Issue #166  11/12/2009
Swann Totals $1,303,148 and Sells 75% of Its Lots

By Alex Novak

Swann scheduled its auction a couple of weeks later than Bloomsbury, Christie's and Sotheby's. The house has been off-setting its auctions for a while now, and it seems to have worked well for them. Like the other houses, Swann recovered a bit from its Spring sale totals (then $1,032,748 and 64% sold). The current $1,303,148 and 75% sold rate compares favorably with other recent past Swann sales, especially because there were no really big blockbuster images to boost the total take. The prices below include Swann's more reasonable buyer's premium (only 20% vs. 25% for some of the other houses). I have limited the coverage to $12,000 and up for most of my coverage here.

Lot 21, a mixed group of 115 tintypes from the1860s-1880s, sold just over its high estimate to a collector who left an order bid for $15,600. The phones actively underbid this one.

The Alexander Gardner Indians (lot 27, a group of 29 cabinet cards) weren't in the best condition that I've seen, but still managed to sell for $26,400 to a photography dealer on the phone, which was well under the low estimate.

Likewise, lot 28, Eadweard Muybridge's 125 collotype plates from Animal Locomotion, sold to another dealer on the phone for $81,000, which was nearly double the low estimate. Condition was again a bit mixed on the group, but this lot was Swann's highest priced lot in this auction.

Lot 31, a 230-picture rare, early mug shot album including Black Bart and Martin Foy (plus additional 117-photo mug shot album), sold to a dealer in the room for $12,000--more than double the high estimate. Two men were bidding on it, but I didn't know either.

Julia M. Cameron's portrait of Lord Alfred Tennyson with Tennyson's clipped signature (lot 34) sold to a dealer on the phone for $13,200, which was just below the low estimate. In my opinion the catalogue illustration (fading and yellowing) made it look a lot better than it was in person.

A very nice (Swann called it "spectacular") album containing 62 photographs of China including a decent panorama of Canton sold for more than double the low estimate at $15,600 to a dealer on the phone over a commission bidder. I thought it was worth more than double that price frankly--a good bargain.

The Wilson A. Bentley snow and frost studies went very well. Lot 64, a group of seven snow crystals, sold to a collector on the phone for $18,000, which was double the high estimate! The next lot, a group of windowpane frost studies, also sold above its high estimate at $10,800 to man at the front of the room versus the phone bidder.

Only about half of the Lewis Hine photographs sold here, which, considering how rare they were, was a shame. A few did get picked up, although below or just in the estimate range. Some did have some condition problems, but still presented very well. Lot 117, "Powerhouse Mechanic" (a variant) sold for the highest price among these Hines. A dealer on the phone bought it for $15,600. There was a minor corner crease. I also thought it was a later than circa 1926, unless you were really expansive on the circa definition. More like at least 1930s to me.

The Man Ray Untitled (re-photographed rayograph with a screen) sold to a collector on the phone for well under its low estimate at $15,600. It was probably an extra print made outside of the Champs Delicieux portfolio, and it was decidedly pinkish, which may have been caused by exhausted fixer (you'd be exhausted too if you worked in Man Ray's darkroom).

Another crime related lot, an album entitled "Mysteries of Life" (lot 125), did very well here. The material, which included photos of the Leo Franks lynching in Georgia (the sad story was recently on PBS) and of important crime scenes, such as the Black Dahlia murder case, Paul Bern's (Jean Harlow's husband) suicide and the James P. "Bluebeard" Watson serial murder case, soared well above its $2,000-3,000 estimate. It finally sold to a man at the front of the room for $11,400. New York dealers Tom Harris, Keith de Lellis and several phone bidders were all in on the action. De Lellis did manage to get a few of the other crime lots later though, including the very rare vintage photo by Tom Howard of the execution of Ruth Snyder being executed by electric chair. The New York Daily News had the entire front page devoted to it under the simple banner headline of "DEAD!"

Lot 136, a group of ten F.S.A. photographs printed by Arthur Rothstein in the 1970s including images by Lange, Shahn, Rothstein and Evans, sold to a collector at the back of the room for $12,000, which was double the low estimate.

Horst P. Horst's Mainbocher Corset (lot 152) in an 18 x 13-1/2-inch silver print printed 1990s sold to a collector for the high estimate at $21,600.

Lot 189, an archive of more than 125 photographs documenting Vladimir Kozmich Zworykin's early experiments with television transmission from the 1930s-1940s, sold to a collector in the room for $15,600, despite the bidding by dealer Keith de Lellis, who pushed the ultimate winner to more than double the lower estimate.

Yousuf Karsh's Ernest Hemingway (lot 196) in a 19-1/2 x 15-1/4-inch silver print sold tp a collector on the phone for $13,200, nearly double the low estimate.

A dealer bought lot 211, Bert Stern, Marilyn (Crucifix II), chromogenic print, 1962, printed 1990, for $24,000, which was the midpoint in the range.

A collector left an order bid of $18,000, which was the low estimate, for lot 227, a later print of Harry Callahan's Chicago (trees). Another collector left a winning order bid of $12,000 on lot 242, Richard Avedon's Charles Chaplin.

Eddie Adams, iconic-but-tough-to-look-at "Saigon (General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner Nguyen Van Lém)" (lot 255) was a 1980s printed-later 14 x 19 in. silver print, made as a gift to Adams's son and with a letter of provenance. Estimated at only $4,000-6,000, the print soared from bids from the phone and a man in the back of the room. It sold to a collector on the phone for $43,200--six times it's high estimate!

David Bailey's Jean Shrimpton drew attention from several bidders in the room and on the phone. Estimate at $8,000-12,000, it quickly topped it's high estimate and finally sold to a collector, a man in the front of the room for $16,800.

Richard Avedon's nude of Rudolf Nureyev (lot 284) got some phone action with a collector picking it up for $26,400--well below the low estimate.

Horst's Round the Clock I (lot 292) in a 17-1/2 x 14-1/4 inch silver print got some more phone action. But this time the bids got nearly to the high estimate at $16,800.

The group of vintage Diane Arbus portraits of artists were all bought in at the auction, but one (lot 297, Agnes Martin) sold to a collector after the auction for $18,000.

Novak has over 47 years experience in the photography-collecting arena. He is a long-time member and formally board member of the Daguerreian Society, and, when it was still functioning, he was a member of the American Photographic Historical Society (APHS). He organized the 2016 19th-century Photography Show and Conference for the Daguerreian Society. He is also a long-time member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers, or AIPAD. Novak has been a member of the board of the nonprofit Photo Review, which publishes both the Photo Review and the Photograph Collector, and is currently on the Photo Review's advisory board. He was a founding member of the Getty Museum Photography Council. He is author of French 19th-Century Master Photographers: Life into Art.

Novak has had photography articles and columns published in several newspapers, the American Photographic Historical Society newsletter, the Photograph Collector and the Daguerreian Society newsletter. He writes and publishes the E-Photo Newsletter, the largest circulation newsletter in the field. Novak is also president and owner of Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, a private photography dealer, which sells by appointment and has sold at exhibit shows, such as AIPAD New York and Miami, Art Chicago, Classic Photography LA, Photo LA, Paris Photo, The 19th-century Photography Show, Art Miami, etc.