Posts Tagged ‘Art Acquisition’

For the past couple of weeks,  I’ve been hearing rumors about a photography trade show, put on by the Photographic Historical Society of New England, as a good place to start building a modest collection of 19th century prints, my forte. So NAC, I, and a hundred bucks of spending money made the trek out to Wakefield for Photographica 73.

This is a two-day event that occurs one weekend every six months from 9AM to 3PM, reflecting the median attendee age of 71.  Thus when I arrived at 12:30PM on Sunday I found the place a little picked over, with some booths already closed.  The trade show is not actually devoted to photographs, probably about seventy percent of the merchandise available was old cameras and associated paraphernalia, and so it took a little bit of searching to find booths dedicated to picture sales.

In addition, because it is the Historical Photographic Society, the photographs were mostly of the 19th century variety, which meant that there was a proliferation of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, carte de visits, Cabinet Cards, and stereographs along with some basic albumen prints.  As a 19th century photography junky I was thrilled, even if being a twenty-something interested in such wares became a curiosity unto itself.

Regardless of the rarity of the venture, if someone is interested in starting a photography or even general art collection, 19th century photography is really a great place to start, especially on a budget.  For about $100, I bought a fascinating albumen print of a group of men working at an oil mill, two tin types, one of a little girl and another of a young woman, a beautiful ambrotype of a stern old woman, and two carte de visits, one of London and the other of Prague.  The daguerreotypes I found to be more expensive than I had hoped with the best ones ranging from $500 to $1,000.  My goal was to find an interesting daguerreotype for about $25, but it wasn’t meant to be.

As far as the quality of the prints, in my opinion, they really varied according to the seller.  At one booth, for example, I found the quality to be extremely high.  The man behind the table was excited to talk about the portion of his 30-year personal collection that he was putting on sale, and even just looking at some of his exquisite daguerreotypes was a pleasure.  At many other tables, however, the photographs were more of a mish-mash, not very well organized or taken care of, and the photographs were markedly less interesting.

It’s hard to judge what makes a portrait interesting (since so many of these early photographs are portraits) but it’s usually something striking about the subject’s demeanor or expression.  Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes are all one-of-a-kind (there were no enlargers at the time, so the plate in the camera is the picture itself), thus there is a certain aura about them (to quote Walter Benjamin); there’s the knowledge that the person shown stood in front of the sensitized piece of glass or metal, creating the one image that you hold in your hand.

Thus, my advice for buying these types of portraits is judge how much that person resonates with you.  Sometimes that means that the daguerreotype itself isn’t in great shape or the ambrotype in the beautiful box can be passed up.

So if you are interested in slowly building up an interesting collection of photographs without breaking the bank, I hear that there will be another one in September, just be sure to stay in Friday night.


Photographic Historical Society of  New England: http://phsne.org/


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