The following are some
standard terms and concepts in the genre of art and collectable
photographs. Even if using different terms, a seller's description
should communicate the nature of the photograph- when the photo
was made, who made it, is the photo original or reprint, etc.
It's all about having the potential buyer know what is the item,
so she can decide if it is something she desires and, if so,
what is a reasonable price.
Original: A photo where the image was printed (made)
directly from the original negative or transparency (a transparency
is used just like a negative, but the image is positive instead
of negative). Unless otherwise indicated, the term is interpreted
to mean the photo was made soon after the image was shot (vintage).
All other qualities equivalent, the original will be more valuable
than a reprint or later generation photo.
While an original almost always involves the original negative
or transparency, there are isolated circumstances where a photograph
using second generation images can be considered original. An
example is a photographer who uses both original and second generation
images together to create an artistic collage or composite photograph
(one photograph made up of more than one photographic image).
If the overall photograph is unique and artistically brand new,
the photograph might be considered an original.
1890 cabinet card with a composite image made
up of many smaller images. The smaller images are cutout photos,
probably originally shot by the same photographer with the purpose
of making this team cabinet. The cutouts were placed against
a background and rephotographed. Even though the individual images
are technically second generation, the overall photo is vintage,
unique and fresh. Even if you don't consider it original, it
is valuable due to its age and rarity.
Original by photographer, such as "Original 1930
photograph by Carl Horner." This means the photo is original
and printed by or under the supervision/approval of the photographer.An
"original Carl Horner" can't be made after his death
or otherwise without his knowledge.
Originals can be printed under different conditions. Some
were directly printed by the photographers, with many collectors
considering these the most desirable. In other cases, an assistant
or outside lab printed the photograph under the photographer's
watchful eye. As long as the printing was done under the direction
and approval of the photographer, the photographs will usually
be considered originals.
Many famous photographers were employees of magazines, newspapers
or news services, and the employer had much influence in the
printing, size and style. Perhaps the photographer shot the images
in a magazine's studio, and an art director had final say over
the print's size and style. One could rightly call these originals
as collaborations between photographer and publisher, or between
photographer and editor. One of these photos might be labeled
as "Original Sports Illustrated photograph by Herbie Scharfman"
or "Original Herbie Scharfman Sports Illustrated Photo."
Many collectors specialize in photographs from famous organizations,
so the fact that a photograph was made by Time magazine or for
a favorite sports team may be as, if not more, significant than
the name of the photographer.
In many cases it won't be clear under what exact condition
and by whom the photograph was printed, as the information was
lost in time or never revealed to the general public. However,
the presence of the photographer's stamp usually indicates he
or she was sufficiently involved and gave approval to the making
of the photo. The photographer's hand signature, initial and/or
notes (usually on back) is always desirable and brings a premium,
in part because it proves he was involved.
Originals by famous photographers can be unstamped and unsigned,
but significant provenance or expert opinion is needed to authenticate
the photograph as by the photographer. Examples of significant
provenance is when a photo is known to have come from the photographer's
estate or the archives of a magazine the worked for.
Vintage: Made soon after the image was shot. Vintage
is also used as a general term indicating something that is old,
but that is not the meaning used in this book. With early photographs,
say from the 1870s and 1880s, the photograph can still have value
even if the image is later generation. Many 1880s Old Judge baseball
and boxing cards have second generation images, though they are
mostly collected as sports cards, not photographs.
Printed Later: A photograph that was made a lengthy time
after the image was shot, e.g. "The image was shot in 1930
and printed in the 1970s." Printed later photos include
unauthorized home computer printer reprints and high quality
examples made by the photographer or significant organization.
As when the image was printed often affects the value and
desirability, the seller should always make clear when a photo
is printed later. In some cases, an exact print date can be given
("Shot in 1955. Printed in 1975"). In many cases, only
a general time period can be given ("I'm not sure when this
photo was made, but it appears to be printed some time later.")
