As Others See Her

Three Artists Photo

Sharon Bloemendaal Photo

From left: Bea Cohen, Memphis, Tenn; Lady Ostapeck; and Mary Carroll, Whittier, Calif., at PhotoHistory XI.

PhotoHistory XI: Lively Look at Photographic Past

by Sharon Bloemendaal

New York–Pennsylvania Collector, a monthly
antiques newspaper, January 2001

About 250 collectors and historians from nine countries and 25 states attended PhotoHistory XI, the 11th triennial symposium in Rochester, NY. These are both major and beginning collectors, authors, educators, curators and heads of photographic history organizations.

Held since 1970, the event is sponsored by The Photographic Historical Society in conjunction with George Eastman House, the premier photographic museum.

Attendees mingled and met fellow collectors, and listened and learned about all types of cameras, photographs, and the Internet as well.

The reception was lively. I enjoyed seeing friends that I had not seen for three years. As I have attended all 11 symposia (as have many others), I’ve gotten to know many collectors and dealers.

The Portland, Oregon, Collector’s group was well represented, with 17 people from nine states attending PhotoHistory.

A Scholarly and Friendly Symposium

Jack Bloemendaal, the general chairman, in his opening remarks, noted that the first symposium was held in 1970, about a month before our older daughter was born — and her second child was born earlier this October.

Saturday was busy, with talks from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; the afternoon presented choices, with five concurrent sessions (generally on either equipment or images). These sessions enabled TPHS to feature 16 speakers and to give both the technology and image fans a chance for a full day of their choice. All talks were so interesting that we hated to miss five talks! The time was short but introductions were brief, thanks to Nick and Marilyn Graver, who compiled a handout of biographical information on each speaker.

Rodger Kingston praised anonymous photographers. He noted that Beaumont Newhall presented photohistory as art, ignoring snapshots and the vernacular. Kingston noted, “With anonymous photographs anything is possible. He noted that there were more sophisticated photographers than books would have you believe. He has 3,000 such photos in his collection, and presented slides of many of them.

Matthew Isenburg’s topic was “The Mighty Carte de Visite — the Paper Daguerreotype.” These almost baseball-card-size mounted photos were mass produced. He noted, “Photo albums married to a card mounted photograph made CDVs popular in the 1860s and ‘70s.” Isenburg, a preeminent collector of daguerreotypes, reported that his collection was enhanced by CDVs. He used the information written in pencil on the backs of CDVs to identify daguerreotypes in his collection—of a Civil War general and a minister. He dedicated his talk to William C. Darrah, whose book on CDVs enriched the world of photographic literature.

The Internet was discussed by three speakers, followed by a question-and-answer period.

Christopher Mahoney of Sotheby’s, New York City, noted three records set by Sotheby’s: $387,000 for a Southworth & Hawes full-plate daguerreotype (19th-century), $607,500 for a Charles Sheeler industrial photo (20th-century) and in October, ‘96, $184,000 for a daguerreotype of Frederick Douglas. He recalled the April ‘99 David Feigenbaum collection, which had 70 daguerreotypes by Southworth & Hawes.

Uwe H. Breker, founder of Auction Team Koln in Germany, asked, “What makes an item a collectors item?”

  • * Historical background: such as a pre-1935 Leica or the 1860s Dubroni (the first instant camera); Auction Team Koin sold it for a record $14,400.
  • * Rarity: (pre-1860).
  • * Desirability: (the Photosphere is attractive).
  • * Originality: this is most 1mportant; forget the regilded Leica, brought down from a $6,000 to $8,000 value to about $200. The restored Leica is worthless, he noted; the original patina is important. He compared a restored camera to a woman with a facelift—with a stiff face, she can laugh no more.

Breker likes the portability of a catalog for his technical auctions in Germany. He reports that the Internet is a superb additional market to the live auction. “Since eBay’s success, our auctions are doing even better.... Auction fever is spread to everybody now. Thanks, eBay.” He adds, “We are very successful in buying on the Internet, and getting two to three times what we paid and selling to collectors and museums and those who didn’t like the computer.” He said that the Internet saves time and traveling expenses. The times of the great shows are over, he said, “I don’t see any dangerous competition from online auctions. The online auction is totally public.” Why are there price differences on camera guide and public auction prices? Breker said that desires and demands differ by country. “The French like their classic stuff better than the rest of the world.”

Auction Team Koln sold an Enigma, the WWII decoder, for $51,000. He summed up, “The good stuff is getting scarcer and scarcer. Prices for good collectors’ items can only go up. Happy hunting!”

Frank Calandra of Rochester, NY, began by saying that the Internet was one of the few things that the government invented that was beneficial to us. The World Wide Web (www) was meant for the exchange of documents and information by research scientists. He was realistic, saying that 99.9 per cent of the web content is totally useless, but that still leaves a lot. He commented that the auction web quickly became the 900 pound gorilla on the Internet. “Content is king on the Internet and always will be.”

