Items reflecting Nevada's naughty past auctioned

RENO - Rare items reflecting the shadier side of Nevada's past have been sold at an auction in Reno, with Mustang Ranch brothel memorabilia and a copy of the state's original "Black Book" fetching several thousand dollars.

The Mustang Ranch keepsakes included nude, autographed photos of the working women at the infamous bordello taken in the 1970s and 1980s and went for $3,000 Wednesday to a buyer that auction organizers would only identify as an "institution of higher learning."

The Black Book, which features names, information and photos of the first dozen or so people barred from entering Nevada casinos, went for $5,250 to an unknown buyer.

The naughty nostalgia was among roughly 1,400 collectibles sold at the online auction staged this week by Reno-based Holabird-Kagin Americana. While the Mustang Ranch items and the Black Book sold for less than other pieces, they generated curiosity among those interested in Nevada history.

The top seller at the auction was a California Gold Rush coin that sold for $205,000 to a private collector, while an original, autographed drawing by Walt Disney garnered $36,000 from an unknown buyer.

Disney's whimsical drawing of a cigar-smoking man with a derby hat had an estimated value of $35,000 to $50,000. One of the earliest known signed Disney pieces, it's believed to predate his Mickey Mouse, which made its cartoon debut in 1928.

The Mustang Ranch collection was put up for sale by former Harrah's Reno hotel-casino mantre de Gordon Churchward, who had an arrangement with former brothel owner Joe Conforte in the 1970s to send casino patrons to the bordello in return for free passes to it.

The collection includes calendars and more than 200 photos featuring the prostitutes, as well as menus, matchbooks and business cards from Nevada's first legal house of prostitution. Nevada is the only state with legalized prostitution.

"Nothing like this has ever been sold," said Fred Holabird, president of Holabird-Kagin. "There were original photos taken of the working women inside the ranch rooms during activity. There were items signed by the girls with their phone numbers."

He declined to identify the institution that bought the collection, and refused to say whether it was from Nevada or out of state. Other auction houses across the country also do not usually identify buyers.

The 11-page Black Book was billed as the "first and possibly only known copy" in private hands of the original, which was produced by the Nevada Gaming Commission about a year after it was formed in 1959.

It includes Chicago mobster Sam Giancana, whose presence at Frank Sinatra's Cal-Neva hotel-casino at Lake Tahoe prompted revocation of the singer's gambling license in the early 1960s.

More than 500 bidders from around the world took part in the auction, which generated $1.2 million in sales.

On top of their bids, buyers also must pay a 15 percent commission on coins and a 17.5 percent commission on all other items.


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