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Sybil’s Gamboge… almost a Million Dollars?

Last month, you may have read my post about the Westfield Dairy Farm.  Since then, I've had some inquiries as to why Sybil's Gamboge was so valuable.  Read on to find the answer!

Sybils gamboge copy Photo: Sybil's Gamboge, sold from the Wesfield dairy herd for $65,000 in 1919 (inflated value in November 2009 was equivalent to $919,530) Source: Westfield Insurance Archives

To get the full background check out my prior post, The Westfield Dairy Farm or keep reading for the abbreviated version.  For the quick background: rewind to the year 1919 and imagine yourself in a small farm town that boasts the headquarters of the Ohio Farmers Insurance Company (OFIC) which was founded in that same town 72 years earlier in 1848 (Yes, we’ve been here for 162 years!). OFIC, today known as Westfield Insurance had just purchased a small, 51-acre dairy farm and its herd of registered Jerseys from the Benham family. The Jersey herd included around 30 females and a mature bull, Sybil's Gamboge who had been imported earlier that summer from the Isle of Jersey. Just a few weeks after OFIC purchased the farm, he was re-sold on August 4, 1919 in one of Edmond Butler’s sales for $65,000 to former Connecticut State Senator, L.V. Walkley. At this same sale, 15 of his daughters sold for $44,600 (an average of $2974), one of which, Bagot’s Gamboge Crocus brought $10,100.

Sybil’s Gamboge demanded such a high price due to the fact that he had been line bred for a number of generations. If you study his pedigree, you’ll notice with each generation back, you see the same sire on the top side of his pedigree (and many times, the same dam) repeated over and over – back 2 generations, Oxford Majesty, 3 generations back Majesty made it into 3 of the 4 matings and 4 generations back Oxford Lad was the sire in seven of the eight pairings. If you go back even further, you see Flying Fox and Queenies Prince 2nd and so on. Line breeding actually purifies the genetic base of an animal when defects don’t present themselves. As the lineage for both of his parents was linebred separately and then combined to create him, a large number of dominant qualities were brought together from both sides, which eliminated many inferior recessive genes. This resulted in very high reliability for calves sired by Sybils Gamboge.

By May of 1921, his offspring had sold for a combined figure of over $500,000 and were always the tops of any sale they were a part of – according to a New York Times article from May 29, 1921, “Every calf of his has been worth $1,000 at the age of 3 weeks and many of them have sold for over $3,000 apiece” (these figures were not manipulated to account for inflation, but are represented as they would have appeared during the time of sale).

Sybil’s Gamboge was bred by Mr. Charles Mourant of the Isle of Jersey where he was born in 1914, prior to being imported to the U.S. in 1919. It has been said that Mr. Mourant “probably contributed more to the reputation of the imported Jersey in America than any other island breeder”. After Sybils Gamboge sold for the world record price of $65,000, he was shipped by railcar to New York where he was paraded down Wall Street to prove the investment value of a dairy animal! Sybils Gamboge died in 1924. On November 6, 2009 the inflated value of $65,000 from 1919 was worth $919,530… or almost a million dollars!