‘Pawn Stars’: How Rick Harrison Thought He Once Came Across ‘Holy Grail’ of Cowboy Items at the Shop

by John Jamison

There’s a reason “Pawn Stars” found a home on the History Channel. Occasionally, folks bring some genuinely special items through the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. On a 2012 episode, a collector brought an original tintype of the infamous outlaw Jesse James for Rick Harrison and the crew to appreciate. Or did he?

Jesse James is widely recognized as one of the leading figures of the outlaw world in post-Civil War era America. A former Confederate guerilla, Jesse and his brother Frank recruited eight men and began a criminal enterprise that would echo through the ages. They held up trains, stagecoaches and robbed banks. According to Brittanica, the actions of Jesse James and his gang of outlaws were held up by writers as Robin Hood-esque. Though, now it is widely believed that their crimes were primarily self-serving.

Regardless, Jesse James is a significant figure in American history, and his memorabilia is highly sought after. So when a collector appeared on “Pawn Stars” with tintype photographs depicting James and his brother, Rick paid attention.

“This is like the holy grail of cowboy stuff. It really is. But the fact of the matter is you’re going to have a hard time proving these are photographs of them. Period,” said Rick. “There are almost no known photos of the James Gang. I mean, if they’re legit photographs of Frank and Jesse, it’s serious money. It’s tens of thousands of dollars.”

Rick Brings In the Big Guns

With this kind of money on the line, the “Pawn Stars” boss wasted no time in calling in his trusted expert. Mark, an administrator at the Clark County Museum, has appeared countless times on the show over the years.

“When you look at a historic image, what you have to look for is where it doesn’t fit known images, not where it does. What I would look at it with these images is the shape of the nose, the shape of the eyebrows. That doesn’t change through life,” said Mark.

So Mark inspected the apparent five-figure photographs. He quickly determined that the collection of pictures all came from roughly the same time period—a good sign. It wasn’t all good news, however.

“This would be a very unusual grouping because of when they were alive, when they died. There are some similarities, but the nose is not right.”

Mark’s conclusion? Jesse James and his gang weren’t the subjects of these particular pictures. Not very good news for someone who was asking $60,000 for the collection. Not to be deterred, the collector continued to insist that the pictures were genuine. To be fair, they may be. But the “Pawn Stars” crew aren’t going to be making an offer on them anytime soon.