Head 'em Up; Move 'em Out: Stockyard Memorabilia

Stockyard memorabilia collectors group preserves the heritage of the American stockyard.

| October 2015

  • An antique match safe for Clay, Robinson & Co.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Branding irons have long been an essential tool for the cattleman.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Original photos – like this one showing grand champion Angus cattle at the 1967 Chicago Stock Show – are eagerly sought by collectors and museums.
    Image courtesy Union Stock Yard
  • A collectible ashtray was among the auction consignments. Banks and paperweights are also popular collectibles, although novices are advised to beware of reproductions.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Elaborate letterhead from the early 1900s is popular among collectors in every category. This piece, which dates to 1912, is from Hudson & Greenameyer commission merchants, Sioux City, Iowa.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • An all-breeds fob produced for Evans, Snider & Buel Co.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • “Live stock shipped to market in this truck is insured against death and crippling,” notes this flawless porcelain sign for Hartford Fire Insurance Co.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • A newspaper article describing the record-breaking price paid for the grand champion steer at the 1957 International Live Stock Exposition, from the collection of Pete and Sue Secondino.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Relics from Chicago’s Stock Yards Inn, like these room keys, are found in many collections.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • A badge for the Clay, Robinson & Co. commission house in Fort Worth, Texas. Stockyard employees – yardhands, feed and hay inspectors, horse inspectors and police – also wore badges identifying their function.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • The next generation of Stockyard Collectors (left to right): Tieler Salmons, St. Joseph, Mo.; Breanna Kozlowski and Arianna Kozlowski, Elgin, Ill. This personable trio visited with collectors and made deals on memorabilia during the spring conference. “They know the prices,” says Mitch McKay, uncle of the Kozlowski sisters. “And whatever they make goes to their college fund.”
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • A selection of stockyards pins and badges.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Postcard of Union Stock Yards, Chicago, Illinois, circa 1901-1907.
    Image courtesy Union Stock Yard
  • A poster for the 1941 International Live Stock Exposition, long an institution at the Union Stock Yard.
    Image courtesy Union Stock Yard
  • The illustration on this 1936 calendar shows a toddler enraged by a milk-poaching hog. The calendar was produced for the Frank E. Scott Commission Co., Sioux City, Iowa.
    Image courtesy the Frank E. Scott Commission Co., Sioux City, Iowa
  • A pair of collectible watch fobs.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus

The legendary Union Stock Yard & Transit Co. of Chicago closed more than four decades ago, but that’s done little to dampen enthusiasm for stockyard memorabilia. If anything, passion for relics of the stockyard’s glory days is on the upswing, a fact demonstrated at the annual conference of the Stockyard Collectors Club held in Davenport, Iowa, in June.

A crowd of about 200 attended the weekend conference, which included memorabilia displays and an auction. “People age out,” says club president Mitch McKay, “but the group has perpetuated itself.”

Nostalgia fuels that continuing interest. “A lot of our members had relatives who worked at stockyards or they were truckers,” he says. “For others, it brings back memories of their parents’ trips to the stockyards.” Among the group’s new members this year, each once showed cattle at the Union Stock Yard’s annual International Live Stock Exposition and Horse Show before that event was discontinued in 1976.

For the cattleman, selling cattle was a momentous event. “In the cattle business, you got paid once a year,” Mitch says. “You’d go to Chicago, stay in a nice hotel near the stockyard, buy some new clothes and have a big dinner out.” Stockyard memorabilia, he says, takes people back in time. “It’s a link to a way of life that is gone,” he says.



Preserving an American tradition

Now in its 16th year, the Stockyard Collectors acts as an umbrella group for people nostalgic for the old days of the livestock industry. Launched in 1999 with a barbecue on the steps of the Peoria Stockyard Exchange, the organization has grown to encompass those with a fondness for the Union Stock Yard, International Live Stock Exposition and smaller stockyards across the Midwest.

Members, who gather annually for a two-day conference, collect everything from pins to trophies, bullet pencils to watch fobs, photos to ephemera. The memorabilia auction is a particular highlight. Members use the auction to thin out duplicates and acquire new treasures. Buyers sometimes include museums, particularly those looking for vintage photographs. This year’s auction of 110 items netted nearly $12,000, a near-record figure for the event.