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Snap up vintage photographs

A cabinet card of Buffalo Bill Cody is an example of a valuable vintage photograph.
A cabinet card of Buffalo Bill Cody is an example of a valuable vintage photograph. Photo provided

The first photograph ever taken captured an image of a window overlooking the photographer’s backyard landscape. In 1826, the photographer, a French scientist named Joseph Nicéphore-Niepce, took a picture called Window of Le Gras using the camera obscura. He exposed a bitumen-coated plate in a camera obscura for several hours on the windowsill and the rest is photographic history.

Other important early photographic firsts followed:

Color: James Clark Maxwell’s Tartan ribbon, 1861

Weather: Unknown photographer’s Tornado near Howard, SD, 1884

Archaeology: Hiram Bingham’s Machu Picchu, 1912

Underwater: Dr. William Longley & Charles Martin’s Hogfish-Florida Keys, 1926.

Space: Buzz Aldrin’s Footprint of Neil Armstrong on the Moon, 1969

Following these innovations in photography, many 20th century photographers started to capture images of everyday life and historic events and offered artistic forms of photography. Collecting photographic images came of age in the 1900s via ambrotypes and tin types, cabinet cards, gelatin silver prints, etc. Some of the most remarkable photos of the 20th century featured cabinet cards of famous people, still lifes by Edward Weston, Depression era workers by Dorothea Lange, untouched landscapes vistas by Ansel Adams, World War II documentary shots by Alfred Eisenstaedt, saturated color pictures by Eliot Porter, celebrity snapshots by Richard Avedon and Annie Leibowitz, erotic images by Robert Mapplethorpe and unforgettable portraits by National Geographic photographer and Penn State grad, Steve McCurry.

On the market today, collectors look for the big names in the history of photography and they spend big money on the finest examples of photographs in various media whether they are black and white gelatin silver prints or Kodachrome prints or something else altogether. In 2010, Imogen Cunningham’s Magnolia Blossom: Tower of Jewels hit an auction record for a black and white photograph from 1925 when it sold for more than a quarter of a million dollars at auction.

Photography has remained an important collecting sector of the art market. A recent auction in New York realized nearly $3.5 million dollars for important photographs by Timothy O'Sullivan, William Bell, Edward Weston, Alex Prager, Lucas Samaras, William Henry Fox Talbot, Eadweard Muybridge, Lewis Baltz, Edward Steichen, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Helmut Newton among others. The interest in the photo market is seen in strong online sales for antique and vintage photography and in collecting photography from various international sources. Historical and contemporary photographs have a strong showing with collectors and critics alike. When it comes to vintage photographs, snap them up!

Lori Verderame is the author and award-winning TV personality who appears on the History Channel’s "The Curse of Oak Island." With a Ph.D. from Penn State, professional museum posts and experience appraising 20,000 antiques every year, "Dr. Lori" presents antique appraisal events to worldwide audiences. Visit or call (888) 431-1010.