Gold, Silver and More: Western History at Atlantis Auction Saturday

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RENO, NV - Historic items ranging from gold ingots to branding irons are up for auction Saturday at the Atlantis.

It's an eclectic offering.

In addition to the aforementioned, there are melodrama posters, stock certificates, mining gear, period advertising and yes, once again lots of gold and silver.

Taken as a whole they represent an impressive sampling of our history.
And tomorrow, serious collectors will spend thousands to own some of it.

"We see a resurgence in collectables that are dealing with our American history," says Fred Holabird of Holabird-Kagin Americana, "particularly our Western history. People love it and they want to own it."

Holabird says it's hard to say which item might bring the most, but suffice to say only serious bidders need apply.

Take, for instance, an unpressive looking silver dollar being offered. Numismatists will recoginize it as the 1838 Goldbrecht dollar, one of three known to exist.

It's apparently drawing a lot of interest. A collector may pay as much as $60 to 80 thousand or more.

Then there's a large Alaskan gold nugget which may bring as much as $75 thousand. It's companion piece from the same source, a gold nugget necklace, $20 to $25 thousand.

Many of the pieces have a story to tell. A small women's pocket watch for instance. It was owned by Eilley Orum Bowers, wife of Comstock miner Sandy Bowers,

They were among the earliest to hit it rich on the Comstock and built the Washoe Valley mansion that bears their name.

By the turn of the century, however, Sandy Bowers was long dead. His wife destitute, selling the watch to a Reno jeweler.

"Rags to riches and back to rags," says Holabird. "An all-to-common story, I'm sorry to say for the early mining community."

It's not recorded how much the watch brought back then, but someone will likely pay $10 to 15 thousand dollars for this piece of Nevada history.

Most of the items are destined for private collections. Some, like collection of letters and photos chronicling the early history of the California mining camp of Murphys, are literally priceless. One hopes it eventually ends up at a museum or library.

Ironically, in the midst of the rare coins, gold nuggets and ingots, there's one item which at the time was literally not even worth it's face value.

Joshua Norton, lost his fortune and his grip on reality in a business deal, proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.

All of San Francisco, it seems, bought into the joke, giving Emporer Norton I, due respect and pretty much a free ride during his life.

No freeloader, he issued his own currency. In the years since, it's gained in value. This 50 cent note signed by his majesty himself, could bring as much as $30 thousand dollars.