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Old West artifacts recoup $2.7M for Harrisburg

| Monday, July 22, 2013, 7:33 p.m.

HARRISBURG — The auction of thousands of Old West artifacts purchased by a former Harrisburg mayor for a failed museum project has netted about $2.7 million for the debt-laden city as it tried to recoup the money spent on the collection, a newspaper reported.

The auction ended on Sunday with about $3.2 million in proceeds including buyers' premiums, the Patriot-News of Harrisburg reported. The city will keep about $2.7 million after paying the auctioneer. That's enough to pay off the $2.5 million remaining on a $7.2 million loan secured by the artifacts, the newspaper said.

The sale means the total recouped by the city for the 10,000-piece collection is about $4.4 million out of about $8.3 million paid.

Former Mayor Stephen Reed bought the artifacts with public money to fill three unrealized museums, with the first focused on the Old West. The items include hundreds of guns, furniture, documents with historical significance and a stuffed buffalo.

The president of the auctioneer, Guernsey's, said his team found valuable pieces side-by-side with decorative items and obvious fakes with little or no value.

Reed's decision to use city money to buy thousands of items for an Old West museum in the Northeast has been much criticized, particularly as the city tries to dig out from a financial crisis caused largely by debt tied to the expensive renovation of an aging and polluting trash incinerator that has left it on the brink of bankruptcy.

It was the second auction for the collection.

Some of it was sold by Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas five years ago. That sale raised about $2 million, but some items failed to sell and were returned to the city.

Many bidders were motivated by Reed and the controversy surrounding him and the artifacts.

Reed told the Patriot-News that he did not attend himself but that he instructed a friend to submit bids on his behalf for a canoe, a beaded Army Scout jacket and two hats. Reed was outbid.

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