Issue #207  9/22/2014
Oscar Rejlander Album Sells for over $130,000 in England

By Alex Novak

Self Portrait from Rejlander Album at Morphets
Self Portrait from Rejlander Album at Morphets

An important leather-bound album of 70 photographs by Oscar Rejlander, apparently directly from original negatives (much of the photographer's output was from copy negatives), sold at Morphets auctioneers in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England, on September 11th for 80,500 pounds sterling, or a bit over $130,000 at the time.

The album drew international attention despite being auctioned off by a regional and more obscure auction house. Several 19th-century photography dealers, numerous institutions and a number of important collectors all vied for this prize, which, according to Elizabeth Pepper-Darling, director of Morphets, was sold to an "overseas institution", which has been reported elsewhere to be an American museum, but somewhat inaccurately. It turned out to be the National Gallery of Canada. I had been on the phone myself bidding for a major client.

While the consignor thought that a 100-pound reserve would be fine, the auction house put an estimate of 7,000-10,000 pounds on the lot, and started bidding at the upper limit. The last two bids were by representatives in the room, although the phone lines were also very active here. The final 70,000 pound bid had a modest 15% buyer's premium added to this total.

Among the sitters in the album are Rejlander's wife, Hallam Tennyson, the son of poet Lord Alfred Tennyson, and Rejlander himself.

The album was part of the estate of Surgeon Commander Herbert Ackland Browning, RN and then by decent. Browning's father was Captain George Browning, who was a naval photographer with connections to the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). It is probable that the album first belonged to the father and was lent through his connections to the Prince of Wales and others, as annotations in the album indicate.

According to further annotations, the father may have bought the album directly from Rejlander in the early 1860s, after the photographer initially refused to sell it, because the album represented his only photographs of these images directly made from the negatives, instead of copy prints.

It seems doubtful that the winning bidder will obtain an export license, which is required. Several English institutions indicated a serious interest in the album before the auction.