Tag Archives: Collecting photographs

Cultural Icons Protest Moving the National Media Museum to London

If you haven’t been following this story, I think it’s worth taking a look at. The National Media Museum, located in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, was home to a massive collection of photographs, substantively consisting of the collections of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS), spanning the first two centuries of photography. The trustees of the museum decided to transfer a significant portion of the collection to the Victoria & Albert museum in London, without public comment or debate. This is causing a big stink:

The move to relocate some of the museum’s holdings – the bulk of which is part of a Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection that charts the development of photography over 200 years – was announced in February, prompting accusations of “cultural vandalism”.

“This is an appalling act of cultural vandalism,” said Simon Cooke, the Conservative leader on Bradford city council. “I know London is a big, grand and fantastic city but to denude my city of these photographs reminds us that you … care not one jot for our heritage and history.

“We don’t have much up here and it fills me with a kind of sad rage that you felt able to visit this act of cultural rape on my city.”

As a result, major figures such as David Hockney, Mike Leigh the film director, photographer Don McCullin and more than eighty other artists working with still and moving images have picked up their pens to add their voices to the protest. Here’s hoping they are heard.

Cultural Icons protest moving the National Media Museum Collections to London

Launching a new blog – dcphotocollector.com

Well folks, I think it’s time and appropriate that I spin off my blogging about image collecting from my blogging about my own photographic endeavors. I want to differentiate the two activities and use this blog, dcphotoartist.com, as a professional communication channel to talk about and share my portrait work and travel images. So I hope you all will bear with me as I make the transition, and read up on both blogs. The new blog will be http://dcphotocollector.com. I’m using the theme photo of this post as the branding for the collecting site, at least for now. I’m launching it with another post about Tom Thumb and his wife.

Tom Thumb, His Wife, and Her Sister
Tom Thumb, His Wife, and Her Sister

Upcoming Fall Classes at Glen Echo Photoworks

I’m teaching more classes at Glen Echo Photoworks this fall and winter. I’ll be offering Advanced Topics in Platinum/Palladium, Intro to Platinum/Palladium, and a lecture/presentation on Identifying and Collecting Antique Photos.

Advanced Topics in Platinum/Palladium runs September 15-October 6 (Saturdays 9am-4pm), and covers advanced contrast control techniques, paper choices, troubleshooting techniques, and gum-over platinum. Although I did not have making digitally enlarged negatives in the original curriculum design, I’m going to make it an option at student’s request.

Intro to Platinum/Palladium will be held the weekend of October 20-21 from 9am-4pm each day. Topics covered include history, technical basics (chemistry, equipment, paper), major process controls (negatives, exposure, processing) and fine controls (contrast, process variations).

On the evening of Wednesday, November 17 from 7-9 pm, I’ll be teaching a mini-workshop on Identifying and Collecting Antique Photographs. The course will be a mini-photo history class from the Daguerreotype to silver-gelatin and color, and will be illustrated with examples from my personal collection. Which, if you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know is pretty cool.

Gum over Ziatype
Advanced Pt/Pd Topics
Monarch Novelties, 14th Street (palladium print) – Intro to Pt/Pd
Gentleman With Top Hat, dated October 15, 1849
Gentleman With Top Hat, 10/15/1849 – Intro to Collecting

The joys of Anonymous Vernacular photos

Here are three of my latest collecting acquisitions. First, the daguerreotype. A very nice quarter-plate dag, extremely well exposed, and very subtly hand-tinted and gilded. If you look carefully you can see the hands are flesh-toned, and the face has a hint of it as well. The gentleman’s watch fob and the edges of the book pages are gilded. Both of these touches would have been “up-sells” at the time of the commissioning of the image. I haven’t popped this one out of its case yet because the glass is resting directly on the mat, and not bound by a brass frame as part of a package, and the glass is in so tight that I’d be afraid of cracking it or tearing the velvet surround trying to get it out. The scan does not do it justice, as the scanner’s lens can’t quite focus on the image plane.

Anonymous Daguerreotype, Quarter-Plate, in half case
Anonymous Daguerreotype, Quarter-Plate, in half case

Next up are a pair of rather fun images. They’re totally anonymous, both from a photographer’s and a subject’s point of view. The why of collecting them is rather simple – they’re interesting. And they were bargains. Bought off Ebay, they sold at the right (wrong from the sellers’ perspective) time of day and attracted no other bids, so I got them for a penny apiece. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to start collecting, and these are proof. The thing that grabbed my attention about both of these initially were the auction titles- “African-American/Native American man” and “Two Men doing a Tom Sawyer”. I’m deleting the seemingly obligatory “rare” from the titles because EVERYTHING on Ebay is “rare”, and if it doesn’t look like a dog chewed on it, it’s also “minty”. Minty describes a flavor or odor, not a condition. These are both obviously not “minty”, but that’s ok – what counts is the image itself. While a pristine image is a beautiful thing to find, I also enjoy finding photos that look like they’ve had a life, and were not just bought and stuck in an album on a hidden shelf.

