Round-Up of Stockyard Collectibles

Collectors big on stockyards memorabilia, including magazines, medals and buttons


| December 2000



An 1891 calendar from the Clay Robinson & Co. Livestock Commission Company

An 1891 calendar from the Clay Robinson & Co. Livestock Commission Company. Pieces such as these are highly sought by collectors of stockyard memorabilia. "It's really kind of exploded," says Mitchell McKay, owner of this piece. "At an auction last week, I expected one or two bidders on a couple of the items there, but there were five."

For many decades after the late 1800s, stockyards – from smaller ones to huge central terminals, drew livestock from hundreds of miles. Cattle, hogs and sheep were sometimes driven on foot, but more often loaded on rail cars and later brought by trucks.

As an example, the large Omaha stockyards, recently razed, received livestock from at least seven states. The yards had their own rail line, and the pens stretched for many city blocks. Today, there's growing interest in stockyards collectibles, many of them issued by commission firms and other advertisers. A collector's club and newsletter promote that interest, specializing in stockyards and Western memorabilia. "Things like bullet pencils (pull-apart models that look like cartridges) are getting pretty scarce, but they can still be found," says Vernie McCoy, a former buyer at the Omaha stockyards. Other collectibles include medals, medallions and knives. Collector Jack Preston, Lyman, Neb., says he especially likes paper stockyards collectibles such as calendars, seller's ledgers and newspaper advertisements and photos. Jack's interest is rooted in family ties: his grandparents shipped cattle to the Omaha market. He tracks the vintage pieces with state-of-the-art technology.

"I keep my collectibles indexed by commission company on a laptop computer I carry with me on buying trips," Jack says. "I especially value a jigsaw puzzle owned by my grandmother that was issued by the Bowles Livestock Commission Co." He also has letterhead stationary, advertising cards, a clothes brush, sales tickets and a paper ax.

Ed Czerwien, who heads the St. Joseph (Mo.) Stockyards, says bound copies of the Stockyards Journal are valuable enough to be kept in a locked vault. Some editions are more than 100 years old, detailing stockyards activities and those of large packers such as Swift and Armour.

Gene Salmans, a hog buyer at the St. Joseph yards, is surrounded in his office by old lard cans and tins, many rare and valuable.

"We're seeing more interest in stockyards collectibles all the time," Gene says.