Appraising Vintage Photographs - Assessing the value of vintage photography - You come across two signed prints for sale. Both are advertised in excellent condition. Both are the same size. As you look at the images on the Internet, you can't understand why one is priced at $350 and the other is $3,500. If you feel compelled to grab the cheaper print before someone else does, I urge you to wait. There's a good reason that seemingly identical photographs by the same artist fetch wildly divergent prices: Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals

 

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Appraising Vintage Photographs - Assessing the value of vintage photography
 


Collecting Vintage Photographs Series

The Collectors Market

A Snapshot of Photography's Past

Where to start collecting photos

Care & Conservation of Old Photographs

Glossary of photography terms used by auction and collectibles people - with examples.

Collecting Antique Photographs

Civil War Photographs

Spanish-American War

Elton John's Photographic Collection

Online Exhibition of Photos by Sydney Photojournalist

Naomi Watts Early Photos

Camera Shop

 
VALUE VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPHS

Assessing the value of vintage photography

 You come across two signed prints for sale. Both are advertised in excellent condition. Both are the same size. As you look at the images on the Internet, you can't understand why one is priced at $350 and the other is $3,500. If you feel compelled to grab the cheaper print before someone else does, I urge you to wait. There's a good reason that seemingly identical photographs by the same artist fetch wildly divergent prices:

 In a moment, I'll discuss familiar factors that affect price-condition, size, rarity-but first it's vital to understand the fundamental principle that underpins the photography market. Because photography by its nature is a medium of multiples, a hierarchy has evolved for ranking the value of a print. In a nutshell, the closer the print is to the author's hand in time and space, the greater its value.

 Thus, if you have the good fortune to be offered an Edward Weston photograph taken in 1924, the first thing you should do is determine when the print was made. If it was printed and signed by Edward Weston within approximately five years of the original negative, it's known as a "vintage print". In most cases, vintage prints have a market value far greater than prints made later, even if the later print was signed by the artist and is, to all appearances, an exact duplicate.

 So all images may be created equal, but some images are more equal than others. The logic behind this system is as much philosophical as it is practical. A vintage print corresponds closely to our concept of originality-it has an intrinsic value because of its proximity to the original event. The closer to the event, collectors believe, the more likely a print was made in accordance with the artist's original vision. Conversely, the further away from the event, the more likely the print was made for commercial reasons, which diminishes its value to collectors.

 An example illustrates why this system helps clarify the fine photography market for beginners and experts alike. Moonrise Over Hernandes, N.M. is one of Ansel Adams' best known images. With over 10,000 prints of this photograph in circulation, it can't be said to be rare. Still, examples in excellent condition sell today for between $1,000 and $20,000.

 Why should one print be worth more than another? Because the market has decided that a vintage print commands a high premium. And don't assume that later prints are worth nearly as much. You may come across unscrupulous dealers selling Moonrise Over Hernandes, N.M. for $7,000 and think you've stumbled upon a bargain. However, the value of non-vintage prints drops precipitously, with a print made by the artist late in life or by the estate worth only a small fraction of a vintage print. If a vintage print is worth $25,000, a later print signed by the artist in pristine condition may be worth only a few hundred dollars. If you can't afford a vintage print and you're determined to own this work, I recommend saving your money and buying a good-quality poster instead.

 In addition to assessing a photograph by the above criteria, make sure you also evaluate for the following:

  • Condition of the print- I strongly recommend examining the photograph as a three-dimensional object. The paper, the artist's signature, the state of the image, the size of the print--all have a bearing on the value. Don't make the fatal mistake of thinking that because a small bent corner doesn't bother you, it won't bother the next buyer. Even a vintage iconic photograph could be rendered almost worthless because of a small crease or a flaw in the image.
  • Condition of the image- Anyone who's seen a faded photograph knows that photographs are vulnerable to light. An image that's been carefully stored is more prized than one that's hung in a well-lit room for decades. This is even more true of color photographs which can fade severely over time (see below)
  • Authenticity- The provenance of a photograph is as important as a painting's. Early photographs were rarely signed by the artist, but prints may be stamped on the back. At Butterfields, we guarantee the authenticity of every photograph we sell. In a medium where new prints are readily made and artists didn't always leave behind a clear pedigree, the peace of mind offered by a guarantee of authenticity is invaluable.
  • Rarity- Obviously, all others things being equal, owning one of 7 known prints of an image has more cachet than an image with 10,000 known prints in existence. Sometimes the negatives have been lost or destroyed, leaving only a few prints extant. Or, if you're dealing with a daguerreotype, it's a one-of-a-kind image that can't be duplicated. Each would have a direct impact on value because of the rarity of the image.

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