Calandra suggested that sellers avoid putting mundane items on the Internet—it’s easier to get them at Wal-Mart. “eBay stays healthy because of low overhead.” While not totally online (it purchased Butterfield & Butterfield), it is looking into fixed price items.

The benefit of the Internet is that buyers can dial into millions of items, and the seller has a global group of buyers. While Calandra has purchased from many countries, including Slovenia, he says, “The brick and mortar world is not dead yet.” Search for your treasures at a variety of sources, he recommends.

One of the first questions for the panel was on collusion in bidding (the Sotheby’s/Christie’s suit settlement was recently announced). Christopher Mahoney reported that the collusion investigation was only on the commission rates, “It hasn’t affected my market at all.”

One comment on straw bidding on eBay, “They can’t police the entire Internet.”

How do you decide whether a piece should go to a traditional or online action? Sotheby’s signed up trusted dealers and gallery owners to become Internet associates. The Internet is better for lower end items, using a $3,000 to $5,000 minimum for live sales.

Breker noted that six percent of his market is to the German people, the rest to international clients.

Eaton S. Lothrop, Jr., a collector of box cameras (and single use cameras) spoke on the Brownie camera In the 1890s the Harvard camera (75 cents with a tripod — and providing five new subscribers to the Youth’s Companion) met the need for an inexpensive camera for children. The 1895 Pocket Kodak was $5 when the average income was $415 per year. The 1900 Brownie camera was just $1. Lothrop related how the 1897 Palmer Cox fairy tales caught the public eye; he told the story of the Brownie, including the Baby Brownie designed by Walter Dorwin Teague in the 1930s, the ’50s Brownie Hawkeye, Starflash, Starflex, Starmatic, and the 110. “I wish the Brownie a happy birthday,” he concluded.

Myra Albert Wiggins was a photographer in the late 1800s in Oregon. Carole Glauber pointed out her trials and triumphs. She studied under William Merritt Chase, photographed San Francisco, had photos in Godey’s Ladies Book, shot rural and Dutch peasantry-type photographs, used a cartouche-like monogram “MAW” to replace her signature, and won many prizes as an amateur photographer.

Why did Janice Schimmelman begin collecting tintypes? Because they were inexpensive, and because she found them at the many trade shows she attended with her husband John Cameron. She spoke on the development of the iron plate in American photography. The article in the October issue of The New York-Pennsylvania Collector is based on a chapter in her upcoming book. So why is it called a tintype when it is on japanned sheet iron? Because “tin” was slang for cheap money, and the tintype is the smallest and cheapest ferrotype.

Another speaker was Tim Fuss, on colorful Kodak cameras. He showed slides of many of the cameras, as well as the ads proclaiming the new look.

Thurman (Jack) Naylor spoke on his new collection. After he sold his extensive camera collection to the Japanese government for a museum in Yokohama (reportedly for several million), he started over and filled his whole museum again (with 25,000 items), but with a higher percentage of images.

Hans Bjelkhagen (UK, from Sweden) spoke on Lippman photography, interferential color photography from 1891 to the present.

Richard Morris (UK) shared information on John Dillwyn Llewelyn of Wales and a relative of Morris’ wife. Llewelyn was the discoverer of the oxymel process, which used honey and vinegar.

Nick Graver showed slides of numismatic/photographic items from 1837 to 1998: coins, bank notes, advertising coins and commission scrip.

Theron (Tim) Holden can be called Mr. Graflex, as he worked for the company for years, and had photos from 1952 to help attendees tour the Graflex plant. If anyone knows the answer to a Graflex question, he does.
Suzanne Flynt spoke on photos by Frances and Mary Allen, photographers from Historic Deerfield (1895-1915).

Thomas G. Yanul of Chicago offered an exhibit of banquet photography in the Eastman House “Conservatory.” His handout talked of the history (and the problems of lighting) of such photographs.

The evening grazing buffet (with harp music) coincided with the opportunity to hear the huge organ that George Eastman once listened to during his breakfasts.

The after-dinner topic, the camera obscura, was given by Jack and Beverly Wilgus of Baltimore, MD. Their search for camera obscuras was reflected by their slides of these tourist attractions in several countries. They began by noting that Plato’s cave may have been a camera obscura. The Chinese built one around 400 B.C. The darkened room with a small opening to project the exterior view upside down on the opposite wall was noted by 10th- and 11th-century Arabians; Leonardo da Vinci described the camera obscura in 1490. They noted that an Edinburgh (Scotland) letter to the editor decried young men watching the camera obscura (probably written to drum up business).