On the “African-American/Native American man” photo, it is an albumen print, and there are some obvious mis-handling marks from the time of printing (see the silver splotch over his shoulder). I will grant the “rare” on this one as images like this are while perhaps not truly “rare” they are uncommon. I’m actually on the fence about who and what this young man might be. The straight hair suggests Native American, but some of the facial features like the nose and cheekbones could be African or even Asian features, and certainly very likely to be mixed race of some sort. Guessing from the attire (and PLEASE correct me if I’m wrong) this was taken in the 1890s.

Anonymous Asian-, Native-, or African-American boy
Anonymous Asian-, Native-, or African-American boy

The last image has no other way to describe it but “FUN”. Two men white-washing a fence, posing with their paint cans and brushes. A real slice of Americana, I love the sense of humor about it as well as the pop-culture reference before there was such a concept as a pop-culture reference. I’m sure Tom Sawyer would have had a good laugh at this if he were real, to see it. It even looks like the depictions of Aunt Polly’s house from movies. This is on silver gelatin “gaslamp” paper, and mounted on embossed card stock. I’ve tweaked the scan a bit to improve the picture quality overall, so don’t entirely trust the color balance.

Two Men Whitewashing a Fence
Two Men Whitewashing a Fence

C’est arrivee!

The first of the new images has arrived. The cased quarter-plate daguerreotype of a gentleman. The case itself is quite amazing – made to look like a little book, it’s nearly half an inch thick and gives the plate some real heft. Makes you wonder if the family had a series of them together on a shelf in their library. The image itself is in quite excellent condition, with minimal tarnishing around the edges of the mat. There is a very subtle hand-coloring applied to his cheeks. As you can see from the shot of the open case, the spine is torn but not completely broken.

I’m BAAAACK! To posting that is…

It’s been a while since I added anything here, because I’ve been insanely busy dealing with a whole bunch of personal business (breaking up, evicting my ex, cleaning up the aftermath, starting dating again, reconfiguring my office, building a new home wireless network since the ex took the wireless router, getting nasty bronchitis, recovering from said bronchitis, etc etc you know…). I haven’t had a lot of time for collecting or thinking about it as a result. Well, the dust has settled and I’ve been casually acquiring an odd and end here and there, so I’m back to writing about it again.

One of the things that has interested me, and helped drive me into this whole civil war period image collecting thing, is my hometown – Chambersburg, PA. Chambersburg was perhaps the most trampled ground north of the Mason Dixon line during the Civil War. Prior to the war, John Brown planned his raid on Harpers’ Ferry while living there, and met with Frederick Douglass to discuss the plans (Douglass advised against attacking the federal arsenal). Jeb Stuart’s cavalry raided it for the first time in 1862. Then Lee’s troops passed through on their way to Gettysburg in ’63, and in 1864 General McCausland’s troops demanded a ransom of $500,000 in US currency or $100,000 in gold, which the town refused to pay, so it was put to the torch.

In digging around on Ebay, I found an image of a man who was born a few towns over from Chambersburg. That got me thinking about the old hometown, and I started searching for Chambersburg related stuff. I acquired a group of photos spanning a good 20+ years of work from a single studio, which in further searching on Ebay seems to have been the most prominent if not the only studio in town at the time.
Here is the image that got me thinking about Chambersburg, a photo of David Eiker, born in Quincy, Pennsylvania. Quincy is a tiny one-stoplight town a few miles east of Chambersburg. This photo was taken at the J. Goldin studio in Washington DC.

Acquired at the same time was a more-or-less unrelated photo of a Mr. R.K. Hopkinson, taken at the Henry Ulke & Bro. studio in Washington DC. The common thread was the Washington, DC studio. Mr. R.K. Hopkinson Served in Company D of the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery during the civil war.

