Kaminski Auctions, Beverly, Massachusetts
by Jeanne Schinto
Photos courtesy Kaminski
The sale's top lot, a quarter-plate (4¼" x 3¼") occupational of a young daguerreotypist with his camera, sold to a dealer in the room for $17,550 (est. $5000/7000).
A quarter-plate copy daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln, made from the original made by Alexander Hesler on June 3, 1860, in Springfield, Illinois, sold for $1755 (est. $7000/9000).
On the second day of the sale, "Views of Madras," an album of 160 early 20th-century albumen prints, all mounted on heavy stock in various sizes, sold for $1872 (est. $750/1000). The print shown in the detail measures 8½" x 11". Schinto photos.
A quarter-plate daguerreotype of an old mill, possibly in Herkimer, New York, sold for $9360 (est. $1000/1500).
A French pocket watch in an 18k gold case sold for $4680
The ninth-plate daguerreotype of the gentleman that's inside the watch case.
A local dealer, acting as an agent, bought the top lot of the vintage photography sale at Kaminski Auctions in Beverly, Massachusetts, on October 3 and 4, 2012. A quarter-plate (4¼" x 3¼") daguerreotype of a young photographer leaning his elbow nonchalantly on his wood and brass daguerreotype camera, it sold for $17,550 (includes buyer's premium), more than twice the high estimate. Many image collectors are photographers by profession, so this example of an occupational (the name for a portrait with implements of the sitter's trade in evidence) had a good chance of resonating with them. The sitter's youth and good looks didn't hurt his cause.
This was the second photography sale that the auction house has had. Its first was on May 16, 2012. The third one is scheduled for no later than April 2013. The specialist in charge is J. Daniel Silverman, a 57-year-old attorney who as a hobby has been collecting photography, principally from the 19th century, for more than 20 years.
"It was my idea for Frank [Kaminski] to get into photography sales," said Silverman, who has been a friend of the auctioneer for three decades. "We talked about it for almost a year beforehand. I told him that while there are the big three in New York" (i.e., Sotheby's, Christie's, and Swann) "nobody's really doing it here. I have a lot of local contacts, and they were agreeing with me that we really need an outlet, so we don't have to go down to New York, pay for parking, and do all the other things that go along with it. So we thought if we developed a photography market in New England, we could be competitive, especially in the nineteenth-century area, which the big three don't really seem to care about."
Skinner's science and technology department handled quite a bit of vintage photography in the earlier part of this decade but hasn't offered much since the department was taken over in 2009 by Robert C. Cheney and its name was changed to science, technology, and clocks. The Americana department of Skinner offered a single-owner collection of daguerreotypes and thermoplastic cases in November 2011, as part of its fall Americana sale. At the time, department head Stephen Fletcher said more items from the same collection would be offered in the future.
Meanwhile, Skinner's art department has increased its offerings of modern photography, which is an area that Silverman said he and Kaminski want to "evolve into." (In fact, this second sale offered small samplings of Walker Evans, Berenice Abbott, André Kertész, and others.) But while these developments at Skinner might have discouraged Silverman, they have instead done the opposite. "They gave me the impetus to really get going and say, 'We can do that too," he said.
The major consignment for this sale, offered on the sale's first day, was a collection of 200 lots of daguerreotypes and thermoplastic cases from a single, 30-year collection from Rochester, New York. "The man collected anonymously," said Silverman. "He didn't really buy from the major dealers. He was very interested in the process of photography. He was a scientist, and he was going to retire. He has since relocated to Seattle. He offered the collection to his two kids, one in college, the other just out, and neither had any interest in it." He found Kaminski through a full-page ad the auction house placed in a publication of the Daguerreian Society.
Daguerreotypes of outdoor scenes are rare, compared with portraits, and the sale's second-to-top lot was a quarter-plate daguerreotype of an old mill, cataloged as "possibly Herkimer, New York." The buyer paid a very strong $9360 (est. $1000/1500). Its underbidder was the buyer of the top lot, who was acting as agent for the same person.
Daguerreotypes are unique. Making a copy of a daguerreotype—by taking a daguerreotype of it—was the period way to create two, except that the copy image is reversed. When there was high demand for an image, say, in the case of a famous person, copying happened with frequency, but there may also be copies of somebody's Aunt Nellie out there, because Uncle Elias wanted another. Unless we happen to see copies side by side, we wouldn't realize that's what they are, unless we have the kind of trained eye that can detect the copy's flatness.
This sale featured at least two copies. One was a sixth-plate (2¾" x 3¼") of Henry Clay that sold for $3627 (est. $6000/8000). The original of this well-known image of the statesman was made on March 7, 1848, by Marcus Aurelius Root. The other copy was a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. A quarter-plate daguerreotype copy of an albumen print made by Alexander Hesler on June 3, 1860, two weeks after Lincoln's nomination for president, it sold for $1755 (est. $7000/9000). Condition problems were considerable.
A second Lincoln image in the sale fetched $7312.50 (est. $5500/7500). An outdoor scene of President Lincoln at a flag raising at the statehouse in Philadelphia on February 22, 1861, the 9" x 6½" albumen print was made by T.S. Hacker.
Prices for the Rochester collector's thermoplastic cases were soft. Condition was the main problem. "Also, a lot of the dealers aren't really buying cases anymore," said Silverman. "The collector did have some scarce cases, and some of those I thought should have brought more money than they did. But in talks with some of our local power-dealers, they both agreed that the market has changed on those. Unless they're both pristine and rare, people are shying away from them."
The collector's 9" x 8½" chessboard, featuring photographic portraits of Civil War personalities, including a beardless Lincoln, along with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and others, sold for $1170 (est. $4000/6000). It's similar to one that sold at Cowan's on June 21, 2012, for $2702.50, but that example was larger, in better condition, and came with the 32 chess pieces. "The estimate was higher than it should have been," Silverman said.
The collector had one major crossover piece, and it did well. A French pocket watch in an 18k gold case with a miniature ivory portrait of a woman on the outside and a daguerreotype of a gentleman on the inside brought $4680 (est. $2000/3000). The man's image wasn't all that strong, but it didn't have to be. It was the unusual format that attracted the interest and determined the price, aided by the amount of gold in the lot, which included a 14k gold chain and 14k mechanical pencil.
The collection also had a whole-plate (8½" x 6½") daguerreotype of a bride by the revered Boston daguerreotypist team Southworth & Hawes. The provenance was the one you would want. It had come from the famed David Feigenbaum sale of April 27, 1999, at Sotheby's in New York City. Unfortunately, there was damage. Potential bidders might have been able to live with condition problems in a far-off corner of the image, but there were scratches right across the bride's lovely face. Estimated at an unreasonable $10,000/15,000, the image did not sell.
The second day of the sale featured lesser material from various consignors and no real standouts. Estimates on both days were overly aggressive more often than not, leading to many passed lots, especially on the second day. Bidders we spoke with are hoping for more realistic estimates (and reserves) in the future.
For more information, contact the auction house at (978) 927-2223 or see the Web site (www.kaminskiauctions.com).
A 9" x 8½" Civil War era chessboard featuring portraits of Civil War personalities, including a beardless Lincoln, along with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, writers, and poets, sold for $1170 (est. $4000/6000). Stamped with a patent date of September 23, 1862, it was attributed to Hill's, maker of a similar, though larger, board with the same patent date.
Below is a detail of the chessboard shows a beardless Lincoln. Schinto photo.
Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest