SOLD! Swann Galleries Sold the Circa 1865 Tintype of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker For (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: The circa 1865 tintype of American physician Mary Edwards Walker wearing her Medal of Honor sold for $9,375.

 

What you see: A circa 1865 tintype of American physician Mary Edwards Walker, taken in the year she received the Medal of Honor for her service during the Civil War. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $6,000 to $9,000.

 

The expert: Deborah Rogal, associate director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

 

How often was Walker photographed around this time, and during her life? Do we know how many photos of her exist, tintype or otherwise? There are several known photos of her from all periods of her life, but fewer than ten, I’d say.

 

Do we have a more precise date on the tintype than 1865? I’m wondering if this is the first portrait of her wearing her Medal of Honor. No. I wish we did. There’s no way for us to pinpoint a more specific date. It’s dated primarily on the presence of the medal, which she won in 1865, and the overall appearance.

 

Could we talk a bit about Walker’s life story? I did not know about her until I spotted this lot in the Swann catalog. I also didn’t know about her until we received the object. She was an extraordinary person. It’s amazing she’s not more widely appreciated for who she was.

 

Her parents were progressive. They encouraged her education and encouraged her to dress how she wanted. She went to Syracuse Medical College and graduated as a doctor. She married [a fellow medical student] and privately practiced together. As far as I understand, trusting female doctors was not something patients found easy to do [so the practice struggled]. From her youth, she wore uncommon dress. In some ways, that was the most radical thing she did. She carried on, progressively getting more masculine [in her choice of clothing], but she wouldn’t refer to it that way. She didn’t wear corsets and was really outspoken about it. It caused a lot of backlash.

 

Let’s talk about her work during the Civil War, which led to her becoming the first, and so far, only woman to receive the Medal of Honor. When war broke out, she volunteered her services as a doctor. She crossed enemy lines [to tend to patients]. I think she believed powerfully in the ability to serve, and she was proud of her service. She wore her Medal of Honor in almost every photo taken of her after the war, and she refused to relinquish it. She was very proud of it, and deservedly so. After the war, she became a vocal proponent of women’s rights.

 

How did she win the Medal of Honor? As far as I understand, she attempted to retroactively receive a commission from the Army, partly to receive benefits. People didn’t know what to do with her. I think the medal was a way for them to give her recognition without giving her formal status as a veteran, which she was asking for. It was the first time a woman was awarded the medal. She believed she earned it for her bravery. She was very brave. She traveled in the south, and she was taken as a prisoner of war. [She was captured in April 1864 and released in a prisoner exchange four months later.]

 

The government rescinded the medal in 1917, two years before she died. But her medal was NOT taken away because she was an outspoken activist for women’s rights, correct? I do think her being a woman was an element, but it was not because of that. [The government of the time] questioned how the Medal of Honor was awarded in the past. Many others had theirs retroactively rescinded. [More than 900 recipients suffered the same fate as Walker. Some were removed because they were not technically members of the military when they earned the honor.] She got it back after her death. [President Jimmy Carter restored the honor to Walker in 1977.]

 

The tintype shows her wearing pants. Was it a brave act for a woman to pose for a photo in 1865 while wearing pants? Absolutely. There are women willing to record themselves wearing pants–women in bloomers, and women who served in the army and dressed as men to do that. But I don’t think they dressed that way as a matter of course through their lives. What sets Walker apart is her commitment. She dressed this way throughout her life. [She felt] women should not be forced to wear clothing that impacted their health and denied them the range of possibilities that men had. There was another level on which she was very brave. There are anecdotal stories of her wearing pants and being chased or having objects thrown at her, and she was arrested at least once for dressing this way. But she was very sure of herself. An appealing aspect to her personality was that she was so confident and articulate about her choices.

 

Would she have worn an outfit like this on the battlefield, or are these more formal clothes? The outfit in the tintype, I’d say, is certainly more formal than what she wore during the war. She would have dressed in a more casual manner. I understand that she styled herself a uniform like the Army uniform.

 

Is there any information recorded on the tintype itself? There is not, which is typical for tintypes of the period. Tintypes were an incredibly popular medium for doing portraits. There were studios, and there were itinerant tintypists. They were accessible and quick to produce. You see a lot of soldiers commemorating their own service or giving them to family members while they are away.

 

Can we tell by looking why Walker might have had this tintype made–whether she did it for herself, or for someone else, or to promote herself? It’s impossible to know for sure, given that tintypes are unique objects by definition. It’s possible to imagine she made it for herself or someone close to her.

 

What’s that light-colored thing that’s behind her in the picture? It looks like a studio prop. It could be a partially obscured portrait stand, which was used to position your body so you don’t make a move during the exposure and make a blurry image.

 

How did this tintype come to you? Was Walker identified as the sitter when it was consigned, or did you identify her? It came from a consigner we have a relationship with, who has a lot of expertise in the period and its images. He came to us with the attribution, and we did additional research. We were not able to find a previous publication of the piece, and we believe it’s unique and undocumented.

 

How did the tintype manage to go unpublished until now? Anything I could say would be guessing. It probably descended through family members. It was not part of her estate when she died. We do see this all the time–things appear out of nowhere, and we’re able to rediscover them.

 

I imagine Walker would have been easy to identify regardless, given that she’s wearing pants and a Medal of Honor. The object is small, but an aspect of tintypes is the detail. The medal is really quite clear when you look at it with magnification. It’s incredible to see that.

 

Have any other images of Walker gone to auction? What did they fetch? Records for Walker are very scarce. Christie’s sold a signed 1877 photograph of her in April 1996 for $4,370.

 

I imagine you’ll get cross-competition for this from several groups–tintype collectors, fans of early photographs, medical historians, military history fans, people interested in women’s rights… We expect that, certainly. It touches a lot of aspects of history in America, and it appeals to a wide audience. The conversations happening in the country now are relevant to the conversations that happened in Walker’s lifetime–what she could wear, could women vote, how we respond to women who have strong opinions. I see the line of conversation through history. Has it changed or not changed? She’s clearly still relevant. Her passion and her strength resonates strongly, and I hope collectors will feel that.

 

What condition is the tintype in? The image itself has not faded. I do see handling issues that are common with this piece, but the details retained in the image are incredible. I was looking at it yesterday. Her hands are clasped, and under the loupe, you can see the veins in her hands. The tintype format allows us to retain a sense of immediacy. I felt her presence strongly in the image. Paper images of the period don’t retain detail at the same level.

 

When I saw this lot, I felt angry, because I had never heard about Walker before, and this is how I learned about her–not in school, but by leafing through an online auction catalog. Do you understand what I mean? Exactly. I felt some of the things you’re describing. I feel lucky to be able to offer the image and expose her more. She was a bit of a difficult person, so opinionated, so strong, and so unable to cede to the [women’s rights] movement around her. It had an impact on how she’s remembered today. It’s unfortunate. She should be remembered for her foresight and her contributions. History is not written by women. That’s not new, but we can change that. She’s the only female Medal of Honor winner. She’s one of the first female doctors in the country. She’s incredible, and I hope we’ll be able to reenter her in our history.

 

How to bid: The circa 1865 tintype of Mary Edwards Walker wearing her Medal of Honor is lot 15 in the Photographs: Art & Visual Culture auction at Swann, taking place February 21, 2019.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

Swann Could Sell a Circa 1865 Tintype of Mary Edwards Walker–the First and, So Far, Only Female Medal of Honor Recipient– for $9,000

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What you see: A circa 1865 tintype of American physician Mary Edwards Walker, taken in the year she received the Medal of Honor for her service during the Civil War. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $6,000 to $9,000.

 

The expert: Deborah Rogal, associate director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

 

How often was Walker photographed around this time, and during her life? Do we know how many photos of her exist, tintype or otherwise? There are several known photos of her from all periods of her life, but fewer than ten, I’d say.

 

Do we have a more precise date on the tintype than 1865? I’m wondering if this is the first portrait of her wearing her Medal of Honor. No. I wish we did. There’s no way for us to pinpoint a more specific date. It’s dated primarily on the presence of the medal, which she won in 1865, and the overall appearance.

 

Could we talk a bit about Walker’s life story? I did not know about her until I spotted this lot in the Swann catalog. I also didn’t know about her until we received the object. She was an extraordinary person. It’s amazing she’s not more widely appreciated for who she was.

 

Her parents were progressive. They encouraged her education and encouraged her to dress how she wanted. She went to Syracuse Medical College and graduated as a doctor. She married [a fellow medical student] and privately practiced together. As far as I understand, trusting female doctors was not something patients found easy to do [so the practice struggled]. From her youth, she wore uncommon dress. In some ways, that was the most radical thing she did. She carried on, progressively getting more masculine [in her choice of clothing], but she wouldn’t refer to it that way. She didn’t wear corsets and was really outspoken about it. It caused a lot of backlash.

 

Let’s talk about her work during the Civil War, which led to her becoming the first, and so far, only woman to receive the Medal of Honor. When war broke out, she volunteered her services as a doctor. She crossed enemy lines [to tend to patients]. I think she believed powerfully in the ability to serve, and she was proud of her service. She wore her Medal of Honor in almost every photo taken of her after the war, and she refused to relinquish it. She was very proud of it, and deservedly so. After the war, she became a vocal proponent of women’s rights.

 

How did she win the Medal of Honor? As far as I understand, she attempted to retroactively receive a commission from the Army, partly to receive benefits. People didn’t know what to do with her. I think the medal was a way for them to give her recognition without giving her formal status as a veteran, which she was asking for. It was the first time a woman was awarded the medal. She believed she earned it for her bravery. She was very brave. She traveled in the south, and she was taken as a prisoner of war. [She was captured in April 1864 and released in a prisoner exchange four months later.]

 

The government rescinded the medal in 1917, two years before she died. But her medal was NOT taken away because she was an outspoken activist for women’s rights, correct? I do think her being a woman was an element, but it was not because of that. [The government of the time] questioned how the Medal of Honor was awarded in the past. Many others had theirs retroactively rescinded. [More than 900 recipients suffered the same fate as Walker. Some were removed because they were not technically members of the military when they earned the honor.] She got it back after her death. [President Jimmy Carter restored the honor to Walker in 1977.]

 

The tintype shows her wearing pants. Was it a brave act for a woman to pose for a photo in 1865 while wearing pants? Absolutely. There are women willing to record themselves wearing pants–women in bloomers, and women who served in the army and dressed as men to do that. But I don’t think they dressed that way as a matter of course through their lives. What sets Walker apart is her commitment. She dressed this way throughout her life. [She felt] women should not be forced to wear clothing that impacted their health and denied them the range of possibilities that men had. There was another level on which she was very brave. There are anecdotal stories of her wearing pants and being chased or having objects thrown at her, and she was arrested at least once for dressing this way. But she was very sure of herself. An appealing aspect to her personality was that she was so confident and articulate about her choices.

