vintagephotosjohnson's Shop Announcement

SHOP POLICIES & INFORMATION: Welcome to our sale of vintage images, historical photographs, fine art photography, photography books, catalogs and magazines. This private collection was gathered during the past forty years. Years ago many of these photographs were not considered to have any value and were often in danger of immediate destruction when we obtained them, on more than one occasion, one day ahead of the dumpster.
Beyond the motive of preservation, as teachers of photographic history, one of our aims was to find examples that trace the history of photography from 1845 to the 1990s rather than specifically collect “rare and valuable” artwork. Many of these photographs are more than a hundred years old and some show the dings and knocks of a hard life. Many vintage photographs are rare, one-of-a-kind, fragile and irreplaceable. They all have artistic and historical value that has endured well beyond their time. For us, it has always been “all about the image” and interesting images have always taken precedence over other factors that professional “collectors” display when considering their choices.
In our collection there are bad photographs by bad photographers, dull photographs by good photographers, good photographs by good photographers, and some extraordinary photographs by photographers altogether unknown or under-known to the standard historians and dealers. We hope to bring to you some of the good to extraordinary photographs that we have found over the years. Photography is a wonderful medium of communication and expression and we hope that some of that range and diversity of opinion and commentary on life shows itself in these prints. I hope you enjoy the collection. We will post new items when we can.

In my descriptions of the images for sale, all sizes are approximate. And in the scanned images presented here I did little to “improve” the quality of the image, although our scanner seems to shift everything to the red, so I tried to bring that back a bit to get a closer approximation of the original print’s coloration.
Please let me remind everyone that a copied image of smaller prints often “display” far more powerfully, (Often even better than the original print itself.) and that larger prints –particularly larger vertical prints --frequently lose their visual impact in the presentation of the copied image.

"Vintage" means a photographic print that was printed by the photographer, or by his professional assistant, or supervised lab, at or about the time the photograph was taken. "Vintage" does not mean "old". "Vintage" means "at the time or period of origin". Everything we sell is vintage.

“Attributed” or “Attrib.” means research strongly suggests that a photograph was taken by the named photographer, based on the period, subject, style and on other comparable images, etc.

"Signed in the negative" means the photographer or studio signed the negative, so that it would be reproduced on every print. On black-and-white prints, such signatures or titles are usually white.

On this site “Ex-institution” means that the photograph was once held in the collections of either the Fine Arts Library, Harvard University or in a collection once held by the Fine Arts Department at Boston University. Institutions throw away things when they think they have something else that does the job better, or something that is newer or a duplicate of what they have already or something they don’t need anymore. For fancy, expensive items they call it “deaccessioning;” for less valued items it is called “weeding.” They did this all the time, have done so forever, and still do it today. In the 1970s the Fine Arts Library at Harvard University used to weed its duplicate books and magazines and its “record photographs” of artworks by once a year putting up a table --with a cup for the money-- for a week or so by the entrance to its book stacks so that students could pick through the piles of stuff and take what they wanted. Each year there was a pile of older fading brown-toned photographs on that table marked for sale at 5 cents or 1 cent each. If anything still remained after being offered several times on the table it was then thrown away. Some of these “older fading brown-toned photographs” were in fact just that --older, faded prints. But many of these prints were produced before black and white became the standard fashion for printing photographs. There were many beautifully preserved gold toned and selenium toned albumen prints, which are often extraordinarily soft and delicate and elegantly precise in their depiction of the tonalities of the chosen subject. Nevertheless, they were replaced when a newer black and white print of the same subject became available. Every year I protested that someday these photographs would be considered valuable, and every year my colleagues on the staff thanked me for my input and continued to perform their responsibilities to keep the collections up to date by removing older unwanted items. And in reality, in spite of my protests at the time, the fact that anyone would reconsider the value of these prints was so unlikely then, even to me, that I didn’t go visit that table regularly every year either and I just threw a nickel or a quarter into the cup occasionally and took something when I happened to see a print I liked.
The second source of the ex-institutional photographs for sale here is from a collection formerly held at Boston University. This collection was first held by the Liberal Arts Library at Boston University, which decided sometime before the 1970s it could no longer afford to maintain its visual print collections. The Library then gave the photographs to the Boston University Fine Arts Department, where, for lack of space, they were stored in boxes in a closet or a small room in the departmental office. At some date in the late 1970s this closet was needed for some other purpose, and the chairman of the department opened the closet door for several weeks and invited all the fine arts students to come and take anything they wanted before the department threw the remainder away. My wife Susie was a graduate student at Boston University at that time, and so we went down there on the last day and rummaged through what was left and saved several cartons of photographs from the boxes of photographs being thrown in the dumpster the next day. That event happened in the late 1970s and if nothing else, this demonstrates how little value was given to most older photographs then. Many of the photographs from Boston University that we gathered were marked from the “Meade Collection.” It seems almost certain that the bulk of this collection was gathered by a person with a good eye for good photography and a desire to collect excellent photographs of architecture during an extended tour through Britain, France, Italy and the Near East. It seems by approximation that the tour was made during the final years of the 1850s or in the 1860s at the latest. Research may some day establish firmer dates. In virtually every case I’ve mentioned here, if we had not taken the photographs that were offered to us from whatever source, then they would all have been destroyed. We took them because we love photography – all kinds of photography – and have attempted, to the best of our abilities, to preserve those photographs.
If anyone reading this should start to think badly of these institutions for the decisions they made at the time please let me hasten to inform you that these are minor and even trivial events in the long history of disrespect for photographs over the past 140-odd years. In 1912 when Francis Trevelyn Miller published the multivolume The Photographic History of the Civil War from the collection of Brady negatives which had been found hidden away in a New Jersey barn, there was so little understanding of photographic history that he was taken to court for faking the photographs and he had to bring war veterans into the courtroom to testify that they had actually been photographed. In the 1920s and 1930s hundreds, perhaps thousands of daguerreotypes were thrown away so that their cases could be used as cigarette cases. In fact there was a collector’s market for daguerreotype cases long before there was any market for the daguerreotypes themselves. There is also the story of the used-glass dealer in New York City who complained about the difficulties in scraping the collodion films off the glass plates of dozens of portraits of Abraham Lincoln and other presidents, as well as of hundreds of other military men and statesmen; irritated that it was such hard work for so little money. One can wince when remembering that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York would only take Alfred Steiglitz’s donation of his personal collection of Pictorialist photographers (now worth millions) only after he threatened to destroy them when they rejected them the first time – and even then, only because the donation included works by American painters as well. Many more institutions than these mentioned here, which should have known better, have histories of throwing away photograph collections. I know of at least five instances where major collections of photographs, worth hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars today, were barely rescued from destruction at one large institution; and I’m certain that many instances of the same nature have occurred at almost every older institution in the country. But it would be fruitless to start second-guessing decades of bad decisions by almost everyone in whatever position of authority they held at the time. It is simply not possible to adequately convey the sense of how these photographs were considered valueless or even a nuisance at the time, often even by individuals who had some interest in the medium itself. Fortunately, that feeling about photography, at least for some photographs, has changed now and so these little pieces of history are a bit better protected than they once were and they may yet bring some pleasure to people in the future.

I am not selling copyright to these images. It is up to you, the buyer, to research the copyright status of any images offered here. Copyright is held by the estates of many famous photographers, like the Alinari family of Italy, or George Washington Wilson in Scotland, and many others. Copyright in individual published images may be held by the original publishing company, or its successors. However, copyright expired long ago for many of the images by itinerant 19th-century, photographers.

All prices are in $ USA.