Babe's final bow at Yankees Stadium, Ali dominantly standing over a fallen Liston, Lou Gehrig delivering his farewell speech, for sports fans these are images that are burned into our mind. Brief moments in time that decades later still send chills down our spine, raise the goose bumps on our arms and bring a tear to our eye. Unlike the game used jersey or signed ball, photographs capture a single, exact moment that an audience can relate to directly. That pinpoint specificity makes it easy to transport yourself into an exact moment such the second that Joe Montana connected with John Taylor for the game winning touchdown of Super Bowl XXIII. With a simple glance one could imagine what it felt like to be in the stands that day, the roar of the crowd as Taylor crossed the goal line, and the enormous tension that preceded the explosion of cheers. Few objects can stoke memories in such a way and it's for that reason that the demand for vintage photography in all its many forms has risen so dramatically of late.
Before going further though it's best to outline the most commonly found types of images that have been created over the past 150+ years. First and foremost, there is the gelatin silver print, or black and white photograph. Easily the most identifiable and popular amongst the vintage collecting public today, gelatin silver prints dominated the first half of the 20th century and make up the overwhelming majority of the vintage material in circulation due to the fact that most 20th century photographs were monochromatic, and it wasn't until the 1960s that color photography became commonplace. They also have proven to be quite durable if properly maintained resulting in a long, beautifully preserved lifespan.
In recent years collectors have benefited from the sharp decline in newspaper sales as well established papers such as the San Francisco Examiner, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Detroit Free Press and others, in an attempt to create an alternative source of revenue in this new digital landscape, have sold the contents of their incredible photo archives. These massive collections which span 100+ years of history and number in the hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, have been made available to the public for the first time and the response, judging by prices, has been outstanding.
Of course silver gelatins had to evolve from an earlier form of photograph which was known as the daguerreotype. Invented by Louis-Jaques-Mande Daguerre and introduced worldwide in 1839, the delicate process involved polishing a sheet of silver-plated copper to a mirror finish, treating the surface with light-sensitive gases, and then exposing the plate in a camera for as long as was judged to be necessary. The resulting latent image on it would be made visible by fuming it with mercury vapor. Such a labor intensive method, as you would assume, produced much better results inside controlled environment which is why so many of the daguerreotypes found today are studio portraits, where the subject could be posed for extended periods of time with set lighting. That's not to say there aren't a number of street scenes and outdoor shots available but the are far fewer in number and because of their scarcity, demand a higher price. In the mid-1850s, ambrotypes, a negative mounted to glass and set against a black background to create the appearance a photo positive, replaced the daguerreotype. Though an improvement on the original their fragile nature made the trend one that was short lived and soon after in 1856, a more durable alternative, the tintype, was patented. Both of these types of photography remained popular until the advent of the silver gelatin in the 1890's, and during their reign caught countless historically significant moments and figures. In fact, many of the best known images from the American Civil War live on today thanks to these tiny pieces of glass and tin.
From collectors point of view there is one other notable form of photography that originated during this same era known as the carte de visite, which had been created in France and introduced to the U.S. in 1859. The CDV was a photographic print made of paper that measured 2.5 inches by 4 inches. It's relative affordability made it accessible to the masses and perfect for larger scale production. In fact, many semi pro baseball clubs of the time would distribute CDVs featuring a team photo to their opponents and visiting fans while they were on the road.
Those that have managed to survive have today become some of the most highly sought after pieces of early baseball memorabilia on the market. Just recently, a CDV featuring the Brooklyn Atlantics Baseball Club, sold for $92,000! Keith Olbermann explains how this piece of memorabilia is actually a photo, and not a card like others are reporting: "Why The $92,000 Baseball Card Isn't Really A Baseball Card"
With the basic types of images now in mind, let's move on to some of the finer details to look for searching for your next acquisition. Like traditional memorabilia, there are a number of factors that go into determining the value of a vintage photo:
While on the subject of artists, of which there are literally thousands, there are a few in particular to keep in mind when shopping for the next addition to your collection. These names are just the tip (of the tip) of the iceberg but their work is a mix of sport, entertainment, and high art. Research into any of the names below will undoubtedly lead you further into their particular field and the work of their peers, thus this is a solid foundation on which to begin to build upon:
All the facts, famous shutterbugs, and details aside though, when it comes to buying photos old or new, just remember these four words: BUY WHAT YOU LOVE, because an image that moves you can never truly depreciate no matter what the market dictates. It's a buying philosophy that has never steered us wrong and it's the reason we're in the midst of our current photo buying frenzy!
Just Collect is just overflowing with love for photos right now. We're paying top dollar for vintage photos of every type, shape, size, and subject matter. We're buying single photos and small collections, as well as larger privately held collections and entire newspaper archives. If you are a collector, professional photographer, or major publisher looking to monetize your enormous inventory, call us today to discuss the many options we offer. Our expert staff has been involved in the successful sale of two of the nation's oldest daily publications, and we look forward to assisting you with all of your vintage photo-related needs.
Appointments are available at any of our offices, and we have representatives that are ready to travel to view collections of extraordinary size or value. Contact us today!