|By Carole Deutsch
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Wild West will come to life Sept. 29-Oct. 1 when collectors of Western and Native American artifacts will have the opportunity to participate in one of the largest auctions of the genre that has ever been offered. The 2,000-lot auction will be presented by Showtime Auction Services.
The three-day sale will also offer a large advertising collection, as well as rare guns and knives, art pottery and trapper’s items from the 1800s. The auction features the collection of Brad and Mary Watts.
“I selected Showtime to represent our collection because of owner Michael Eckles’ outstanding reputation in the field,” Brad Watts remarked. “He is knowledgeable and trustworthy with over 45 years of experience in the auction business and also worked as an auctioneer at two of the leading Western Culture auction houses in the country. I never even considered going to another house.”
“I started my own auction house in 2004 after getting bored with retirement,” Eckles said. “My wife Lori and I are passionate about our business. We love what we do and we do it all by ourselves, just the two of us – we have no employees. So we only have two auctions a year. We set up the auction by categories, not by lot numbers, so collectors don’t have to search the entire house for their specific genre, which they will find set up in vignettes. We stage it down to the last detail, so when the doors open people are blown away. Lori and I take a lot of pride in what we do, which is why we do it all ourselves right up until the time of the auction when a handful of family members jump in and help out. The Watts collection is exceptional. I fully expect the sale to be a landmark success. The merchandise is that good and the collection is well known in the industry.”
Brad and Mary Watts were discriminating hobbyists in the Western and Native American Indian arena until Brad’s retirement from his real estate business, at which time they fully embraced their hobby with a no holds barred approach until it became obvious that they should become exhibitors and dealers, as well as collectors. ’’We did every show we could from East Coast to West Coast,” Brad said.
His first specialty was handcrafted knives. He became an expert in the field, and together with Bill Claussen and Peter McMickle authored Sheffield Exhibition Knives, which became a definitive book on the subject. Brad and Mary then became fascinated with Indian baskets and amassed an impressive selection of rare examples. From there they branched out into every aspect of Western and Native American items.
Their son, Rob Watts, who shared their interest and accompanied them on their travels, recalled trading with the Indians at the historic Cameron Trading Post near the Grand Canyon. “A big part of this auction consists of things we never thought we would sell,” Rob commented. “However, after my mother’s death three years ago our 6,000 square foot home became too large and without Mom the fun went out of it all. She had every room decorated with a different Western theme; there was the cowboy room, and then there was the cowgirl room, while another room featured weavings, and another pottery. It was like a museum and people who came were given a grand tour and were in awe.”
One item that brought up a special memory was a set of jewelry, comprised of a bracelet, ring, and necklace, all matching from the same maker. “The turquoise was probably from the King Manassa mine. An Indian woman admired my mother’s diamond ring, so they traded the set for the diamond. Both were tickled with the trade and it became my mother’s favorite jewelry item, but she is now gone and it will be sold at the auction,” Rob said.
The sale is characterized by unusual articles that almost never come to auction. An exceedingly rare Troy or Albany, New York stagecoach is one of the finest ever made. “This coach has been looked at by the two most prestigious experts of coaches in the United States,” Eckles noted. “They have confirmed that it is in fact an original 1840s stagecoach made by either Goold in Albany or a Troy Manufacturer. This coach is in fact better built than an Abbott Downing and is ten times rarer.” It holds up to 12 people inside and three on top and is in excellent condition and all original, except for the floorboards.
A standout Sleepy Eye Flour and Cereal Products tin sign is believed to be the only one in existence. “This is the Mother of all Sleepy Eye collectibles,” Michael Eckles stated. “No one in the Sleepy Eye Collectors Club has seen one.” At 28 inches by 20 inches it’s twice the size of a highly acclaimed vignette and it’s embossed.
A highlight among the pottery is a circa 1896 Rookwood silver overlay humidor with a portrait depiction of a Native American. The 8 inch tall piece was decorated by artist Matt Daly.
While Edward H. Bohlin Parade Saddles are always high quality collectibles that command strong prices, the one offered in this sale is in a class by itself. It was personally designed by Ed Bohlin specifically for John Volz, who was a successful Midwestern businessman whose rodeo shop was an authorized Bohlin dealer that sold a considerable amount of Bohlin merchandise.
The Taxin catalog model, black floral carved, silver and gold mounted parade saddle with a rope edge has intricately engraved heavy gauge sterling silver and gold mountings that feature rodeo scenes on the corners and bears the Volz “Pine Tree Ranch” emblem. The matching bridle is decorated with gold horse heads and has a curb bit with “let ’er buck” on the cheek conchos. The saddle also has a black and white Bohlin corona and the lot is being sold with a rare photo of Ed Bohlin.
A large Apache Olla basket, circa 1915, with depictions of a one-armed squaw is one of only four known to exist. Another once in a lifetime item is a Winchester Model 1894 “Deer Slayer” rifle, made in 1913. The 25/35 gauge trapper’s model has a leather covered stock and is in excellent original condition.
The three-day auction will be held at Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds.