullivan 4 years 129 days ago
      Thanks for dropping by David. I know you are always on the hunt for important historic photos of people wearing glasses for your virtual museum of eyeglasses (www.antiquespectacles.com/), but I suspect Billy had excellent vision. We'll keep an eye out for outlaws wearing glasses for you! Gary


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