 

Would she have worn an outfit like this on the battlefield, or are these more formal clothes? The outfit in the tintype, I’d say, is certainly more formal than what she wore during the war. She would have dressed in a more casual manner. I understand that she styled herself a uniform like the Army uniform.

 

Is there any information recorded on the tintype itself? There is not, which is typical for tintypes of the period. Tintypes were an incredibly popular medium for doing portraits. There were studios, and there were itinerant tintypists. They were accessible and quick to produce. You see a lot of soldiers commemorating their own service or giving them to family members while they are away.

 

Can we tell by looking why Walker might have had this tintype made–whether she did it for herself, or for someone else, or to promote herself? It’s impossible to know for sure, given that tintypes are unique objects by definition. It’s possible to imagine she made it for herself or someone close to her.

 

What’s that light-colored thing that’s behind her in the picture? It looks like a studio prop. It could be a partially obscured portrait stand, which was used to position your body so you don’t make a move during the exposure and make a blurry image.

 

How did this tintype come to you? Was Walker identified as the sitter when it was consigned, or did you identify her? It came from a consigner we have a relationship with, who has a lot of expertise in the period and its images. He came to us with the attribution, and we did additional research. We were not able to find a previous publication of the piece, and we believe it’s unique and undocumented.

 

How did the tintype manage to go unpublished until now? Anything I could say would be guessing. It probably descended through family members. It was not part of her estate when she died. We do see this all the time–things appear out of nowhere, and we’re able to rediscover them.

 

I imagine Walker would have been easy to identify regardless, given that she’s wearing pants and a Medal of Honor. The object is small, but an aspect of tintypes is the detail. The medal is really quite clear when you look at it with magnification. It’s incredible to see that.

 

Have any other images of Walker gone to auction? What did they fetch? Records for Walker are very scarce. Christie’s sold a signed 1877 photograph of her in April 1996 for $4,370.

 

I imagine you’ll get cross-competition for this from several groups–tintype collectors, fans of early photographs, medical historians, military history fans, people interested in women’s rights… We expect that, certainly. It touches a lot of aspects of history in America, and it appeals to a wide audience. The conversations happening in the country now are relevant to the conversations that happened in Walker’s lifetime–what she could wear, could women vote, how we respond to women who have strong opinions. I see the line of conversation through history. Has it changed or not changed? She’s clearly still relevant. Her passion and her strength resonates strongly, and I hope collectors will feel that.

 

What condition is the tintype in? The image itself has not faded. I do see handling issues that are common with this piece, but the details retained in the image are incredible. I was looking at it yesterday. Her hands are clasped, and under the loupe, you can see the veins in her hands. The tintype format allows us to retain a sense of immediacy. I felt her presence strongly in the image. Paper images of the period don’t retain detail at the same level.

 

When I saw this lot, I felt angry, because I had never heard about Walker before, and this is how I learned about her–not in school, but by leafing through an online auction catalog. Do you understand what I mean? Exactly. I felt some of the things you’re describing. I feel lucky to be able to offer the image and expose her more. She was a bit of a difficult person, so opinionated, so strong, and so unable to cede to the [women’s rights] movement around her. It had an impact on how she’s remembered today. It’s unfortunate. She should be remembered for her foresight and her contributions. History is not written by women. That’s not new, but we can change that. She’s the only female Medal of Honor winner. She’s one of the first female doctors in the country. She’s incredible, and I hope we’ll be able to reenter her in our history.

 

How to bid: The circa 1865 tintype of Mary Edwards Walker wearing her Medal of Honor is lot 15 in the Photographs: Art & Visual Culture auction at Swann, taking place February 21, 2019.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

Sold! That Glorious Portfolio of Nudes from the Roaring 20s Fetched $2,860 at Swann

 

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Update: The 1925 Albert Arthur Allen portfolio of nudes sold for $2,860.

 

What you see: An image from The Model, Series No. 1, a 1925 portfolio of 15 photographs shot by Albert Arthur Allen. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

 

The expert: Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

 

What do we know about the photographer, Albert Arthur Allen? He was born in Grafton, Mass., in 1886, and his family moved to California in the early 20th century. Apparently, his father was a businessman in the maritime industry and a man of means. Allen was an artistic figure who relied on his family’s financial resources. As far as I know, he was fairly isolated and had no associations with other Bay Area artists. As a young man, Allen became interested in art and, by the late 1910s, was producing Pictorialist images—lovely photographs of young women in natural settings. Many were hand-colored, and the long-haired subjects have a fresh, natural appearance. By about 1919, he started photographing nude models in the studio, against a black backdrop. With the rise of the Roaring 20s, Allen’s aesthetic changed, and he began to shoot in residential and studio settings and also create fanciful tableaux, such as the ones we see in The Model. An entrepreneur, he sold his pictures via ads in newspapers and art publications. But sending nude studies through the mails, especially those in which women’s pubic hair was clearly visible, was illegal. Allen was the target of numerous suits and, by the end of the 1920s, went bankrupt.

 

The photo I’m using to illustrate the piece is the group of seven women in profile, six with their left hands on the shoulder of the woman in front of her. What, specifically, would a 1925 audience have found scandalous about this photo? What details that don’t jump out at us now would have scandalized viewers then? Sadly, we’re now living in a social and political period that illustrates the ways in which women are considered second-class citizens. In 1925, there was a more relaxed atmosphere in the U.S., one that fostered new cultural and artistic expressions. But the appearance of a nude female form was considered quite scandalous. In this picture, Allen has softly airbrushed the models’ pubic areas, but did not eliminate this “pornographic” feature. And the notion of women touching one another was certainly perceived as a Sapphic-like expression.

