DENVER • For the US$2 that he spent to buy three old photographs, Mr Randy Guijarro may have hit the mother lode.
Among them was a tintype purported to be of Wild West gunslinger Billy the Kid, now valued at US$5 million (S$6.9 million).
The image measuring about 10cm by 12cm shows Henry McCarty, also known as William Bonney, playing croquet with accomplices from his New Mexico gang known as the Regulators, according to experts retained by the firm selling the artifact.
Mr Guijarro, who calls himself a US history buff, said he bought the photo at a junk shop in Fresno, California in 2010. It was not until he studied it closely that he realised he might be holding an important 19th-century historical item.
"The faces in the picture were very clear, and I thought that one of them sure looks like the Kid," Mr Guijarro said. He took the ferrotype print to Kagin's, a San Francisco firm specialising in US gold coins and Western Americana, to determine if it was genuine.
Kagin's authenticated the photograph as only the second known image of Bonney, and the only one that includes members of his gang, said Mr David McCarthy, the company's senior numismatist.
The firm is brokering the sale of the metallic image, which it has appraised and insured for US$5 million, he said.
Much of Bonney's life is steeped in myth, including reports that he killed 21 men. What is certain is that he was shot dead at age 22 by a sheriff in 1881, months after a daring jailbreak.
For decades, the only known photo of Bonney was an iconic tintype portrait of the outlaw standing outside a New Mexico saloon, gripping a Winchester carbine rifle and with a Colt pistol holstered on his hip.