Old West and old Cowboy collectibles are hot properties, these days. You can turn a handsome profit if you find a good vintage or antique Stetson hat, Tony Lama python boots, or old metal cowboy belt buckles in brass or silver. Original Tom Mix and Buffalo Bill posters also bring the big bucks.
One of the vintage and antique collectibles categories that still draws a crowd of willing buyers is the Old West - especially Cowboy Collectibles from the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s.
These days, popular antique and vintage Western memorabilia include Stetson Cowboy hats in very good condition ($180-$250 and up, see photo), Cowboy & Rodeo metal belt buckles ($45 - $165+), boots (vintage Tony Lamas - anywhere from $15 to $400+, depending on leather hide) and Old West paper items, like postcards and photographs($10 to $50+). Impressive and expensive items are old Western handcuffs ($565), Marshal badges ($100+) and, rare items like Buffalo Bill theater and Tom Mix movie posters from the late 1800s - 1940s ($300 to many thousands).
If you come from a Western state, say Colorado where I was born, and some of your relatives were cowboys (like my Great Great Uncle, the Sheriff of Cody, Wyoming), you may have a glancing familiarity with Old West memorabilia. You may also own some items that have been passed down to you (like my 1907 cowboy postcards). Familiarity with Old West and Cowboy items will allow you to judge the authenticity of a bolo tie, a turquoise belt buckle, old whiskey bottles, signs, and all other forms of memorabilia, now popular and now selling.
If you aren't familiar, a guide book, like Cowboy Collectibles and Western Memorabilia, will offer you lots of photos and details about items you might want to sell now, buy for re-sale, or even, collect.
Here are the collectibles that are currently selling for good prices, online at auction: Stetson Hats, Tony Lama Boots, Chaps, Gauntlets and Cuffs, Belts and Belt Buckles, Gun Rigs, Pistols, Rifles, knives, branding irons, saddles (including stirrups, lariats and saddle bags), spurs, leather goods, and tokens (especially those used at houses of pleasure). Equally coveted Old West collectibles include fancy pocket watches and original theater and movie posters(some for circuses), mentioned above. Antique photographs, including tin types, sell fairly easily these days. Most value is attached to autographed photos,such as by Buffalo Bill (William Cody).
Another area in this category, outside of my expertise, are paintings and sculpture by Charles Russell and other artists who specialized in capturing the West on canvas and in bronze. If you are lucky enough to own some of Russell's authentic works, you already possess a large investment - increasing nicely in the auction market, even these days.
As far as books go, not many about Cowboys are that highly valued these days - Antique and 1900s stories about cowboys, even the famous celebrities, like Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey, do not bring the prices they brought a decade ago. I am not a buyer of books in this category unless the book is either antique about a specific location or military action or heavily illustrated with real photographs. Beware of purchasing an old western cowboy book, especially Zane Grey books, as so many were published, only the very earliest in his series, have value. (I am currently selling some 1950's Zane Grey book advertising flyers; vintage advertising flyers are often worth more than the books they promote).
If you are at a flea market or a swap meet or even an estate sale, carefully examine any antique or vintage-related cowboy or old West item. Many items have been copied - and even purposefully rusted and aged. One good way to authenticate an item is to test its weight (reproductions are generally light weights) and look for markings; condition is always important. If the item seems new and shiny, pass. If you get stung by buying a reproduction, do not fret. Even collectors on Antiques Roadshow have been fooled into buying antique Remington guns that were either copies or re-tooled.
Old Western memorabilia is a highly sought-after category, but it's also a category where copies and reproductions often are more readily available than the real thing.
So buyer, be wary.