Jim Melikian was window shopping.
Normally, the 61-year-old Arizona businessman scoured auction catalogs for items he’s been collecting since he was a teen—religious artifacts from around the world, pieces of Latin-American and black history, precious items from the life of Muhammad Ali. He intends to display them one day in a museum he’ll build in Phoenix, sharing with the world a passion that has more than once drained his bank account, but which he says has always been “a joy for me.”
Yet here he was, in June 2016, salivating through 124 pages of the Legends of the West catalog by Heritage Auctions, and a whole new world of possibilities was opening up to him.
“I couldn’t believe it—there were 178 lots, mostly from Tombstone—the most famous thing in Arizona history. Most were from the 1870s and ’80s, from the collection of a guy in Tucson. I thought, ‘What if I get a few pieces for my museum? I’ll get four or five things.’”
A few pieces caught his eye right away: The bank draft cashed on the very day of the shoot-out behind the O.K. Corral; an 1879 petition with the signature of Tombstone founder Ed Schieffelin; the first-known postage stamp from the mining town, dated August 26, 1879.
“I kept saying to myself, ‘This is cool stuff, but is it rare?’” So Melikian turned to two guys he kn