Two stories from around the web detailing historic photographic negatives; a significant discovery in Long Island and a controversial sale in New Zealand:
A New Discovery of Old Daguerreotypes
In early 2020, a family from Long Island, New York, discovered a treasure trove of old photographs in their garden shed. But the old snaps weren’t any old family photos; they were a collection of daguerreotypes, including some of the oldest photographic portraits ever to be taken in America.
In the early 19th century, Henry Fitz Jr and his partners John Johnson and Alexander Wolcott were the first professional state-side photographers to use the newly discovered daguerreotype method of photographic development - as published by Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre in 1839. In January the following year, Henry sat for several daguerreotype portraits, and it would be a selection of these photographic portraits that would later be discovered over 180 years later in a shed in Long Island, becoming some of the oldest known photographic portraits created in America to survive to today.
At the time the photos were captured, Fitz Jr had already made a name for himself as a telescope maker in New York City and later went on to produce the first patented camera in the US. But it was his early photographic portraits that he was to become best known for; “Any scholar interested in the history of photography in America has heard of Fitz and knows that he sat for some of the earliest portraits taken.” Claimed Hindman Auctions, who hosted a sale of the photographs late last year. The collection, which included 23 daguerreotypes, was given a sales estimate of $150,000-$300,000 and sold, at the top end, for $300,000 - the most expensive lot in the auction. It is unknown who purchased the collection, but it forms part of a wider collection that was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in the 1930s by a son of Fitz Jr.
A Headline Sale of Glass Plate Photographs
Over the past year, it seems that NFTs have become the topic du jour, transforming little known photographers into multimillionaires overnight and providing buyers with a new method of investing. But how does this approach impact film photographers and historic images? Well, according to a report by New Zealand’s Newshub, it could literally be destructive.
A few weeks ago, Auckland based auction house Webb’s offered two historic glass plate photographs of celebrated New Zealand artist Charles Frederick Goldie, captured in his studio sometime between 1910 and 1920. The photographs were being offered as NFTs with framed contact prints and the original glass plate negative as part of the sale. The two lots were estimated to fetch between $5,000 and $8,000 but saw hammer prices of $51,250 and $76,250 respectively.
So far, so ordinary, but Charles Ninow, head of art at Webb's, went on to suggest the new owners of these NFTs may wish to smash the glass negatives and make the images “permanently digital”. “We are taking something made on a specific day and specific time and is really important to New Zealand’s history and in a way we are making it immortal.” Ninow explained, “Perhaps you might want to make it permanently digital. Smash it? Smash it.”
Despite Ninow’s suggestion, there is no requirement for the buyers to destroy the originals but the comment opens up a debate surrounding the use, and future prospects, of original photographic negatives sold alongside NFTs.