Antique photo appraisal

As the contemporary photography market booms with works like Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II selling for over 4 million dollars, the venerable forefathers of photography and their creations should not be forgotten.  Indeed amongst your dusty family albums may hide a buried treasure.  Photography of the 19th century comes in a variety of forms, from the French born daguerreotype and the English made calotype to advancements of Kodak in the later half of the century, which made photography more accessible to all. 

The antique photography market is a relatively new phenomenon, though evidence shows that as early as 1830s there was a fascination in collecting this new form of art.  Now it is again gaining interest and has the potential to really blossom.  Recent exhibitions of 19th Century photography have taken place on both coasts, at the Getty in Los Angeles, CA and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, as well as across the pond in London, England, the Victoria and Albert Museum is home to a magnificent permanent collection of 19th-Century photography.   In 2007 John Hannavy published the thorough, and expensive, Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, the first comprehensive compilation pertaining to nineteenth century photography.

First it is necessary to find out what you have!  Daguerreotypes, sometimes known as the mirror with a memory, were typically created on metal but given their fragile and unique nature, not too many exist in excellent condition.  However, when you can find them in good condition, it is amazing how vivid the likeness and details are (See image below.)  There is a small but engaged group of collectors for daguerreotypes and prices can range upwards of $50,000, particularly when hand tinted or attached to a famous studio, such as Southworth and Hawes.  Tintypes, or photograph done on tin, can also prove quite valuable.  A tintype of Billy the Kid, the only known surviving authenticated image of the outlaw, sold at auction from $2.3 million in 2011, placing it in the top ten list of most expensive photographs.

Carte-de-visite or CDVs were introduced to the United States from France.  Though done on card stock and more readily available than daguerreotypes or tintypes, these too can be worth in the $1000s.  Largely viewed as ephemera, few have survived in good condition throughout the decades, and in their rarity prices rise. 

Given the complex, and largely anonymous, nature of these early forms of photography, it is necessary to get an expert opinion to find out if what you have is a treasured family heirloom—or a gold mine!

Alexander Muir daguerreotype

Alexander Muir daguerreotype