An important area of the vintage photo market continues to be served by the two sales of Online Photography Week, which offer a variety of material in the under-$2,000 price range. Aside from a failed foray by Sothebys.com, material in this price range has been largely abandoned by the blue-chip auction houses. Yet it is from this selfsame material which many fine collections have been built. The photographic marketplace is historically one in which the under-$1,000 bargains of yesteryear often become the pricey masterpieces of today.
Presented by Capitol Gallery and Christopher Wahren Fine Photographs, the two auctions feature 19th-century cased images including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes, as well as cases and later photographic formats.
Collectors often cherish 19th-century cased photographs for the quirky views of life they provide into a period we might otherwise associate only with the staid political figures of our history books. Capitol Gallery's auction of October 18th opens with an odd occupational daguerreotype from the 1850s depicting a woman holding a knife and slices of watermelon, with period hand-coloring applied to the watermelon in bright green and a few puzzling items on the table beside her, perhaps berries or other fruit (Opening Bid: $1,500). A still-more outrageous cased image is this sale's cover lot, an ambrotype of a bizarre outdoorsman decked out in what looks like a 19th-century version of ski goggles, holding a curving game-call in his mouth and carrying a variety of other items which seem to indicate he is a fisherman as well. This artifact from the 1850-60s opens at $1,200.
Among more traditional daguerreotype portraits, the sale includes a desirable and very rare hand-signed quarter plate of a woman in a shawl by Joseph Stanberry of Brooklyn, NY. The image bears Stanberry's name along with the date beautifully engraved by the artist into the daguerreotype plate, giving this image the feel of a period painting. The plate bears hand-coloring and illustrates the daguerreian's view of themselves as "Artists" on a par with period painters (Opening Bid: $1,500).
Closing on October 19th, the Skylight Gallery sale contains several military images including an identified daguerreotype of a French Hussar and a crusty US Army medical officer from the Mexican-American War era, in undress field uniform (OpeningBid: $1,600). A historically important ambrotype opening at a very modest $700 depicts businesses in downtown Troy, NY shortly before the commencement of the Civil War, at what is today the site of Troy City Hall. Two occupational ambrotypes show an elder and younger leatherworker with the tools of their trade, perhaps a craftsman and his apprentice trainee (Opening Bid: $1,100). A number of European images include several signed daguerreotypes and a larger English ambrotype of the ruins of an abbey, with a mood reminiscent of period salt prints (Opening Bid: $700). A large half-plate portrait daguerreotype by Southworth and Hawes shows their use of hand-coloring (Opening Bid: $1,600).
Near the end of the sale we find a vintage pictorialist platinum print entitled "The Night before Christmas" by the sisters Frances and Mary Allen, which opens at $450. Originally trained as teachers the Miss Allens soon left teaching due to their increasing deafness and together entered into a career as photographers in their native Deerfield MA, where they became figures in the period arts-and-crafts movement. Their photographic work was recently rediscovered and presented in "The Allen Sisters" by Suzanne L. Flynt (2002).
Both Online Photography Week sales feature full online catalogs with print catalogs available on order. For more information, to obtain catalogs, or to view the sales, visit the Online Photography Week website at: http://www.photographyweek.com .
Both auctions may also be contacted by phone. Capitol Gallery (whose Fall sale ends October 18) can be reached at 1-217-546-4654 and Christopher Wahren Fine Photographs (Skylight Gallery sale on October 19) at 1-203-772-3968.