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AUCTION 22

 

Large-Format Autographed Photograph of Annie Oakley

An Exceptionally Beautiful Image of a Genuine American Folk Heroine


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466.     [PHOTOGRAPHY]. [OAKLEY, ANNIE (sitter)]. PERCIVAL, Anthony (photographer). Bust portrait of Annie Oakley facing right in profile, long, thick, wavy hair flowing, wearing a wide felt hat with a single jeweled star pin on upturned brim, earrings, and simple dress, chest adorned with a plethora of shooting medals. Gelatin silver print mounted on card with gilt edges and photographer’s imprint in gilt below image: Percival Copyright 88. Edgware Rd.W. Image: 29.4 x 18.2 cm; card: 32.6 x 18.8 cm. Inscription in ink below image “Compliments of Annie Oakley Strassburg, April 18th, 1891.” Inscription in ink on verso in an unidentified hand: “Annie Oakley—crack shot of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West 1891 3rd European tour—From the collection of Nate Salsbury, owner & manager of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West—Given by the family of Nate Salsbury in 1938.” N.p., n.d. [London, ca. 1890]. Surface of photograph slightly abraded, card mount lightly foxed below image and on verso, tape stain on verso, otherwise very fine. A rare, unusually beautiful portrait with a wonderful provenance, apparently unpublished.

     Annie Oakley (1860-1926), sharpshooter and Wild West performer, known in her later years as “The Girl of the Western Plains,” was born Phoebe Ann Moses near Woodland (now Willowdale), Ohio, and endured an impoverished childhood as one of a fatherless family of seven children. As a teenage girl, Oakley developed her marksmanship through hunting small game, which directly led her into a life of professional shooting. Bobby Bridger comments in Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull: Inventing the Wild West (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002, pp. 310-311):

To help feed the family, Annie took her late father’s old black-powder 16-bore rifle and started hunting small game for extra food. Soon she was feeding the family regularly on squirrels, rabbits and quail. Because of the need to bring home game as economically as possible, Annie learned to make every shot count. As she was also preparing, cooking, and eating the game she was shooting, she learned to aim for the head so as to leave the meat of the animal’s body unspoiled. Soon Annie became so expert at shooting squirrels in the eye that she started selling her surplus harvest to a Cincinnati hotel owner named Jack Frost. Frost became curious about the fifteen-year-old girl who was bringing all these perfectly slain squirrels to his hotel kitchen. When Annie came to Cincinnati to visit her older sister, Frost arranged for a meeting in which he proposed a shooting match between Annie and a well-known professional marksman named Frank Butler. Annie agreed and a match was set for Thanksgiving Day, 1875….

The contest between Frank Butler and Annie Oakley was an old-fashioned pigeon-shoot with each contestant shooting twenty-five live birds. The match was a virtual tie throughout the contest, ending with Annie killing the winning bird. Annie won more than the match, however; she won Frank Butler’s heart. A year later they were married, a union which lasted until the devoted couple died within twenty days of one another in 1926.

     Oakley (who probably took her stage name from a neighborhood of Cincinnati) and Butler soon began working as a touring team, and were hired by Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West troupe in 1884. She remained with the troupe for sixteen years and gained great popularity with her trick riding, shooting, and appealing persona. Less than five feet tall and weighing under a hundred pounds, she customarily followed the Grand Entry wearing a wide felt hat, fringed skirt, and embroidered blouse. Notable American Women describes her act (Vol. II, p. 645):

Her performance began on foot, as she ran into the ring, picked up her gun, and shattered glass balls in mid-air. Mounting a spotted pony, she snatched a pistol from the ground and smashed targets thrown by a cowboy rider. She stood on her galloping horse and shot the flames from a revolving wheel of candles. One of her acts was to flip a playing card into the air and perforate it with bullets as it fell; thus any repeatedly punched ticket became popularly known as an “Annie Oakley.” Graceful, feminine, and soft-spoken offstage, she did needlework in her show tent between performances. She was popular with the Indians and cowboys of the outfit…. The Indian chief Sitting Bull, who joined the show in 1885, gave her a Sioux name meaning “Little Sure Shot” and regarded her as an adopted daughter. She was likewise a favorite of Nate Salsbury, Buffalo Bill’s astute business partner.

     In an early experimental motion picture, Thomas Edison filmed Oakley in 1894. She survived dangerous feats of riding and shooting, but her career in the arena spiraled downward due to modern transportation, after she sustained severe injuries in a train wreck with the Wild West show at Danville, Virginia, in 1901. Afterwards she worked on the stage, gave lessons in trapshooting, and toured World War I Army camps demonstrating sharp shooting. A motor accident in Florida in 1922 left her partially paralyzed, after which she returned to her native Ohio. After her death, her husband quit eating and died eighteen days later.

     Ironically, this iconic lady of the Wild West was never really part of the reality of the West, but she was the most vivid of her gender in the West of the imagination. During an era in which women were not allowed to vote, petite Annie Oakley, who was able to outshoot almost any man, came riding up in buckskin with six-shooters blazing and captured the imagination of Victorian America and the crowned heads of Europe and England. She excelled at a man’s sport, never losing her feminine appeal, and served as a unique role model for her gender. An idea of the worshipful status she inspired may be found in Will Rogers’ introduction to C.R. Cooper’s Annie Oakley: Woman at Arms… (New York: Duffield, 1927), in which Rogers declares that he “had heard cowboys who traveled with the Buffalo Bill Show speak of her in almost reverence…. [She was] just about the most perfect thing you ever saw beside your own Mother.”

     Larry McMurtry has called Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley “in my opinion, the first American superstars…. Annie Oakley, in the days just before the movies took off, was as popular as any actress” (The Colonel and Little Missie: Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and the Beginnings of Superstardom in America. New York, London, Toronto, and Sydney: Simon and Schuster, 2005, p. 5).

     The present photograph, signed in Strassburg in 1891, was taken during her four-year tour with Buffalo Bill to Europe, where they played France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and England, under the management of Nate Salsbury (1846-1902), former owner of the present print and owner-manager of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show from the early 1880s through his death in 1902. Salsbury was a Union Civil War veteran who became “America’s most popular comic song and dance man” (Bridger, p. 301) before his association with Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley.

 

     English photographer and miniature painter Anthony Percival (b. 22 Jan, 1870) is shown at the Edgware Road address printed on this card in the Merchant Taylors’ School Register, 1871-1900 (p. 177), published in 1907. Percival appears to have been an alumnus of that school. On p. 76 of the 1902 Play-Pictorial: An Illustrated Monthly Journal (Vol. I, No. 2) is an ad for Percival, wherein his specialty is stated to be children’s portraiture and his studio is touted as “the most handsomely furnished and completely equipped studio in London.”

($10,000-20,000)

Sold. Hammer: $11,000.00; Price Realized: $13,200.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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