 

Sapphic-like? What made it Sapphic-like? Is it that the women are nude and touching each other–is that enough? Exactly, exactly. We have to look at the pictures from American social history–Puritan influences, Comstock influences. [Anthony Comstock was a U.S. postal inspector who championed a namesake law that made sending “obscene” material through the mail a crime.] These pictures, as innocent as they are to us, are very loaded.

 

How do these images exemplify 1920s beauty and style? The models’ shorter, more androgynous hairdos are the most visible sign of a 1920s liberated woman. And the slimmer body types also epitomize the “new woman.”

 

What jumped out at me was how normal these women look–not the super-thin models who predominate today. You’re right. They’re not the emaciated women of the last 10 to 15 years. They are curvaceous, and they have breasts. They’re active and healthy. Victorian women [by contrast] wore corsets and had full hips.

 

All of the women have short hair. Would all of their hairstyles have been described as “bobs” then? Are these women flappers? Yes and yes. My understanding is that “flapper” relates to a dance or performance, and these models are definitely active.

 

Was it legal for Allen to shoot these photos in California in 1925? It was legal for Allen to shoot these photographs, but it was illegal for him to utilize the U.S. Postal Service to convey them to clients.

 

How did he find seven young women who would agree to be photographed nude? Allen paid his models for their time and effort. I was told by a dealer of nude studies that, in some instances, some of these young women were pregnant. Finding work was challenging and modeling was an available occupation.

 

Do we know who any of the women are? None of the women are identified by name. Allen was more focused on representing “types,” and his other portfolios include loopy quasi-scientific texts in which he unsuccessfully attempts to articulate complex ideas associated with gender.

 

Beneath each woman in the photo there’s a letter, from A through G. Do we know what the letters mean? Does it reflect Allen’s attempt to represent “types” of women? I believe the letters may correspond to text information that’s not included in this particular portfolio.

 

Can we assume that the women had no input in the composition of any of the images—this is all Allen’s vision? My sense is that Allen was responsible for composing these marvelous tableaux. But given that he worked in California, it’s not unlikely that some of these models had experience in Hollywood or with dance troupes, and contributed ideas.

 

Did he shoot the images for Model, Series No. 1 in his Oakland, California studio prior to it burning down in 1925? There’s very little biographical information about Allen that has survived. When I was working on my book, I consulted with a number of Allen collectors, one of whom hired a detective to try to learn more about this colorful and mysterious figure. But I imagine he rented a theatre–note the size of the stage and the large backdrop.

 

Does the title Model, Series No. 1 imply that he intended to produce sequel portfolios, but never managed to do so? Allen was a grandiose figure with larger-than-life ambitions who innocently–and inadvertently–took on the conservative, political establishment. The legal actions were costly and time consuming. He did not manage the production of these portfolios with any business acumen or organizational skills. I imagine he intended to develop other versions of The Model, but as far as I know, he didn’t.

 

I understand Allen was indicted for sending obscene materials through interstate mail—would a copy of this portfolio have triggered those charges? Allen was drawing the ire and attention of federal authorities before this particular portfolio was photographed. Remember Comstock’s chastity law and America’s Puritan origins? Well, despite the cultural shift and appearance of free women in the 1920s, these repressive precepts continued to dictate social mores.

 

Some suggest that Allen’s work is seen as campy now. Do you agree? What makes it campy? Some of the pictures may conform to the idea of camp, which is seen as bad taste. But my perspective is that Allen was positing interesting forms of photographic representation that are still valid. Allen’s artistic program falls apart in his so-called scientific analysis, introducing terms like “sexine,” and attempting to formulate correspondences between body types and personality traits. He wasn’t an Edward Weston, but his sensibility certainly corresponds to someone like William Mortensen, the most popular photographer of the 1930s.

 

Erm, what does “sexine” mean? It’s a word he invented. It seems to be some obscure concept he had to characterize a woman who was not a virgin, but had not had children. Was it a sense of purity? I don’t know. But it was something odd.

 

Do we know how many of these portfolios were made, and how many survive? Unfortunately, Allen did not edition his portfolios or maintain records of the number of portfolios he sold.

 

How often does The Model, Series No. 1 come up with all 15 photos in place?  How many have you handled? This portfolio is offered every few years; it’s rare to find a suite with the entire 15 photographs. The last time Swann offered a complete set was in 2009, when it sold for $3,600. Swann has handled four copies, one of which contained 10 prints, since 2001.

 

What is the auction record for The Model, Series No. 1? $8,400, which was realized on October 15, 2007.

 

What condition is this copy in? Excellent. Clearly, the images were respected and well-taken-care-of. They weren’t handled a lot. But I want to back up and give you background on the folio. It was consigned by a woman whose great-grandfather collected this material. When family members come to us after discovering nude photos, there’s a kind of shock that they readily, openly convey to us that grandfather had this in the attic. There was no Playboy magazine in 1925. There weren’t any magazines that depicted male and female nudes except nudist magazines. Where did collectors get them? Allen advertised in the printed matter you’d see in barber shops or mens’ clubs.

 

Might that explain why we don’t know how many copies Allen made of The Model, Series No. 1? Maybe it wasn’t in his best interest to keep accurate records of how many he printed? Perhaps at a certain point he was advised to destroy his records. The legal battle went on and on. It’s possible he intentionally didn’t keep records.

