Collectors who know the history and details of what they collect are the ones who make the best discoveries. A photographer and collector of vintage and historic photographs bid on a faded, framed print of a photo at a small estate sale run in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Most of the stuff being sold was furniture. But the collector, Jeff Sedlik, ended up spending $2,200 in December 2021 for the framed picture of a woman at a well that he suspected (but couldn’t be sure) was a rare platinum print by Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946). Stieglitz was an American photographer who popularized photography as an art form in the late 1900s and early to mid 1900s. He had been known to take a series of three photographs in 1894 while on his honeymoon in Venice, Italy, just as “hand cameras” were becoming popular.
After buying the faded, framed photograph, Sedlik carefully opened the frame to examine it and look for markings. He was surprised to find two identical platinum prints were inside. One, because it had sandwiched inside the frame, was in nearly pristine shape, with no fading at all. Sedlik has been collecting photographs for nearly 40 years at flea markets, auctions and estate sales. He said he knew there were no prints of this image of a woman at a well in Venice (part of a series of three pictures in Venice) other than prints at the National Gallery. He also knew that many of the negatives of pictures taken on that trip had been destroyed by a leak in Steiglitz apartment.
The back plate of the framed picture had an 1899 Philadelphia entry form handwritten by Stieglitz, a title of “A Venetian Courtyard,” a price of $15. Stieglitz prints are rare and valuable. A 1919 print of his second wife’s hands (he was married from 1924-1946 to artist Georgia O’Keeffe) sold for $1,472,000 in 2006. A 1914 print sold in 2013 for $363,750.
The moral of the story? Don’t discount small estate sales and remember informed collectors are more likely to find an unrecognized treasure.
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