Provenance is where
an item came from. Who made it, who were the owners, who else
significant handled it along the way.
Though not needed for most photos, documentation of provenance
can be important for expensive photos or photos where ownership
is an integral part of its value. Important provenance can raise
the value of a photo. Many collectors would pay a premium if
document showed a photo was displayed in the Museum of Modern
Art, Pro Football Hall of Fame or Tiger Wood's living room.
Documentation of provenance can include sales receipts, letters
about ownership and history, magazine and newspaper articles,
auction catalogs and similar documents. Provenance can include
an expert's letter of authenticity or other testimony about the
item's identity. If you purchase a photo from the photographer,
keep the mailing envelope with the photographer's return address.
There's no better provenance than that.
Authentic stamping on the photo's back helps document provenance.
If a photo has a United Press International stamp and caption
tag, it would seem more than likely that the photo came from
the famed news and photo service.
Provenance does not in and of itself authenticate a photograph,
but can be an integral part of authentication. It is a piece
in the puzzle. If a photo looks authentic (appears to be the
right age, has correct stamping, your collecting friends agree
it looks good), that it was sold by a top dealer or appeared
in a reputable auction may seal the deal.
If there is no stamping or other identification marks, provenance
might be essential for identification of the photo's issuer and
photographer. For example, you may purchase an unstamped photo
knowing it originated from a magazine editor's estate or a newspaper's
A practical example of good provenance is buying a rare or
esoteric photo from a respected and well known dealer. This is
making your own good provenance. The fact that a top dealer believes
the photo to be genuine is significant- especially if you, as
an experienced collector, agree with her verdict. Save the receipt
or other documentation of sale. When you turn to resell the photo,
you will have documentation that it came from a reliable source.
Beware that provenance can be embellished and forged. For
every expensive forged James Dean autographed baseball that offered
on eBay, there is an accompanying bogus history of where the
ball came from. The collector should use a critical eye. One
reason to buy from sellers who you know to be honest is that
the history they give about the item for sale is reliable.
(c) david rudd cycleback, cyclback.com
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