 

Why will this portfolio stick in your memory? Of Allen’s various projects, I would deem this particular portfolio the most successful. These particular images are fun and celebratory and epitomize the spirit of the Roaring 20s. The photographs depict women who are comfortable in their bodies, have an athletic verve, and are enjoying one another. There’s also the obvious correspondence between photography and cinema, an interdisciplinary dialog that’s culturally rich.

 

How to bidThe Model, Series No. 1 portfolio is lot 68 in Artists & Amateurs: Photographs & Photobooks, which takes place at Swann on October 18, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Swann Auction Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

 

Daile Kaplan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about an exceptional circa 1921 print of Lewis Hine’s Powerhouse Mechanic, a record-setting Edward Curtis portrait of the Oglala Lakota leader, Red Cloud, and a print of Harold Edgerton’s Milk Drop Coronet.

 

Kaplan’s 2001 book on Albert Arthur Allen’s nudes, Premiere Nudes, is available at the Strand book store and other independent booksellers.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

It’s No Humbug! Sotheby’s Sold That 1851 Daguerreotype of P.T. Barnum for $25,000

9919 lot 141

Update: The 1851 P. T. Barnum daguerreotype sold for $25,000.

 

What you see: An 1851 daguerreotype of Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum in its original metal case, shot in Cincinnati, Ohio by Thomas Faris. Sotheby’s estimates it at $20,000 to $30,000.

 

The expert: Emily Bierman, head of the photography department at Sotheby’s.

 

Where was Barnum in his career in 1851? He was already very well-established by this time. He made his first mark in the 1830s when he invested in a woman named Joice Heth, who was said to be 136 years old and the nurse of George Washington. That was his first humbug, as he’d call it. He discovered Charles Stratton, General Tom Thumb, in the 1840s. By 1850 and 1851, he set his sights larger than America. He was bringing acts from Europe to the United States. [Swedish singer] Jenny Lind was unknown [in America] until Barnum invested in her. It’s hard to equate the campaign to a modern campaign for an artist. He invested $150,000 in her and borrowed heavily to pay her costs up front. He ended up selling more than $700,000 in tickets. [Both numbers reflect 1850s dollar amounts, not contemporary updates.] He was clearly successful at this point.

 

Did Barnum have any daguerreotypes taken of Jenny Lind at the same time? Yes. There’s a portrait of Jenny Lind at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and one in the Cincinnati Art Museum. She returned to Cincinnati at the end of 1851 [so the photo may have been shot during her second 1851 visit]. Barnum was in Cincinnati from April 14 to April 22, 1851. Faris’s studio was right around the corner from where Lind performed and the hotel they were staying at. Everything was very walkable.

 

This is the second daguerreotype of Barnum to come to auction. Does that imply that he rarely sat for photos? Most of what exists is [dated] a little bit later, or they’re paper photos made after daguerreotypes or etchings. In his own writing about himself, he was not someone who talked about sitting for artists or photographers. His museum burned down twice, and his mansion, I’m pretty sure it burned down twice as well [implying that other photos of Barnum might have been lost to fire]. But in his 1854 autobiography, there’s a frontispiece that an artist made after a daguerreotype of Barnum. Barnum didn’t seem to retain any copyright. The fact that he allowed his image to be used any which way says he embraced photography.

 

Faris’s services would not have come cheap, and it’s hard to imagine Barnum paying a premium to have a photo shot of himself alone, rather than with one of his performers, which he could use to promote his shows. Why might he have sat for this daguerreotype? Faris may well have solicited the opportunity to photograph Barnum. An artist who’s recently had a notable figure in their studio is an advertisement in an age when they didn’t have digital advertising. Who you photographed was your calling card. I don’t know what the expense would have been for a portrait, or what the finances would have been. When the tickets were sold for the Lind tour, they were by public auction. They was a block of less expensive tickets for the masses, but others paid several hundred for tickets. In the Philly leg, [a high sum was bid] by a daguerreotypist who clearly wanted to have an in with Lind or Barnum.

 

How do we know the daguerreotype shows P. T. Barnum? There are several identifying clues to the sitter’s identity. Most interesting is the tie tack with the starburst design on it. That same design was worn by Barnum in the best-known images of him, in his autobiography and in another photo from 1951 known as a later cabinet card. [The image at the top of Barnum’s Wikipedia page shows him wearing the starburst tie tack.] Then, of course, the face. The enlarged ears and certain heavyset wrinkles are also great clues. He’s generally shown clean-shaven, but not exclusively. It’s hard to speculate why he preferred one style over another. His hair, through his life, was rather unruly and was something he did not address. Especially above his ears, he has great wavy curls even through to when he was an older man.

 

This is described as a quarter plate daguerreotype. How big is a quarter plate? It’s four and a half inches by three and one-quarter inches, cut down from a whole plate that measured eight and a half inches by six and a half inches. In the printed catalog, we reproduce the daguerreotype at actual size. It would lay quite well in your hand.

 

What is the daguerreotype like in person? To hold a really great daguerreotype in person is to have a world of detail available to you. You can see the texture of his jacket, the folds of his clothing, and you can make out individual hairs on his head. The clarity is really hard to render in a digital format. It comes to life when you have it in front of you. You really see him looking back at you.