Their working camera obscura, about a 10-foot cube, was set up in the George Eastman House gardens. The white tent with a black inner lining was relatively light tight and was visited by a huge numbers of attendees and museum visitors. A table in the center had the reflection of the museum; the view could be changed by the operator. It was staffed by docents and Rochester Institute of Technology student volunteers.

Eight fortunate people were able to sign up for a wet-plate workshop lead by Mark Osterman and Frances Scully-Osterman.

Trade Show Features Cameras and Images

A trade show on Sunday at the Rochester Marriott Thruway attracted buyers from the community as well as registrants. Bob Navias was trade show chairman, filling two ballrooms with 82 tables filled by 60 dealers. Here were books, cameras, posters and Kodakery, the early 1900s magazine for amateur photographers, as well as images: ambrotoypes, calotypes, tintypes, cyanotypes (blue) and daguerreotypes.

Dick Casey of Oxford, Pa. offered ambrotypes, daguerreotypes and tintypes ranging from $3 to $100. Military carte de visites were tagged from $2 to $50 by Robert G. Duncan (Holyoke, MA).

Ruud C. Huff of Amsterdam, Holland offered a postcard-size Contessa Nettel tropical model for $625. He reported, “I’m quite happy [with sales]. I loved the symposium; I’ve seen people I’ve corresponded with for the past 15 years.”
Mike Kessler of San Juan Capistrano, Calif. put a price of $650 on a toy 1890 magic lantern by J.S. of Germany, and $475 on a circa 1900 zoetrope, probably by Ernst Plank. He had sold an English mahogany carte de visite box with four compartments, priced $350.

Dealer Josh Heller (Victor, NY) offered a Muybridge print for $300. His photographic prints were sorted by category: children, women, men, animals, police, railroad, exterior scenes, etc.

David B. Chow offered Steiglitz’ 1906 photogravure, ‘The Swimming Lesson” for $750.

One seller was surprised to see silverplated “Kodak” spoons sell at $10 each or four for $30. They were presumably deaccessioned from the company cafeteria; she had acquired them at a Rochester, NY rummage sale.

Charles Green, age 12, who was featured as a young camera collector, attended the trade show and spent all of his hard earned money. He had looked forward to meeting Jim McKeown of Grantsburg, Wis., author of the definitive price guide to cameras. He was surprised to find that McKeown (who began collecting at age 12) wanted his autograph. It was a “Kodak moment.”

McKeown brought the prototype of his McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique & Classic Cameras, 2001-2002. This 900-page 11th edition is $139 hardbound and $101 softbound.


PhotoHistory XII is being planned for October 2003. Save the month. Some attendees came to Rochester early to study the extensive photographic and equipment exhibits at George Eastman International Museum 0f Photography and FilmSome made the pilgrimage for the first time.

TPHS offered to publicize other shows on nearby weekends. The Photographic Historical Society of New England held its show in the Boston area the following weekend.

Bea Cowan of Memphis, Tenn., summed up her collecting philosophy as she bought a book on photography with a forward by Einstein, “You never find everything; there are always variations on a theme.”

Nick Graver, who has visited many photographic museums, collections and trade shows in several countries, said, “Nothing else is quite like it in the whole world.”

The Future of Photographica Collecting

What is the future of collecting? Many photographica societies are graying groups. Representatives from several groups met at the end of the PhotoHistory Xl opening reception. Bernie Danis of the American Photographic Historical Society (New York City) was chairperson.

Bob Lansdale, editor of Photographic Canadiana, reported, “On hand were representatives of collector groups from New York, Massachusetts, California, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Rochester, NY, as well as The Daguerreian Society; The Movie Machine Society, the International Kodak Collectors Society and the Photographic Historical Society of Canada.”

The societies that seemed most energetic were the New England and Canadian groups, as well as The Michigan Photographic Historical Society.

The Daguerreian Society (with 1,000 members) and the National Stereoscopic Association (with 3,100 members. President Mary Ann Sell did not attend, but sent a positive report later). [The Leica Historical Society of America has 2,200 members, we learned later.]

Lansdale wrote, “Photography, which was the key leisure interest back in the ‘70s when many of the societies were founded, has now been displaced by enthusiasm for computers and digital imaging... ..Tho many commercial fairs are competing for the same vendors and collectors, driving some societies out of that business... [some societies operate trade fairs and shows to raise money to support their journals and other activities]. The International Kodak Historical Society is but an Internet chat site with no dues (is this the way of the future?).

A suggestion of a national cooperative journal with local inserts failed to win acceptance at the meeting. Interested editors met the next day at the buffet lunch to exchange ideas on production and finding writers).
“The future of mutual publications may lie in the Internet, where locally-produced stories could be uploaded to a common site” wrote Lansdale.

One of the handouts at the show was from the Internet Directory of Camera Collectors (IDGC) a free Forum on using antique and classic cameras, with no commercial activity allowed.