I didn't get a chance to get over to the Phillips Weegee sale on January 31, but they did very well on some images at an auction that brought in nearly $300,000, even though buy-ins were rather high. This was the first such "solo" sale of Weegee material.
A photograph of "Mayor Laguardia in Police Station" was the top single lot of the sale. After active bidding on the phones and in the room, the 1940s print realized $16,675, well over its pre-auction estimate of $3,000/5,000.
Other individual prints that got an enthusiastic response include "School Is Over", a print of children playing in the school ground, which exceeded its pre-sale estimate and brought $12,075 and "Clowns In Dressing Room," a warm-toned 1940s silver print, which also commanded a premium price of $12,075.
A portfolio of 49 photographs by Weegee, printed by Sidney Kaplan in 1981 was another headliner. The portfolio, which was in perfect condition, brought what seemed to most to be a very high $63,000, about double what most observers felt would be a good price.
I talked with Henry Feldstein ("Mr. Weegee", as many in the trade refer to him) about the sale.
Feldstein says, "It was a very successful sale considering there weren't many of the top 20 Weegees in the sale." In fact, he points out, "The sale would have done even better, but there were only four or five great Weegees and a lot of lower material."
Felstein attributes the relatively high buy-in rate to "reserves that were just too high for low-end material." As he notes, "The great material did indeed do great; the good material did ok and the lower end got bought in, although there were reportedly lots of after-auction sales."
Phillips will skip the spring photo auction this time out and return in the fall, according to their spokesperson.