Neon Cowboy

Neon Cowboy

The Neon Cowboy from the Kean's Jeans store on Queen St, Auckland is now officially on public display at the Epic Taproom. We are referring to him as "Big Tex". Installed 12th April 2023.

Neon Cowboy Big Tex Epic Taproom Onehunga Auckland

Here is a wee story about the history of the sign from the owner, who is kindly letting us display the Neon Cowboy in the Epic Taproom

"I brought the double sided sign back in 1997 from Claude Neon.

I stored it in a friend’s warehouse in Mt Wellington where I got this side (B) up and running The other side (A) I sold to my mate who had the warehouse, unfortunately the glass on that side was broken.

We had a lot of great parties with great bands and our mates back then, when they eventually moved out I moved both sides to a barn in Hunua for a couple of years, then moved side B to my garage in Whitford. Side A was sold to an art collector in Taranaki, unfortunately it was burnt in a fire, luckily it has been rescued.
Side A was installed at Keans Jeans Queen Street in 1958, in the early 70s they wanted more street appeal so side B was made to make a double sided sign.1987 it all came down. In 1989 it reappeared on the Armadillo in K Road.
Early 90s in came down for good with very little chance it could ever be displayed outdoors due to light pollution (RMA).
This sign is known as "Big Dude" or "Big Tex". Little Dude was a half size version installed in Wellington."


We are looking for more information to build the back story behind the history of the sign and its importance as an icon of Queen St, and Auckland City.

First neon sign (side A) went up in 1958? Definitely up in the 60's
Second side (side B) was added in 1974? Early 1970's? When the sign was made double sided so you could see it from both directions on Queen St.

Keans Jeans Neon Cowboy Queen St Auckland

Background on Keans Jeans - link

Keans For Jeans, Queen St, Auckland. Neon Cowboy

Keans Jeans store on Queen Street in Auckland, circa 1979. All Rights Reserved, Image © Chris Traill.

Keans Jeans Queen St Auckland Neon Cowboy

Keans Jeans Queen St Neon Cowboy
Keans for Jeans, 1964 vs 2016 Queen St, Auckland
Wyndham St, Auckland 2016 vs 1964

Keans Building, 152 Queen St, Auckland. October 2022
"For years the 'Kean's for Jeans' neon cowboy twirled his lariat over the entrance of Kean's Ltd Queen Street shop in Auckland.

Kean’s was New Zealand’s largest supplier of what would become the world’s dominant fashion garment - jeans.

The company had its origins in 1909 in Wellington, when P F Kean and C O Josephson opened a store on Willis Street and decided on the Kean’s name because it was easier to say than 'Josephson’s'.

Styling themselves as 'Seamen’s Outfitters', Kean's supplied uniforms to the Royal Navy, steamship companies and other occupations.

In 1912, Kean’s Ltd was operating as a general mercers and clothiers store which included premises in Quay Street, Auckland. (The Kean's Queen St, building shown here was not completed until 1929).

Among the lines stocked were boiler suits, some of which were made from denim, a material that had been available in New Zealand since the 1860s (Blue jeans date from 1873).

Jeans became popular with mechanics, miners and labourers but they were frowned upon as streetwear. During the 1950s jeans increasingly began to be more associated with Western movie cowboys, young male movie stars and teenage rebellion. Kean's trademarked and made their own 'Boss' brand jeans in 1955. For a while, during the mid-20th century Kean's dominated the NZ jeans market.

They advertised using a radio jingle with cowboy references and an iconic 5 metre neon sign appeared above the main Kean's Auckland store.

By 1972, NZ had specialised jean outlets selling many jeans brands everywhere - all were in stiff competition with each other. And the popular American Levi's (jeans) were about to celebrate their first 100 years.

By the mid 1970s the three directors of the now Auckland-based Kean’s brand were all members of the Josephson family and the main Kean’s asset was the Kean's shop's valuable Queen Street site. The Josephsons sold-out the Kean’s name and business to Warnock's (mens and boyswear) but that business too would become a casualty of the changing retail sector by going into voluntary receivership in 1993.

The landmark 'Kean’s Cowboy' neon light was removed from Queen Street and served for a time outside the Armadillo Restaurant & Bar in Symonds Street. It appears there may be other Kean's-type cowboy signs in use or hidden away in New Zealand. They all probably owe their existence, and were modeled after, 'Vegas Vic', a neon cowboy sign that was erected on the exterior of The Pioneer Club in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA in 1951. "

Credit: New Zealand Fashion Museum.
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Neon Cowboy, Queen St, Auckland
"They all probably owe their existence, and were modeled after, 'Vegas Vic', a neon cowboy sign that was erected on the exterior of The Pioneer Club in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA in 1951."
Vegas Vic (Wikipedia)
Vegas Vic Neon Cowboy
The Belgian comics hero Lucky Luke strongly resembles Vegas Vic.


Lucky Luke is a Western bande dessinée series created by Belgian cartoonist Morris in 1946. (Wikipedia)

Lucky Luke, Vegas Vic, Big Tex, Neon Cowboy, Epic Taproom

Al Hunter Neon Cowboy New Zealand country singer Al Hunter released a single and album inspired by and named after the Neon Cowboy.

Graham Kirk, Neon Cowboy, Auckland, Armadillo Neon Cowboy, Aucklandfrom a painting by Graham Kirk, 1993 "...Kean's Jeans cowboy (Auckland used to have two cowboys, one was destroyed in the January 2014 fire that claimed contemporary art collector John Matthews' Taranaki home)" Link



Little Tex, Neon Cowboy, Wellington

There was a "Little Tex" half the size in Wellington
 in Dixon St" ? Link
Removed 2007?