Some comments on collecting

As I’ve been collecting images, and I do a fair bit of my looking on Ebay, I’ve noticed a couple of interesting albeit off-putting trends. I go back and forth between interest in tintypes, daguerreotypes, and CDVs, with the occasional odd foray into early 20th century images if they include things like cars. In looking for daguerreotype images, I’ve been seeing a lot of what are really very ordinary, common images (no identification of subject or photographer, 1/6 plate to 1/9th plate size, ordinary condition) being listed for astronomical prices ($650 for a 1/6 plate dag? Really?). It’s one of those things that gives you a false impression of the market – seeing all those listings at those stupid prices makes you think that A: your own collection is worth a lot more, and B: if people are listing them for that kind of money, they must be selling for that kind of money. This impression lingers unless you do a search on closed auctions, where you’ll see that most of the successful sales are still in the under $200 range, with the odd exception of some truly rare or exceptional images (1/2 plate, known subject, unusual subject, etc).

Another marketing trend I find a bit odd is the whole “gay interest” tag in the image description. On one level, I get it – the seller is trying to reach out to an under-appreciated market. On the other hand, I question if the people using that tag line understand the “gay interest” thing at all. Two men or two women posing together in the Victorian world did not make them a same-sex couple. They could be siblings, co-workers or just friends. 99% of the time we have zero context to go with any image to make an assessment of the relationships captured in the images. There was no public subculture in the 1850s or even in the 1880s that we would today recognize as analogous to the late 20th/early 21st century gay culture, and as such it would not have been recorded photographically. There is certainly an interest in finding proof of ancestry – “see, we DID exist in the 1850s”. Unfortunately, buying in to the “gay interest” marketing of these images is really just being taken for a ride through ignorance and vulnerability. Don’t get me wrong – it’s certainly fun to speculate what might have been going on behind the scenes of these pictures, and what the relationships of the sitters might be to one another. I have one image in my collection that in the right minds implies no end of off-camera highjinks. But it’s still pure speculation. If you see an image marked “gay interest”, buy it only because you actually like the image, not for any marketing baloney designed to separate more of your hard-earned money from you than is fair.

More collection stuff

Over the weekend I went to a camera swap meet in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. You know, one of those things they hold in a hotel ballroom where dealers in used gear set up tables and put out all kinds of odds and ends for sale, and some will actively buy your used cameras too. I can remember not so many years ago when these things were huge, attracting 75+ vendors in some pretty big spaces in some pretty decent hotels.

Now, though, not so much. This show is now in the basement ballroom of what is quite possibly the lowest-rent hotel in Tyson’s Corner (it hasn’t been redecorated since the 60’s). I would guess that there were not more than 20 vendors. To describe it as a flea market would be verging on charitable. There were some nice items, for sure, but most of it was glorified (and some not even glorified) junk. I did see a few momentary temptations (a beautifully preserved Nikon F with the non-metered prism, but it was so nice it looked to be a collector piece not a user), but nothing to compel my wallet to open, camera-wise. I did find some stereoviews, including this one, for $2 each.

Castell Sant'Angelo, The Vatican

I know, here I was saying I’m not collecting stereoviews, which is not entirely accurate, nor is it entirely inaccurate either. I pick up a few here and there when I see one that tickles my fancy. I’m sure that 99% of them when I die will still be worth what I paid for them, in large part because I don’t actively collect. Stereoviews were made in series, much like this one. Underwood & Underwood was one of the largest publishers of stereoviews, and they printed thousands upon thousands of them, with themes like “The Grand Tour of Europe” or “The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” or “Vignettes from Oriental Life” showing pictures of the peoples and customs of Asia. They were the 1860s to 1910s equivalent of newsreels and National Geographic movies before motion pictures and television existed, and served to bring the world in all its variety into the homes of the working classes who could not travel and see these things, and perhaps were illiterate and unable to read about them in books and newspapers.

Each stereoview is numbered, and within individual sets, there are always some rare ones. Chasing down the rare numbers reminds me too much of collecting baseball cards, so that’s why I don’t get into it – the image is more important to me than the rarity of the paper behind it. Not that I’d ever turn down a set of Alexander Gardner’s stereoviews of the Lincoln Assassin’s execution. I’m just not going out looking for them.

Collecting Photography- an introduction

I got into collecting photography a few years ago, specifically vintage cased images. Really good cased images have started appreciating in value and are no longer the bargains that they used to be, but you can still pick up nice anonymous Daguerreotypes and tintypes for not too much money. An important thing to know is how to tell the difference – many people don’t know and will confuse the two, and try to sell (and price) the less valuable tintype as a Daguerreotype. The easiest way to tell the difference is in the appearance. A Daguerreotype will have a mirror finish and be hard to view directly without a black or other non-reflective color surface in front of it. Tintypes will weigh less and be clearly viewable from any angle. There are lots of other tips that can clue you in if you’re not sure, but that’s the obvious, easy distinction.


Anonymous Gentleman. Daguerreotype, Half case.


Tintype, boy and his dog.