1899 Buffalo Bill Poster

Value (2010) | $12,000 Auction$18,000 Auction

I bought it from a gentleman that was from Kentucky. I paid about a thousand dollars for it at that time, about 40 years ago. I have a collection of posters, and I've never been able to find out much about this particular poster, and that's why I came here to see you.

A thousand dollars is a lot of money, especially 40 years ago. Was there something about this piece that spoke to you?

Well, I liked the historical significance of it.

Well, you know, Buffalo Bill really was the premier showman of his generation and one of the most famous American performers, arguably, of all time. And his Wild West Show took America by storm, and it was really the last vestige of the American frontier that was being exposed not only to America but all over Europe. And one of the first things I see when I look at this poster, obviously, is this fantastic bust image of Buffalo Bill himself. And the second thing that I see are all of the wonderful little vignettes that surround his image. So we have pictures from the Eiffel Tower, from the World's Fair in Chicago of 1893, from Cody Day at the Omaha Exposition. These are very significant events and things in his life that helped to make him more famous. So this poster really is promoting him to the ticket-buying public. But the other thing that I notice about this is the place that it was printed. And this poster is printed in America. Now, that's not really a surprise. He was an American showman. But what I find so interesting about it is although this poster was printed in America, it's actually advertising one of his appearances in France. And at the bottom we have an entirely separate piece of paper, and we refer to that as a banner. There's a banner attached to the bottom with all of the information on how French people can get to the showgrounds outside of Paris to see Buffalo Bill. We also know when it was printed. It was printed in 1899. So it really, it puts it into geographic and historic context, which is wonderful. I don't know if you know what this is.

That's a tax stamp.

That's a French tax stamp that shows that the poster was actually used in Paris. And we can see that the poster was hung up. I mean, it's not in perfect condition. You told me you've had trouble locating other copies of this image.

That's correct.

In my research, I couldn't find another copy of this poster either. But here's the thing. Intuitively, we know that many copies were printed. In the world of posters, there's no such thing as one of a kind.


It was mass-produced, and I'm sure there are others out there. But it is extraordinarily rare within the pantheon of images of Buffalo Bill. At auction I would estimate this poster between $12,000 and $18,000. And I do feel that's conservative, but I think it's a very good place to start. It's only a question of how much higher it could go.

I'm certainly pleased. Thank you very much.

Appraisal Details

Swann Auction Galleries
New York, NY
Appraised value (2010)
$12,000 Auction$18,000 Auction
Biloxi, MS (July 24, 2010)
19th Century

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