The Shed needs to record the rediscovery and alleged authentication of a photo of Billy The Kid and the boys, playing croquet, not least because everyone The Shed’s age is Googling it.
For now, we only have time to borrow a bit of Peter Walker’s report in the Guardian. But we are looking for a volunteer to find out more about the authentication process, which Walker did touch on in his piece. In particular, how did they know which one was Billy?
Henry McCarty, known in Wild West lore as Billy the Kid, lived a brief and violent life, stealing and killing before his death in a gunfight aged 21. He lived with a gun in his hand – and sometimes, it seems, a croquet mallet.
In a surprising historical twist, the second photo of McCarty ever to be authenticated shows him and his posse, the Regulators, playing the sport in New Mexico in 1878.
The faded image was among a pile of photos inside a cardboard box at a junk shop in Fresno, California, unearthed by a collector in 2010. Randy Guijarro paid $2 (£1.30) for the image, which is now estimated to be worth millions of dollars. The only other confirmed photo of Billy the Kid, from 1880, sold for $2.3m (£1.5m) in 2011.
The photo was authenticated by a San Francisco-based Americana company, Kagin’s, which identified Billy the Kid along with several members of the Regulators, as well as friends and family. It was taken after a wedding in the summer of 1878, just a month after the gang took part in the brutal Lincoln County war.
When the photo was first brought to the company, its experts were “understandably sceptical”, said David McCarthy from Kagin’s. “An original Billy the Kid photo is the holy grail of Western Americana.
“We had to be certain that we could answer and verify where, when, how and why this photograph was taken. Simple resemblance is not enough in a case like this – a team of experts had to be assembled to address each and every detail in the photo to ensure that nothing was out of place.”
During the 19th century, the game in America had a somewhat different image to the genteel, cucumber-sandwich stereotype of Britain, according to a history by the United States Croquet Association: “Croquet as a public sport suffered a setback in the 1890s when the Boston clergy spoke out against the drinking, gambling and licentious behaviour associated with it.”
Thom Ross, a US artist specialising in historic scenes, has previously painted both Native Americans and cowboys playing croquet, saying this is based on extensive historical research.