Issue #190  3/24/2012
Swann's End-of-February Auction Nets $1,141,488 With 78% of Lots Sold

By Alex Novak

Swann Gallery's February 28th auction in New York broke into seven figures with a total of $1,141,488. The unsolds, or buy-ins, only totaled a modest 22%.

The figures were helped by the sale's top two lots, which both brought six-figure bids. The total on just those two lots represented nearly 20% of the entire sales proceeds. Prices below include the 20% buyer's premium.

Lot 12, the back cover lot, William Bradford, The Arctic Regions, Illustrated with Photographs Taken on an Art Expedition to Greenland, with 141 albumen photographs, from an edition of 300 planned copies, London, 1873, sold to a collector on the phone for $180,000, as several phones battled it out. The edition had been sold by Swann on February 7, 2008. The couple, Bruce and Karen Wilburn, who then bought it, loaned it to the New Bedford Whaling Museum for an exhibition and then re-consigned it to Swann after the show. They had originally paid $144,000 at the time, so even with all the fees, they may have managed to come out a bit ahead. The winning bid was also a world auction record for this publication and, of course, the top lot in this auction. I felt that the album was stunning and one of the best that I remember seeing.

Lot 50, Berenice Abbott, Retrospective Portfolio, containing 50 photographs, also sold to a collector, this time for $102,000.

The other lots to round off the top ten in the auction included:

--Lot 55, Doris Ulmann, Roll, Jordan, Roll, sold for $38,400 to a collector.

--Lot 25, Tina Modotti, suite of three photographs of puppets, sold to a collector for $36,000.

--Lot 19, San Francisco Police Department Bureau of Identification Inmate/Prisoner ID Mug Shot Album, with 710 photographs on forty pages from 1908-10 sold for $31,200 to a collector on a phone. Swann claimed that this was a world auction record for a vernacular photography lot, which seems like a rather dubious claim.

--Lot 9, Albert Sands Southworth & Josiah J. Hawes, whole plate daguerreotype of a Boston schoolhouse, sold to a collector for $28,800. Interestingly this plate was reportedly offered to Sotheby's, who originally auctioned it. They turned it down!

--Lot 73, George Zimbel's Enhanced Marilyn Portfolio, which sold to a collector for $26,400. Again, Swann claimed a world auction record for the artist. While that might be true of the lot, most such records are claimed for individual photographs, not portfolios or groups of images.

--Lot 33, Margaret Bourke-White's World's Largest Blast Furnace, Magnitogorsk, Russia, sold for $24,000 over an estimate of only $8,000-10,000 to a collector who left an order bid. While attractive overall, the print will definitely need conservation though. The spotting in the sky particularly concerned me.

--Lot 42, Berenice Abbott, a vintage print of City Arabesque, started a battle between two phone bidders. It finally sold to a collector on one of the phones for $24,000. It's a great image, if a typical Abbott print.

--Lot 7, Felix Bonfils, Photographs of the Holy Land – Jerusalem, an album containing 48 albumen prints, was another one of those wacky Swann claims of an auction record for the artist after it sold for a whopping $22,800 to a collector. Actually larger-format Bonfils albums have sold for more in Europe, but this one went for a silly price here considering the images. All I could figure is that the collector liked the carved wooden album cover, which was pretty neat.

--Lot 78, a later print of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, sold for $21,600 to a collector. That's pretty much a VERY high retail price for the image, which was only 14 x 9-1/2 inches.

--Lot 98, Helmut Newton, Big Nude, Yuko, Nice, sold to a dealer for $16,800. And, yes, Swann claimed that this was another "auction record". I guess that was for this particular image and in that particular size print. That's a real reach though.

--Lot 99, Irving Penn, Alexandra Beller from the Dancer series, sold to a collector for $16,800 and rounded off the top ten lots here.

Daile Kaplan, Vice President and Director of Photographs at Swann, said, "The exuberant bidding at yesterday's auction reflected the strength of the market for mid-market photographs and photo books as collectors were actively vying for rare illustrated books, unique daguerreotypes, stunning portfolios, one-of-a-kind vernacular albums in addition to a range of vintage and modern photographic prints and contemporary works. We're pleased to see a host of new blue-chip buyers in the mix, each of whom brings their own enthusiastic passions to the field."

Novak has over 45 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 Historical Photographic Society. 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. 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 at exhibit shows, such as AIPAD New York and Miami, Art Chicago, Classic Photography LA, Photo LA, Paris Photo, The 19th-century Photography Show, etc.