A photo of the infamous outlaw Jesse James that was bought by an eBay shopper for $10 could be worth as much as $2 million.
Brit Justin Whiting has been collecting old photos via eBay for several years, and when he bought this one showing a man in a suit, he had no idea it was of Jesse James.
The eBay listing said simply: “Victorian tintype photo young man in dark suit standing by chair.” Such “tintype” images were made by applying chemicals to a thin metal sheet and were popular in the mid-19th century.
Whiting added the 3.5-inch by 2.5-inch photo to his collection last year and forgot about it until recently, when he decided to go through his photos to see if any of them had any special significance.
A long-standing interest in the Wild West prompted him to take a closer look at this particular image, which he later learned was taken in the early 1860s when Jesse James was a teen.
Whiting, 45, felt pretty sure the photo was of James, but couldn’t be 100-percent certain, so he sent a digital copy of it to William Dunniway, a California-based expert on 19th-century photography.
After studying another well-known image of James — apparently taken during the very same photo session but showing only James’ head and shoulders — Dunniway was convinced that Whiting’s picture showed the outlaw and that the image itself was genuine. The fact that this one shows the notorious bandit head-to-toe makes it particularly special.
The next step was to take it to a forensic expert to confirm that the image did indeed show Jesse James.
Whiting told the BBC he had “a bit of a nervous wait” while forensic specialist Kent Gibson examined the photo.
But Gibson didn’t need to long reach his conclusion. “I could tell immediately,” he said after running the picture through several facial recognition programs. “It scored off the charts.”
Whiting is currently putting the word out about the photo to see what kind of interest it generates among collectors and other interested parties. He said he’s aware that billionaire businessman William Koch purchased a photo of another legendary outlaw, Billy the Kid, for $2.3 million at auction in 2011, and wonders if his Jesse James photo might generate a similar amount if it goes under the hammer.