Most printed later photos are identified quickly by the experienced
collector. The photo may have a modern stamp, or be made with
a modern process or be on obviously modern paper. Many printed
later photos simply look too new to be vintage or have poor images
that are obviously later generation.
Original Printed Later means the image was printed
from the original negative, but a period after the image was
Original printed later photographs by famous photographers.
Many famous photographers made high quality 'printed later' photographs.
This includes George Hurrell, Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, Clarence
Sinclair Bull and Horst P. Horst. Some of these photographs were
made in limited editions and are signed and/or stamped by the
photographer. These photos can fetch high prices in auction.
However, some collectors are only interested in the vintage photos.
A specialist in Silent Era Hollywood memorabilia may only be
interested in artifacts from the 1910s-20s. Most sports collectors
are only interested in vintage photos. It's a matter of personal
These high end printed later photographs are usually easy
to identify as modern by the experienced collector. Many photos
are generally known to be printed later. Quality dealers and
auctioneers will accurately describe the photo. Often times the
modern date is printed or written on the photo or accompanying
certificate of authenticity or other documentation. A 1920s image
printed many years later will usually be clearly modern by the
modern appearance, including modern paper.
Instead of, or in conjunction with, the photographer, an organization
with rights to the image sometimes produced original printed
later images. These organizations include magazines and photo
services like Associated Press or United Press International.
These organizations keep archives of the original negatives and
often held or shared exclusive rights to the images.
This is the stamp on the back of a Marilyn
Monroe photograph shot by Philippe Halsman. Considering Monroe
died in 1962 and the stamp is copyrighted 1981, it should be
obvious that the photo is not vintage. Also notice that the photo
is limited edition numbered.
Later Generation, Second Generation. This means the
photograph is not original and usually not vintage. A photograph
of a photograph, or a photograph made from a copy negative is
later generation. The images won't be as clear as the original
and often are of obviously inferior quality. Later generation
photos include illegal cheapo reprints, along with legitimate
photos issued by news services, magazines, movie studios and
photo services. All other things equivalent, a later generation
photograph will be worth less than the original.
Official. In particular with modern photos and photos
shot by famous photographers, it's best for the collector to
stick to 'official' photographs, or photographs that were 'officially
A photograph is official if it was made in legitimate circumstances
by or under authorization of the copyrights holder. An original
photograph from a magazine's archives with the magazine's copyright
stamp is official. A United Press International photo with the
UPI stamp and tag is official. A 30 years later reprint authorized
by the photographer or her estate is official. The snapshot you
shot at the company picnic and had developed at the drug store
An official photo doesn't mean it has to be rare or original
or expensive or the photographer is famous, but that it's legitimate.
If someone without permission downloads a scan from a website,
prints out 1,000 copies on her computer printer, these reprints
are not official. If someone owns no reproduction rights to the
David Bailey negative he bought on eBay, any prints he makes
are not only unofficial but possibly illegal if sold. In most
cases unofficial photos have little to no long term value or
standing within the hobby.
A portion of the photos on eBay are unauthorized, with many
being home computer prints. If you spend $5 on one of these reprints
of a movie star so you can tape it to your refrigerator, that's
one thing. If you spend thousands of dollars on them as investments,
you will likely be in for an unpleasant surprise.
Officialness is less of a concern with antique photographs by
lesser known photographers. These photos have an inherent degree
of legitimacy as their populations are set. Whether it was official
or unofficial at the time of making, no one can make anymore
of those 1890s cabinet cards or 1935 real photo postcards.
With time and experience, the collector will get a good feel
for what is legitimate and what is not. The photographer or organization's
stamp or tag or knowing where it came from (provenance) will
identify the photo as legitimate. Dealing with quality sellers
and getting second opinions are also important. Quality sellers
avoid illegal items and communicate the nature of the item being
offered. Contact the seller if you need clarification.
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