HESPERIA • Legendary for being the only man to come out of the 1881 gunfight at O.K. Corral unscathed, Wild West lawman Wyatt Earp also had a softer side — if a set of photographs found at a local antiques shop is anything to go by.
Brothers Keith and Brian Collins picked up the leather-bound album of two dozen antique tintypes and carte de visite photographs for $50 in June at Carriage House Antiques on Hesperia Road.
According to the Collins brothers, the album contains photos of Earp as a child, a teenager and a young adult, as well as pictures of his mother and two of his three wives, as well as a picture of fellow gunslinger Calamity Jane.
The brothers have invited experts to examine the images. If authenticated, the album could contain the only photos of a young Earp, since no photos of him before his 20s were known to have existed.
"Old photographs are something we know that people look for and collect," said Bunny Lynn Mariano, the owner of Carriage House Antiques. "It was an album of the tin pictures. So that was something that was, not rare, but something you don't find every day."
Carriage House Antiques sells goods on behalf of 41 smaller vendors, one of whom apparently purchased the photo album at an estate sale. But no one at the antique store knew they had something special on their hands, Mariano said.
"Unless you are a historian and that's kind of your deal, they almost all kind of look alike," Mariano said.
The Collins brothers have said the album could be worth up to $1 million, although they intend to keep the album and lease the rights to the photos instead of selling them. But if that figure sticks, it looks to be the most valuable treasure purchased at the Hesperia store since it opened in 2009.
"We split up to look for pictures in the store," said Brian Collins, 40, of Victorville. "We always do that."
Antiques are now the Collins brothers' full-time job. They specialize in antique photographs, combing yard sales, estate sales and antique shops looking for treasures.
This isn't the first time the brothers have turned up Old West memorabilia in the Victor Valley. In May, they turned up a letter from a miner who moved from Tombstone, Ariz., to Calico, following the lure of silver. The letter was in a box of memorabilia they purchased for $25 at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds in Victorville.
It's uncertain how the Earp album came to be in Hesperia, although the lawman's sister lived in Highland at the time of his death. Earp lived in the Arlington Heights area and died of kidney failure at 81 in 1929.
Earp's dad was also great uncle to the father of Cliff Earp, a longtime Apple Valley resident.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com.