 

How to bid: The Barnum daguerreotype is lot 141 in the Photographs sale taking place October 3, 2018 at Sotheby’s.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

 

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A Glorious Portfolio of Nudes from the Roaring 20s Could Command $6,000 at Swann

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What you see: An image from The Model, Series No. 1, a 1925 portfolio of 15 photographs shot by Albert Arthur Allen. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

 

The expert: Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

 

What do we know about the photographer, Albert Arthur Allen? He was born in Grafton, Mass., in 1886, and his family moved to California in the early 20th century. Apparently, his father was a businessman in the maritime industry and a man of means. Allen was an artistic figure who relied on his family’s financial resources. As far as I know, he was fairly isolated and had no associations with other Bay Area artists. As a young man, Allen became interested in art and, by the late 1910s, was producing Pictorialist images—lovely photographs of young women in natural settings. Many were hand-colored, and the long-haired subjects have a fresh, natural appearance. By about 1919, he started photographing nude models in the studio, against a black backdrop. With the rise of the Roaring 20s, Allen’s aesthetic changed, and he began to shoot in residential and studio settings and also create fanciful tableaux, such as the ones we see in The Model. An entrepreneur, he sold his pictures via ads in newspapers and art publications. But sending nude studies through the mails, especially those in which women’s pubic hair was clearly visible, was illegal. Allen was the target of numerous suits and, by the end of the 1920s, went bankrupt.

 

The photo I’m using to illustrate the piece is the group of seven women in profile, six with their left hands on the shoulder of the woman in front of her. What, specifically, would a 1925 audience have found scandalous about this photo? What details that don’t jump out at us now would have scandalized viewers then? Sadly, we’re now living in a social and political period that illustrates the ways in which women are considered second-class citizens. In 1925, there was a more relaxed atmosphere in the U.S., one that fostered new cultural and artistic expressions. But the appearance of a nude female form was considered quite scandalous. In this picture, Allen has softly airbrushed the models’ pubic areas, but did not eliminate this “pornographic” feature. And the notion of women touching one another was certainly perceived as a Sapphic-like expression.

 

Sapphic-like? What made it Sapphic-like? Is it that the women are nude and touching each other–is that enough? Exactly, exactly. We have to look at the pictures from American social history–Puritan influences, Comstock influences. [Anthony Comstock was a U.S. postal inspector who championed a namesake law that made sending “obscene” material through the mail a crime.] These pictures, as innocent as they are to us, are very loaded.

 

How do these images exemplify 1920s beauty and style? The models’ shorter, more androgynous hairdos are the most visible sign of a 1920s liberated woman. And the slimmer body types also epitomize the “new woman.”

 

What jumped out at me was how normal these women look–not the super-thin models who predominate today. You’re right. They’re not the emaciated women of the last 10 to 15 years. They are curvaceous, and they have breasts. They’re active and healthy. Victorian women [by contrast] wore corsets and had full hips.

 

All of the women have short hair. Would all of their hairstyles have been described as “bobs” then? Are these women flappers? Yes and yes. My understanding is that “flapper” relates to a dance or performance, and these models are definitely active.

 

Was it legal for Allen to shoot these photos in California in 1925? It was legal for Allen to shoot these photographs, but it was illegal for him to utilize the U.S. Postal Service to convey them to clients.

 

How did he find seven young women who would agree to be photographed nude? Allen paid his models for their time and effort. I was told by a dealer of nude studies that, in some instances, some of these young women were pregnant. Finding work was challenging and modeling was an available occupation.

 

Do we know who any of the women are? None of the women are identified by name. Allen was more focused on representing “types,” and his other portfolios include loopy quasi-scientific texts in which he unsuccessfully attempts to articulate complex ideas associated with gender.

 

Beneath each woman in the photo there’s a letter, from A through G. Do we know what the letters mean? Does it reflect Allen’s attempt to represent “types” of women? I believe the letters may correspond to text information that’s not included in this particular portfolio.

 

Can we assume that the women had no input in the composition of any of the images—this is all Allen’s vision? My sense is that Allen was responsible for composing these marvelous tableaux. But given that he worked in California, it’s not unlikely that some of these models had experience in Hollywood or with dance troupes, and contributed ideas.

 

Did he shoot the images for Model, Series No. 1 in his Oakland, California studio prior to it burning down in 1925? There’s very little biographical information about Allen that has survived. When I was working on my book, I consulted with a number of Allen collectors, one of whom hired a detective to try to learn more about this colorful and mysterious figure. But I imagine he rented a theatre–note the size of the stage and the large backdrop.

 

Does the title Model, Series No. 1 imply that he intended to produce sequel portfolios, but never managed to do so? Allen was a grandiose figure with larger-than-life ambitions who innocently–and inadvertently–took on the conservative, political establishment. The legal actions were costly and time consuming. He did not manage the production of these portfolios with any business acumen or organizational skills. I imagine he intended to develop other versions of The Model, but as far as I know, he didn’t.

 

I understand Allen was indicted for sending obscene materials through interstate mail—would a copy of this portfolio have triggered those charges? Allen was drawing the ire and attention of federal authorities before this particular portfolio was photographed. Remember Comstock’s chastity law and America’s Puritan origins? Well, despite the cultural shift and appearance of free women in the 1920s, these repressive precepts continued to dictate social mores.

 

Some suggest that Allen’s work is seen as campy now. Do you agree? What makes it campy? Some of the pictures may conform to the idea of camp, which is seen as bad taste. But my perspective is that Allen was positing interesting forms of photographic representation that are still valid. Allen’s artistic program falls apart in his so-called scientific analysis, introducing terms like “sexine,” and attempting to formulate correspondences between body types and personality traits. He wasn’t an Edward Weston, but his sensibility certainly corresponds to someone like William Mortensen, the most popular photographer of the 1930s.

 

Erm, what does “sexine” mean? It’s a word he invented. It seems to be some obscure concept he had to characterize a woman who was not a virgin, but had not had children. Was it a sense of purity? I don’t know. But it was something odd.

