How Much is Billy The Kid Worth

June was a good month for antique photograph collectors…

Within a span two weeks and across two continents, two new world auction records were set for 19th Century photographs.  On June 18th, "Bateaux quittant le port du Havre", an 1856-1857 albumen print by the luminary French photographer Gustave Le Gray, sold for 917,000 euros (approximately $1.3M USD) at Rouillac auction house in Vendome, France, to a Texas collector.  The photograph of sailing ships silhouetted against a sunset horizon, was one of several Le Gray’s from the same collection to do well on the auction block, with all ten prints totaling 1.6M euros ($2.3M USD).  The sale is not only the record for the artist, but for an albumen photograph.

Not to be outdone by the French, on June 27th, a vernacular 1880’s tintype full-length portrait of the American outlaw, Billy the Kid, sold for $2.3M USD at Brian Lebel’s Old West auction in Denver, Colorado, to William Koch of Florida.  As the photohistorian Robert McCubbin notes in the catalog, the photograph is believed to be not just the only extant photograph of the mythological antihero, but one of the most widely recognized photographs in American history.  The lot, which also included family photographic provenance, was one of several photography lots to do well in the sale, and was accompanied by strong reported sales by photo dealers at the companion dealer show.  The photograph now holds the record for both a tintype, as well as a 19th Century photograph.

The fact that both results coincide with one another is not mere circumstance, but rather an indication of an increase in the market for antique photographs.  October’s photography sales in New York should provide similar encouragement for collectors.

Scott W. Hale, ISA AM
Native American Art Appraisals, Inc.
http://www.naaainc.com
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