Dear Al: I'm a researcher and investigator. Although the book probably makes my opinion pretty clear, I wasn't out to pass judgment. My mission was to pile up the facts and expert opinions so the reader can make an informed decision. I think you'll find enough information in the book, both historical and technical, to make up your own mind.
Dear Mr. Elvin: I've seen where there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of these images that have sold for very high prices over the Internet. What are those buyers going to do if that's not Josie? Lauri R., Little Rock, AR.
Dear Lauri: Well, that's a question that launched me on six months of digging into this mystery. I guess you might say the answer is between the buyer and their God; this is a case of possible misrepresentation rather than outright fraud. Auction lore is rich with stories of sellers sticking it to buyers and more of those stories are being created every day. At least potential buyers who read this book can make an informed decision.
Dec. 26, 2007: Just noticed on eBay you can buy a reprint of the Josie/Kaloma photo for about $20 ... http://cgi.ebay.com/Vintage-B-W-Kaloma-Wyatt-Earps-Wife-Josie-4-x-10_W0QQitemZ260187321347QQihZ016QQcategoryZ1507QQcmdZViewItem
New Book Probes Photo Mystery:
Is This Wyatt Earp’s Wife, Josie?
A new book, “Kaloma: The Josie Earp Mystery Photo,” by investigative reporter and antiques researcher W.J. Elvin III, probes the authenticity of a controversial vintage photo identified as legendary lawman Wyatt Earp’s third wife, Josie. While buyers treat the photo as a valuable rarity, experts interviewed in the book charge that the Josie Earp attribution is bogus.
“I went digging for the truth about a quirky mystery that sparked a storm of arguments among western history buffs. In the process I discovered that collectors who buy via the Internet face perils and pitfalls unknown in the past,” Elvin said.
The pin-up style portrait has reportedly sold for as much as $4,500 and often appears in auction sites offered for hundreds. “Those who have bought the photo are not going to be heartened by my findings,” Elvin said. “It’s very possible that their hundreds or thousands of dollars bought a photo worth twenty-five dollars -- if it’s in a twenty dollar frame.”
“Kaloma” includes extensive exclusive comments from experts in historical, technical and commercial aspects of vintage photography. “I interviewed insiders,” Elvin said, “so the reader isn’t just wading through a rehash of twice-told tales.”
A rare photo of Josie from her Tombstone days, a portrait by noted western photographer C.S. Fly, appears in a “Photo Gallery” section of the book. Experts who question the authenticity of the “Kaloma” photo agree that the Fly portrait is genuine.
The book sheds new documentary light on the uproar surrounding Glenn Boyer, author of “I Married Wyatt Earp.” Having vowed never again to discuss the issue, Boyer ultimately answered many questions posed by the author. Scholars, history buffs and Wyatt Earp fans, as well as those intrigued by tales of controversies in the antiques field, will find much to ponder in “Kaloma.”
“Investors in vintage photography who want to avoid costly mistakes should read this before they spend another penny on their collections,” Elvin added. It explores the fundamentals and spotlights the traps of the field -- such as the distinguishing characteristics of fake and genuine photos. A detailed directory of resources is included for those wishing to learn more about vintage photos as well as the Boyer controversy.
A nationally known investigative reporter and columnist, Elvin edited several popular publications in the antiques field. He is author of hundreds of feature articles and now researches and writes about antiques, antiquities and collectibles as investments, focusing on fraud and misrepresentation. Among Internet sites he maintains is antiquetreasures.blogspot.com.
The privately-published 138-page paperback is available from Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/content/804307 for $14.95 plus shipping. Credentialed reviewers may request a pdf version from firstname.lastname@example.org.
"No rumor. That's Josie."
For a slightly different take on the matter, see the Old West blog.
The author has this to say: "Most people will tell you that the picture shown here is that of Wyatt Earp's wife Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp. Why is it that we believe this? Well it all started with a lie and has grown to the point that the movies Tombstone and Wyatt Earp virtually made it a fact."
Maine Antique Digest reports on a recent sale by Classique Erotique Auctions, Phoenix, Arizona: "A great deal of interest was shown in a 20th-century American school 1914 vintage hand-tinted silver print titled Kaloma, sometimes believed to depict Wyatt Earp's wife. The 12" x 5" print, blind-stamped in the lower margin "Copyright 1914 - P.N. CO. Pastime Novelty Co.," sold for $3300, (est. $2500/ 3500).
'There always has been a lot of hype surrounding this image," gallery director Amanda Collins said, "but it pretty much has been proven that she is not Wyatt Earp's wife. Nonetheless, there was great interest in it.'"
As this is written an eBay auction of the same print has 15 bids for the same print, with the high bid at $115.
Writers who deal with historical figures fall into two general camps. The first and most common are those who enjoy a good story about their subject, especially a racy one, and don’t hesitate to embellish here and there. (These are the “If it didn’t happen that way, it should have” school.)
Then there are those who use a scientific approach, who only draw conclusions from hard evidence and provable facts. W.J. Elvin is solidly in the latter group. A career journalist on the Washington political beat, Mr. Elvin has a well-developed instinct for spotting con men and their agendas.
He has written a double purpose book here. He tells the story of a semi-famous photo of a young woman in what was called the “vamp” style, made popular in the early years of the last century, and claimed by some to be Josephine Marcus Earp, third and last wife of Wyatt Earp. Then he takes us down the twisted trail of the picture’s history, introducing us to a number of fascinating characters, including two who deserve books of their own - - Earp “experts” and collectors John D. Gilchriese and Glenn Boyer. Meeting Mr. Boyer alone is worth the price of this book.
Kaloma (the title refers to the original “name” of the picture) leaves no doubt where Mr. Elvin stands on the questionable authenticity of the photo, but he also provides a valuable guide through the murky swamp that is Western memorabilia. Anyone interested in collecting historical material, and Western documents in particular should not only read but memorize Mr. Elvin’s advice.