 

Do we know how many of these portfolios were made, and how many survive? Unfortunately, Allen did not edition his portfolios or maintain records of the number of portfolios he sold.

 

How often does The Model, Series No. 1 come up with all 15 photos in place?  How many have you handled? This portfolio is offered every few years; it’s rare to find a suite with the entire 15 photographs. The last time Swann offered a complete set was in 2009, when it sold for $3,600. Swann has handled four copies, one of which contained 10 prints, since 2001.

 

What is the auction record for The Model, Series No. 1? $8,400, which was realized on October 15, 2007.

 

What condition is this copy in? Excellent. Clearly, the images were respected and well-taken-care-of. They weren’t handled a lot. But I want to back up and give you background on the folio. It was consigned by a woman whose great-grandfather collected this material. When family members come to us after discovering nude photos, there’s a kind of shock that they readily, openly convey to us that grandfather had this in the attic. There was no Playboy magazine in 1925. There weren’t any magazines that depicted male and female nudes except nudist magazines. Where did collectors get them? Allen advertised in the printed matter you’d see in barber shops or mens’ clubs.

 

Might that explain why we don’t know how many copies Allen made of The Model, Series No. 1? Maybe it wasn’t in his best interest to keep accurate records of how many he printed? Perhaps at a certain point he was advised to destroy his records. The legal battle went on and on. It’s possible he intentionally didn’t keep records.

 

Why will this portfolio stick in your memory? Of Allen’s various projects, I would deem this particular portfolio the most successful. These particular images are fun and celebratory and epitomize the spirit of the Roaring 20s. The photographs depict women who are comfortable in their bodies, have an athletic verve, and are enjoying one another. There’s also the obvious correspondence between photography and cinema, an interdisciplinary dialog that’s culturally rich.

 

How to bidThe Model, Series No. 1 portfolio is lot 68 in Artists & Amateurs: Photographs & Photobooks, which takes place at Swann on October 18, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Swann Auction Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

 

Daile Kaplan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about an exceptional circa 1921 print of Lewis Hine’s Powerhouse Mechanic, a record-setting Edward Curtis portrait of the Oglala Lakota leader, Red Cloud, and a print of Harold Edgerton’s Milk Drop Coronet.

 

Kaplan’s 2001 book on Albert Arthur Allen’s nudes, Premiere Nudes, is available at the Strand book store and other independent booksellers.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

 

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It’s No Humbug: Sotheby’s Could Sell an 1851 Daguerreotype of P.T. Barnum for $30,000

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What you see: An 1851 daguerreotype of Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum in its original metal case, shot in Cincinnati, Ohio by Thomas Faris. Sotheby’s estimates it at $20,000 to $30,000.

 

The expert: Emily Bierman, head of the photography department at Sotheby’s.

 

Where was Barnum in his career in 1851? He was already very well-established by this time. He made his first mark in the 1830s when he invested in a woman named Joice Heth, who was said to be 136 years old and the nurse of George Washington. That was his first humbug, as he’d call it. He discovered Charles Stratton, General Tom Thumb, in the 1840s. By 1850 and 1851, he set his sights larger than America. He was bringing acts from Europe to the United States. [Swedish singer] Jenny Lind was unknown [in America] until Barnum invested in her. It’s hard to equate the campaign to a modern campaign for an artist. He invested $150,000 in her and borrowed heavily to pay her costs up front. He ended up selling more than $700,000 in tickets. [Both numbers reflect 1850s dollar amounts, not contemporary updates.] He was clearly successful at this point.

 

Did Barnum have any daguerreotypes taken of Jenny Lind at the same time? Yes. There’s a portrait of Jenny Lind at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and one in the Cincinnati Art Museum. She returned to Cincinnati at the end of 1851 [so the photo may have been shot during her second 1851 visit]. Barnum was in Cincinnati from April 14 to April 22, 1851. Faris’s studio was right around the corner from where Lind performed and the hotel they were staying at. Everything was very walkable.

 

This is the second daguerreotype of Barnum to come to auction. Does that imply that he rarely sat for photos? Most of what exists is [dated] a little bit later, or they’re paper photos made after daguerreotypes or etchings. In his own writing about himself, he was not someone who talked about sitting for artists or photographers. His museum burned down twice, and his mansion, I’m pretty sure it burned down twice as well [implying that other photos of Barnum might have been lost to fire]. But in his 1854 autobiography, there’s a frontispiece that an artist made after a daguerreotype of Barnum. Barnum didn’t seem to retain any copyright. The fact that he allowed his image to be used any which way says he embraced photography.

 

Faris’s services would not have come cheap, and it’s hard to imagine Barnum paying a premium to have a photo shot of himself alone, rather than with one of his performers, which he could use to promote his shows. Why might he have sat for this daguerreotype? Faris may well have solicited the opportunity to photograph Barnum. An artist who’s recently had a notable figure in their studio is an advertisement in an age when they didn’t have digital advertising. Who you photographed was your calling card. I don’t know what the expense would have been for a portrait, or what the finances would have been. When the tickets were sold for the Lind tour, they were by public auction. They was a block of less expensive tickets for the masses, but others paid several hundred for tickets. In the Philly leg, [a high sum was bid] by a daguerreotypist who clearly wanted to have an in with Lind or Barnum.

