With only 46 days before the Calgary Stampede celebrates its 100th anniversary on July 6, it is offering a reward for three lost pieces from the archive of its colourful history: the posters from 1922, 1926 and 1930.
The Stampede can't even create a most-wanted poster for its missing memorabilia – there are no historical records or anecdotal accounts of what the posters might have looked like.
"It's not been for lack of trying," says Ronald Getty, the Stampede's archivist from 1999 to 2010, who admits he's starting to lose hope that there are any early original posters still hidden away in barns, attics and garages.
That's why the Stampede is now offering $1,000 for each poster – not to purchase the originals, which are worth at least three times that, but for the rights to digitally reproduce them. The copies will enable them to fill in the gaps in the history of Calgary's rodeo that has charmed millions of tourists over the years, as well as complete the framed Parade of Posters on display at the Stampede Grounds.
Talk about looking for a needle in haystack – there is only one known copy of all the posters from 1912 and 1933, out of modest print runs in the low thousands. "I've seen a second one from 1928, but it was in really rough shape," Mr. Getty says.
"The Stampede never thought of the posters as something permanent or collectible, so they didn't keep a copy every year," says Aimee Benoit, the current archivist. "They were simply a marketing tool, glued to telephone poles or taped to store windows."
The originals they did keep were glued to Masonite boards. "They were kept out in the sunlight, getting dirty," Mr. Getty says. "It was impossible to remove them from the Masonite without damaging them past the point of no return."
The archivists have also questioned whether the missing posters were even printed at all. In 1921 and 1922, what was then just the Calgary Exhibition incurred significant financial losses, which lead to its manager, Ernie Richardson, joining forces with the Stampede's founder, Guy Weadick, to combine the two events in 1923. There was another recession in 1926, and existing printed pieces, such as that year's annual report, were mimeographed for the first time.
"It was always up and down in the early years, and that might have been more of a down year," Mr. Getty says. "And the Depression was hard, but was 1930 harder than 1929 or 1931? We don't know, but the 1930 poster has just never shown up."
The Stampede has protected itself from fakes by never publishing the exact measurements of the 97 posters it does have in its collection, and the reproductions on display on the grounds aren't printed at the same size as the originals. In 1973, the 1923 poster was officially reproduced to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the merging of the Stampede and the Exhibition, which is why copies of it often turn up.