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    Virgil Earp: His Iconic Tombstone Badge. Few Tombstone artifacts could be more evocative than this scroll badge, undoubtedly worn at the Gunfight at O.K. Corral. His official title at the time was "Chief of Police" for the town, and this is engraved on a stippled background. His brother Wyatt Earp wore a similar-shaped badge as a Dodge City lawman. Its whereabouts are today unknown, but the unmistakable form is clearly visible on his white shirt in a famous Dodge City photo showing Wyatt with Bat Masterson.

    The Virgil Earp badge is clearly a one-of-a-kind, hand-fashioned badge, and it seems reasonable to suppose that when Virgil became a peace officer in Tombstone that he either had a badge made in the style of Wyatt's or Wyatt had it made for him. While some have speculated that Virgil's badge was the same one worn by Wyatt, this cannot be the case. Wyatt never had the title "Chief of Police," and Virgil's badge has a five-point star suspended from it, clearly as made. No such star is seen on the badge Wyatt wears in the photo.

    Following the gunfight, the Clanton-McLaury faction launched a campaign of revenge against the Earps which ultimately drove the family out of Tombstone. Brother Morgan was murdered, and Virgil was maimed by a shotgun blast which caused the permanent loss of the use of his left arm. Virgil then moved to his family's home town, Colton, California, where he spent two years, much of the time living in his parents' home, recovering from his wounds.

    Despite his handicap, Virgil was hired as a guard for the Southern Pacific Railroad and in 1884 opened a private detective agency. In 1886 he was elected Colton's village constable, and when the city was incorporated in 1887 became its first town marshal. Upon his election as constable Earp had his Tombstone badge, to which he undoubtedly had quite an attachment, reversed and engraved "Constable." A T-bar pin was attached over the words "Chief of Police" on what now became the reverse side of the badge.

    The provenance of the badge is impressive and iron clad. It was sold to the consignor in 1991 by respected Western collector and dealer Greg Martin (the badge is accompanied by a photocopy of Mr. Martin's hand-written bill of sale. Unfortunately due to circumstances, the owner's records are somewhat in disarray. For the moment, the original bill of sale is missing, but will be forwarded to the purchaser should it turn up. Similarly missing for the moment is a letter from legendary Tombstone historian and collector John Gilchriese, from whom Martin had obtained the badge, stating that he (Gilchriese) had acquired it directly front the family of Virgil's wife Allie, who survived until 1947, dying at the age of 98).

    Fortunately the Allie Earp provenance is confirmed by no less an authority than respected author and lawman badge expert John Boessenecker. In a letter to Heritage, which accompanies this lot, Boessenecker states that he was shown the badge in 1988 by Greg Martin, who told him he had obtained it from Gilchriese, who had in turn got it from Allie's family. In his letter Bossenecker-author of several book of the history of the West, writes the following:

    "As far as I know this is the only authentic law badge belonging to any of the Earp brothers. In my opinion it is one of the rarest American law-enforcement badges in existence and ranks in rarity with Pat Garrett's gold badge...."

    Also accompanying this lot are a 2009 letter from the proprietor of the Tombstone Western Heritage Museum relating what he knew about the badge's history (including the information that it was at one point displayed in the Gene Autry Museum in Pasadena, California) and a letter of authentication, undated but presumable circa 1990-1991, from Western authority R. L. Wilson. In his letter Wilson independently confirms the existence of the now-mislaid letter of provenance from Gilchrease.

    For the advanced collector of lawmen badges, there can be no more important or prestigious acquisition. For the Tombstone collector, the significance and appeal of this badge exceeds even that of the Pima County Bank book sold by Heritage in 2014 for $68,750 (and consigned, incidentally, by the same collector as the Virgil Earp badge). This badge has been off the market for 26 years, and its offering may well constitute a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to acquire one of the greatest surviving relics of the Old West!

    The silver badge, 2.125" in diameter, is in excellent condition and retains its original patina of age.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2017
    13th Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 0
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 4,539

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