 

How do we know the daguerreotype shows P. T. Barnum? There are several identifying clues to the sitter’s identity. Most interesting is the tie tack with the starburst design on it. That same design was worn by Barnum in the best-known images of him, in his autobiography and in another photo from 1951 known as a later cabinet card. [The image at the top of Barnum’s Wikipedia page shows him wearing the starburst tie tack.] Then, of course, the face. The enlarged ears and certain heavyset wrinkles are also great clues. He’s generally shown clean-shaven, but not exclusively. It’s hard to speculate why he preferred one style over another. His hair, through his life, was rather unruly and was something he did not address. Especially above his ears, he has great wavy curls even through to when he was an older man.

 

This is described as a quarter plate daguerreotype. How big is a quarter plate? It’s four and a half inches by three and one-quarter inches, cut down from a whole plate that measured eight and a half inches by six and a half inches. In the printed catalog, we reproduce the daguerreotype at actual size. It would lay quite well in your hand.

 

What is the daguerreotype like in person? To hold a really great daguerreotype in person is to have a world of detail available to you. You can see the texture of his jacket, the folds of his clothing, and you can make out individual hairs on his head. The clarity is really hard to render in a digital format. It comes to life when you have it in front of you. You really see him looking back at you.

 

How to bid: The Barnum daguerreotype is lot 141 in the Photographs sale taking place October 3, 2018 at Sotheby’s.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

 

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SOLD! Albert Einstein’s 1935 Passport Photo Commands $17,500 at Bonhams

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Update: The 1935 Albert Einstein passport photo sold for $17,500.

 

What you see: A passport photograph of Albert Einstein, signed and dated May 30, 1935, along with a piece of paper signed and dated by Einstein and featuring a brief goodbye note in German from Einstein’s son-in-law, Dmitri Marianoff. Bonhams estimates it at $8,000 to $12,000.

 

Who was Albert Einstein? He was one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. He came up with the theory of relativity, which upended the fields of theoretical physics and astronomy. He also composed the formula E = mc2 [energy equals mass times the speed of light, squared], which has come to symbolize science and, to some extent, genius itself. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his work in theoretical physics. After Hitler and the Nazis took over Germany, Einstein, who was Jewish, settled in the United States, gaining citizenship in 1940. A 1939 letter he sent to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sparked the creation of the Manhattan Project, the scientific endeavor that led to nuclear weapons. He based himself in Princeton, New Jersey, where he died in 1955 at the age of 76.

 

The expert: Ian Ehling, director of books and manuscripts at Bonhams.

 

Has anything else Einstein-related come to auction that’s similar to this passport photo? Have you seen any other 1930s passports or immigration paperwork connected to Einstein? Not that I know of. I’ve only come across a Swiss passport of his dating back to 1923. This particular photo was always in the possession of the consigner. The way it was was in the 1930s, Einstein was already in the United States. He was working in Princeton, New Jersey, and he decided not to return to Germany. In order to apply for citizenship, you had to be outside the country. So he took his family on a trip to Bermuda and got the ball rolling there. He used a different image on his passport. After Bermuda, I think they came through Ellis Island in New York and turned in their paperwork.

 

How does the fact that the passport photo dates to the 1930s–when the Nazi regime was imposing anti-Semitic policies on its citizens, convincing Einstein to leave–add to its value? It’s a huge factor in its value. [The choice that the passport photo represents] is just an awesome moment to witness. It was a turning point–a man of the world applying for U.S. citizenship. It represents the very first step [toward that]. This is a very close witness to things that were on his mind at the time.

 

And he would have sat for the photo in Bermuda? Yes. You can’t tell, but he’s wearing a leather jacket in the photo. In the formal portrait on the paperwork, he’s wearing something else.

 

Wait, was Einstein wearing THE leather jacket in this photo? The one that Levi Strauss & Co won at Christie’s London in 2016 for $147,000? It’s a leather jacket, but we can’t see enough to say it’s THE leather jacket.

 

And this is fresh to market? Yes. It comes directly from the person who received it. She was a little girl [at the time], the granddaughter of the innkeeper [at the guest house where Einstein stayed in Bermuda]. She was 13 years old, and she was curious. She engaged Einstein in conversation. He signed and dated the photo and gave it to her, and she kept it all her life. She’s in her nineties now, and she’s decided to sell. I don’t think it was ever published or anything like that.

 

How did you arrive at an estimate for this? It’s a gut feeling. I feel the photo is incredibly important. It reflects on him becoming a U.S. citizen. The estimate reflects its historic significance.

 

How have you seen the market for Einstein material change over time? In the 1930s, he was already famous. The photo definitely had value back then. But the Einstein market has changed significantly. I can’t say Einstein items are rare. He would get lots of letters, and he spent a good deal of time every day answering them. The most significant ones are the manuscripts where he talks about scientific things, and certain items that he owned. For example, he was very interested in music and performing with friends; we sold his violin in March 2018 for $516,500. The passport photo is a more iconic thing. Einstein was at a turning point in his life, deciding to become a U.S. citizen. It’s signed and dated, and it shows him the way you expect him to look like. He didn’t get a haircut before the picture was taken.

 

Why is Einstein the most sought-after scientist at auction? He had the most brilliant mind in physics since Newton, and on top of that, he was not a nerdy scientist. He was incredibly approachable. He didn’t just follow scientific interests. He played the violin, he went sailing, he was someone who enjoyed life.

 

Why will this Einstein passport photograph stick in your memory? The personal connection. It shows him being open and approachable and talking to a 13-year-old girl in Bermuda. And it’s consigned directly by that person. It’s special. It’s two degrees of separation–the consigner, and then Einstein. That’s what makes it so beautiful and significant.

 

How to bid: The Einstein passport photograph is lot 76 in Bonhams‘s June 12, 2018 Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in New York.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

 

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