Top 10: Antique photographs
We live in an age where digital photography provides us with instant gratification, and the possibility of mass printing. In terms of collecting, this robs modern photographs of much value, as they can be so easily reproduced at the touch of a button. Therefore collectors often look to an earlier time, an era when photography was tangible and fragile.
The very beginnings of the history of photographic processes hold a fascination, from the eight hour exposure of Niépce’s 1825 camera obscura images, Louis Daguerre’s 1830s Daguerrotypes, William Fox Talbot’s 1840s silver calotypes, to John Herschel’s cyanotype or blueprint method.
These eras of early experimentation, as well as the following decades of extensive development and refinement of photography as both a method of recording and as an art form, are charming and desirable to collectors. The cumbersome, lengthy and expensive methods of producing the photographs means that they are rare and unique, their fragility reminiscent of a by-gone age, each a testament to a stage in the development of the form.
Antique photographs are extremely collectible items, as the following list of sales of pre-20th century photographs demonstrates.
10) Eugene Cuvelier - ‘Village de Riviére’ (1860s), $288,000
Eugene Cuvelier ’s 1860s salt print, ‘Village de Riviére’, sold for $288,000 at Sotheby’s in April 2007.
9) Marcus Aurelius Root – Anthony Pritchard (c.1850), $350,500
Root’s c.1850 daguerreotype of Anthony Pritchard sold for $350,500 at Christie’s in October 2009.
8) Nicéphore Niépce – Untitled (1825), $392,000
The second oldest known photograph in the world, Niépce’s 1825 heliograph image of a 17th century Flemish engraving of a man leading a horse, sold for $392,000 to the French National Library at Sotheby’s in Paris in March 2002.
7) Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes – Portrait of Samuel Appleton (c.1850), $409,000
Half-plate daguerreotype portrait of American merchant and philanthropist Samuel Appleton by Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes, circa 1850, sold for $409,000 at Sotheby’s in April 2008.
6) Carleton E. Watkins – The Garrison, Columbia River (c.1867), $492,000
Albumen print by Carleton E. Watkins, circa 1867, sold for $492,000 at Sotheby’s in April 2007.
5) Gustave Le Gray – Beech Tree (1855), $513,150
Albumen print of Le Gray’s 1855 Beech Tree sold for $513,150 at Sotheby’s in October 1999.
4) Eugene Atget – Joueur d’Orgue (c.1898-99), $686,500
Gelatin silver chloride print of Eugene Atget’s c.1898-99 Joueur d’Orgue sold for $686,500 at Christie’s in April 2010.
3) Gustave Le Gray – Grande Vague Sete (The Great Wave, Sete) (1857), $838,000
After the record breaking sale of Le Gray’s Beech Tree at Sotheby’s in October 1999, at the same sale, his 1857 Grande Vague, Sete beat the world record to sell for $838,000.
2) Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey - 113. Athenes, Temple de Jupiter Olympien (1842), $922,488
De Prangey’s daguerreotype, one of the earliest surviving images of Greece, sold for $922,488 at Christie’s in May 2003. Another daguerreotype of Prangey’s, 196. Karnac Pylone Pris de L’O[uest] sold at the same auction for $648,312.
1) Unknown photographer – Billy the Kid (1879-80), $2,300,000
This mysterious tintype portrait, the only one known to exist of infamous Wild West gangster Billy the Kid, was bought by a member of the modern gangster family the Kochs at Brian Lebel’s Old West Show and Auction for $2.3 million in June 2011.
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