Jesses James Gang and the Northfield, Minnesota Bank Robbery 1876

In 1876, Jesse James and the Younger Brothers, along with their gang, attempted to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota.  The robbery was a failure, but Jesse James and his brother Frank got away.  The Younger Brothers were shot and captured, Clell Miller, Charlie Pitts and Bill Chadwell were shot and killed.

We had a client who mentioned that she had some old photos that her relatives found in the attic of a hotel they bought years back in Northfield, Minnesota.  She and her husband would show them to friends over the years, but had no idea who the people in the photos were.  Some of the photos showed the three who were killed, propped up as if alive, but with dried blood that had seeped from the bullet holes.  She asked me if I was interested in looking at them.

Boy was I!  It didn’t take long to figure out that what she had was a piece of history!  The question was, were these photos real, or reproductions.

There was one photo that showed the bank itself.  This one was in the worst condition, but on the back was the photographer’s name stamped – Summer Studio.  This was an original photo – the real deal!  The other photos had the name “Sumner & Son, Northfield, Minn” embossed on the cards.   This meant that these cards were produced when Sumner’s son had joined his business – but they were still the real McCoy.

So now I had some research to do – I needed to find out what these photos were worth.  After some digging, I found out that a few years back, Swann Galleries in New York had auctioned off some photos from this famed failed bank robbery and they brought in about $36,000!  I contacted the gallery hoping that we had discovered a similar treasure.  They were very helpful, but it seems that along with the photos,  they a letter in Bob Younger’s own handwriting, detailing each photo.  Without such an original document, they told me I still had a great find, but that the value was less than they were interested in working with.  They did provide me with a number of smaller auction houses that specialized in photography and we ended up making an arrangement with one of them.  We worked with this company to determine the starting bids and how to structure the auction for these photos.  We decided to auction each photo individually instead of as a lot to get a higher return.  Our work paid off!  These photos brought in $8,000 at auction and our client was thrilled!  What made this auction more exciting was that the bid activity was so active, it seemed that we were watching the auction on a slot machine, as bid after bid kept raising the price of each picture.  A great job, a lot of fun and a macabre look back in time to the wild, wild West!

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Published in: on May 19, 2010 at 7:48 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What a great ebay trading assistant story. And as a retired photographer & collector of antique images all I can say is what a great find! Lucky the consignor found you so they can realize their full value as well! Great job, I can see why you are one of the best of us TA’s, Michael

  2. My Grandfather had a photograph made at the Sumner Studio. The photograph, in on a piece of cardboard, with the Sumner name, w/ Northfield, Minnesota, on it. His date of birth was 1875, and DOD was 1945.

  3. i believe I have found a tintype of James Younger as a young man. I have not located the same photo on the internet. He is a dead ringer for Younger and is wearing the same exact outfit with wescott and bow tie as other photos of him I have seen. I believe it is one of a kind. What do you estimate its worth to be if it is authentic?


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