Issue #1  4/25/1999
Southworth & Hawes Sale Sets New Records

Last night was the scene of one of the most historic (or should I say hysteric) photographic auction sales in recent memory: Sotheby's sale of the David Feigenbaum Collection of Southward & Hawes. The auction record for a daguerreotype was shattered THREE times during the course of the auction.

The iconic cover lot of Two Women Posed with a Chair going for an astounding $350,000 hammer price, plus, of course, the commission.

Other record breakers were Lot No. 7 of Edward Hawes asleep with one arm raised going for $195,000 (which broke the Plumbe dag record of the Capital Building) and the modernist and exquisite plate of the Cloud Study reaching $320,000, which broke the Hawes record and then was eclipsed by the cover lot. Both were hammer prices, to which you need to add on the commission.

The room was jammed, packed to overflowing with frantic buyers. There still were opportunities for humor. At one point auctioneer Denise Bethel excitedly jumped the bidding inadvertently by a mere $106,000.

Many Dag Society members, both dealers and bidders, were in the crowd. Mark Koenigsberg, Willie Schaeffer, Janos Novomeszky, Jeff Kraus, Charlie Schwartz, Michael Lehr, his mother, Janet Lehr, Bryan Ginns, Bill Becker, Ken Nelson, Bruce Lundberg and yours truly among the nearly thousand of participants. At least the first six were successful on at least some of their bids (Jeff on several stereo paper lots, not related to S&H).

I may get the prize for bridesmaid, having been the underbidder on four separate lots, and still not coming away with any thing from this sale.

Some of the lower end material from the larger box lots will undoubtedly find their way to market, perhaps a few even to ebay. But prices on any of the top material will certainly fetch top prices, and will be sold privately over the next year. The quality of the plates despite being uncased for over 70 years was astoundingly good and the catalog photos were for once fairly represented for the most part.

Institutions were bidding heavily and Hallmark was rumored to take one of the top lots, plus the Platt Babbitt lot of Avery Stranded (#46) for $48,000 (hammer), an astounding price if you consider that a similar plate sold at Riba's just about ten years ago for a tenth of that price. The other copy of this plate (not nearly as good) (Lot #47) sold for "only" $7500.

What were the "bargains" at this five and six figure item sale? The other sleeping Edward Hawes at $60,000 sure looks cheap in retrospect. It was a better plate than the record beater, but not quite as interesting an image.

Bruce Lundberg scooped up (with me as the underbidder) a great plate of Eleven Gentlemen (Lot 13) for a mere $14,000, a great price for this whole plate. The Platt Babbitt of the Niagara Suspension Bridge sold for $38,000 (again I was the underbidder), which was incredibly cheap (if one can say any mid-five figure amount is cheap). This image was simply fabulous and obviously overlooked in the S&H fever. I had fully expected it to go over $100,000 before the auction.

Cheap, but a little flat/dull was the full plate of the Customs House for only $30,000. Charlie Schwartz scooped up Lot no.60 of a Boston School for only $18,000, the best plate in a trio of virtually the same image, and at the lowest price. All the above were full plates and at the hammer price (with commission).

Several lovely half-plates went "reasonably", including lot 65, two lovely studies of a young girl that went for $14,000. And whole plates of Female Students in lots 66 and 67 went reasonably at $10,000 and $12,000, the latter being the better plate (again I underbid).

Everything but one lot (a very poor lot of paper prints) sold, making this auction the highest actual sold rate of any photographic auction perhaps in history (the Altermann's sale actually had buy-ins despite no reserves), and the most impressive auction of primarily daguerreian material ever held.

How will this affect the photo market? Well, it pretty much damaged both the earlier Phillips and Swann sales, which had to come before this sale and had rather high buy-in rates, particularly for Phillips.

I doubt it will have much affect on the Christie's sale on Thursday, which is frankly the most impressive lot of material, outside of the S&H sale. Lots of interest in the phenomenal Atgets and Dubreuils. And a good selection of 19th century paper. Their dags, however, are, for the most part, very overpriced.

One wag, a Dag Society member, dealer and ebayer, commented to me that "Christie's must think EVERY dag is worth at least $4-5,000."

Long-term impact? Well I think it's convinced many paper people, both dealer and collector, that dags are worth more than a look. Lots of people who claimed to not have ANY interest in dags were in attendance and bidding at the Sotheby sale. Expect high-end material to appreciate in price because of this.