Annie Oakley coin is shooting star

A coin that Annie Oakely, the  female sharpshooter who starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, shot as part of her act is set to sell at Bonhams in May.

Oakely was an extraordinary woman whose skill captivated audiences on both side of the Atlantic, garnering her a reputation as ‘the greatest rifle and wing shot in the world’. Part of her popular act involved a coin being thrown up into the air, which she would shoot before it hit the ground. The coin would then be stamped ‘OAKLEY’ and handed out to a member of the applauding crowd. One of these rare souvenirs is amongst the highlights of Bonhams’ Antique Arms and Armour Including The Ray Wilkinson Collection on May 24 in London.

The Oakley coin has an estimate of £500 – 800.

David Williams, Bonhams’ Director of Arms and Armour, commented: “The story of Annie Oakley is truly extraordinary, and this coin is a real piece of shooting history. We are delighted to offer it in the sale alongside the exceptional Ray Wilkinson Collection, featuring an impressive collection of rare guns.”

Annie Oakley (1860-1926) was born into a poor family in Ohio in 1860. She gained a reputation for her gun skills from a young age, having achieved local fame for the cleanness of her kill in local turkey shoots. In 1881, her reputation led her to take part in a match against Frank Butler, one of a number of itinerant sharpshooters who travelled the United States. The bet was $100, a sizeable sum at the time. Frank was astonished by the appearance of a ‘little slim girl in short dresses’ becoming his challenger, and even more astonished when Annie won 23 to 21. Nevertheless, a romance developed between the pair, which was to last a lifetime. They married and Frank Butler became Annie’s manager, with their early married life being spent as travelling performers. In 1884, Annie appeared before Sitting Bull, victor of the Battle of Little Big Horn, who nicknamed her ‘Little Sure Shot’ in tribute to her marvellous shooting abilities.

The show that garnered her greatest acclaim was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. At one time she shattered a record 4,772 out of 5,000 glass balls, a feat so impressive that some thought the glass balls must be filled with an explosive that would detonate when she fired. In 1887, the Wild West Show sailed for London for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Opening at Earl’s Court, the show generating tremendous public enthusiasm and special performances were commanded by Prime Minister, Gladstone; by Edward, Prince of Wales, and finally by Queen Victoria herself.

In 1899 in the year of the Paris Universal Exposition, she appeared before the French President and assembled grandees. The Show moved on, for a three year tour of Europe, calling at Dresden, Venice, Rome, Vienna, Barcelona and Munich, where Annie saved Prince Luitpold of Bavaria from an enraged bronco called ‘Dynamite’ knocking him to the ground inches from disaster. A second tour of Europe opened in 1891, during which Annie shot the ashes off a cigarette placed in Crown Prince Wilhelm’s mouth. He was later to become Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Other highlights of the sale include:

  • A Rare German Composite ‘Maximilian’ Full Armour. Circa 1520 and later. Estimate: £60,000-£80,000.
  • A Very Rare Cased Pair Of 22-Bore Flintlock Single-Trigger Over-And-Under Pistols by John Manton, London, Nos. 4205 And 4206 For 1804. Estimate: £18,000-£22,000.
  • An Extremely Rare 33-Bore Flintlock Breech-Loading Repeating Magazine Pistol On The Lorenzoni Principle, by H.W. Mortimer, London, Gun-Maker To His Majesty, Circa 1790. Estimate: £15,000-£18,000. From The Ray Wilkinson Collection.
  • A Cased Pair Of 40-Bore Flintlock Duelling Pistols by Joseph Manton, London, No. 6090 For 1813. Estimate: £12,000-£15,000. From The Ray Wilkinson Collection.
  • An Exceptional Pair Of 15-Bore Breech-Loading Superimposed-Load Flintlock Belt Pistols by Robert Sharpe, London, Circa 1700. Estimate: £12,000-£15,000. From The Ray Wilkinson Collection.
  • A Very Rare Spanish Gothic Casket. Late 15th/Early 16th Century. Estimate: £6,000-£8,000.