Something is authentic
if its true identity is described accurately and sincerely.
If you pay good money for an "original 1930 Babe Ruth
photo by the famous photographer Charles Conlon," you expect
to get an original 1930 Babe Ruth photo by the famous photographer
Charles Conlon. You don't expect a 1970 reprint of a Conlon photo
or a 1930 photo taken by an unknown photographer.
A photo does not have to be rare or expensive or vintage or
made by someone famous to be authentic. It just has to accurately
described. A cheapo reprint can be authentic if described as
a cheapo reprint.
Errors in the description of a photograph are considered significant
when they significantly affect the financial value or reasonable
non-financial expectations of the buyer. An example of the reasonable
non-financial expectations would involve a collector who specializes
in real photo post cards of her home state of Iowa and makes
it clear to the seller that she only wants postcards depicting
Iowa. Even if there is no financial issue, she would have reason
to be disappointed if the purchased postcard turned out to show
Oklahoma or Minnesota.
Many errors in description are minor and have little to no
material effect. If a 1930 photo turns out to be from 1933, it
may not lower the value or make any difference to the buyer.
It's about making judgments
This guide isn't about becoming omniscient or gaining supernatural
authentication powers. It's about forming sound opinions based
on your knowledge, experience, tools, resources and common sense.
With many photographs you will be confident to certain of
With many photographs you will be confident to certain they
are fakes or otherwise have significant errors in description.
A percentage of photographs you won't be able to confirm their
identity or age. Perhaps the photo is not stamped so you can't
be certain it was by the photographer. Perhaps the photo is stamped,
but you aren't certain whether it is a first or second generation
Many photos will be outside your area of expertise. If you
specialize in American Civil War photos, you may be ignorant
about current fashion photo styles and prices. An avid rock 'n
roll fan may not know the personalities or levels or rarity for
silent era Hollywood photos. Even top dealers and museum curators
are specialists and seek the input and advice from others when
looking at photos outside their area of experience.
Judging authenticity is rarely done in a vacuum
For the collector, making judgments is usually done within
a context. Usually the context is deciding whether or not to
purchase and how much to pay.
The degree of certainty needed to purchase a $4,000 photo
likely will be higher than needed for a $20 photo. To some, a
fake photo may still be worth the $20 purchase price if it looks
great hung from the wall.
An expert in 1930s political photos may be certain that the
1930 Greta Garbo photo is vintage, but hesitates to place an
expensive bid as she doesn't know what are the going rates for
You never have to buy a photograph. If you are uncomfortable
with the looks of a photograph, the price or the reliability
of the seller, you can choose not to bid or buy.
(c) david rudd cycleback, cyclback.com
all rights reserved