photos guide Judging the Authenticity of Photographs

© david rudd cycleback,




The following is a look at prominent vintage sports photographers.  These folks are well known amongst collectors and their stamp, embossment or signature will gives a premium in price to a photograph— some more of a premium than others.  This list is intended as a quick survey and the collector should not feel slighted if a favorite is not included.


Bain, George Grantham.  Bain produced some of the finest sports images of the early 1900s.  His photos of boxing, football, baseball, tennis and more are typically candid.  Originally working for the United Press in the 1800s, he formed his own New York news service, Bain News Service.  Bain’s originals are usually snapshot or index size, with his name or Bain News Service stamped on the back.   Either stamp proves the image old, as Bain died in 1941.  In addition, many are date stamped.

Baseball pitcher Eddie Plank warming up by George Grantham Bain (Library of Congress)


Brady, Mathew. Primarily known for his chronicles of the American Civil War and portraits of prominent 1800s Americans, Brady ranks amongst the most famous and celebrated photographers in world history.  Though not associated with sport, he made a few 1800s sports CDVs.  His photographs have his name or ‘Brady’s National Portrait Gallery’ stamped on the back.  He sold his original negatives to other photographers, who made their own CDVs from these negatives.  The stamping on the back of these makes it clear how they were made (‘Made by Studio ABC from a Mathew Brady negative.’)



Burke, George.  The Chicago photographer was active from the turn of the 20th century through the 1940s.  He shot many of the images used to make the 1933-5 Goudey baseball cards and was an official photographer for the Chicago Cubs, White Sox and NFL’s Bears.  Most of his single player photographs on the market were made in the 1930s and have the distinct Goudey-style posed images.  His photographs from this era are easy to authenticate.  The backs will have his name and 807 Belmont Ave/Chicago address stamped in ink.  The backs usually have typed information at the top, typically the player’s name and a cataloging number.  They usually measure about 8x10” or postcard size and often have silvering.  A few of these circa 1930s photos are reprints of earlier images, often made from his own turn of the century negatives or those of others photographers like Charles Conlon.  These reprints are often of good quality and, as made in the 1930s, can fetch good prices if depicting someone like Ty Cobb or Walter Johnson. 

Burke’s photographs are relatively plentiful and inexpensive compared to those of Charles Conlon.  His photographs are of consistently high quality, with sharp focus and lush sepia-tinged tones.  Burke is a case where even the collector with an average budget can buy a quality original photograph by a great photographer.

For years after his Burke’s death, his longtime business partner George Brace reprinted Burke photographs.  These reprints usually have Brace’s stamp.  The reprinted images are typically light in tone, on bright white paper and without the typically lush, sepia tinged tones of Burke’s originals.  As Brace himself was a prominent baseball photographer and owned the exclusive rights to Burke’s negatives, these reprints are collectable, just not worth the same as Burke’s originals. 

Original 8”x10” photos shot by George Brace are also on the market, usually of 1950s-60s baseball players and with his stamp on back.  His originals are relatively plentiful but collectable.


Chickering, Elmer. Based in Boston, Chickering produced a number of cabinet cards and other mounted photos in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The mounts have his name so are easy to identify. 


Conlon, Charles.  Active in the first half of the 1900s, Conlon is the most famous baseball photographer.  He shot many of the most recognizable images in American sports, including the shot of Cobb violently sliding into third base.  He was not consistent in how he marked his originals.  Some have his stamp.  Some have his hastily pencil written and circled last name or circled ‘C.’  Some only have his pencil caption or notes with no signature or stamp.  Some have the circular hologram from the 1996 Christes’ auction of the Baseball Magazine Archives.


Charles Conlon’s signature and stamp on the back of an original photograph.


Dorrill, George was a well known St. Louis photographer for The Sporting News and shot the magazine’s popular 1940s 8”x10” team photos.  Photographs with his stamp and St. Louis address on back can be found with some regularity.  He made many later generation photos, such as a 1950s photo showing 1910s players.  The later generation photos often have obviously later generation images.


Falk, Benjamin J. (B.J.)  Active in the late 19th and early 20th century, Falk’s sport and non-sport celebrity images were regularly reproduced in newspapers and magazines.  He made many of the 1890s Newsboy Cabinet Cards and photographed many New York City theatre stars. 

Circa 1905, Falk produced a series of cabinet cards of New York Giants players including Christy Mathewson and John McGraw.  These photos have distinct dark brownish/maroonish mounts with brown tinted bust portraits of the players in street clothes.  Falk’s name was clearly stamped on the bottom of the mount.  The problem is that many of the cabinets have the bottom portion (including Falks’s name) cut from the mount. 


One of the neatly trimmed c. 1905 Falk NY Giants Cabinets.  Pictures Christy Mathewson.



Frissell, Toni.  Internationally famous as a 1930s-70s fashion photographer for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines, Frissell was also the first female staff photographer for Sports Illustrated.  Even her Vogue photography known is known for its athletic-style.  Her photos frequently have her name stamped on back.



Hall, Joseph.  Hall is the most famous and sought after baseball photographer of the 19th century.  He shot many of the images used for the Old Judge baseball cards.  With his studio’s stamp on the mount, he produced a number of cabinet cards and larger mounted photographs, mostly of baseball teams but some individual players.  The back of his mounts usually have a large advertisement for his studio.   These studio photos of Major League players typically sell in the thousands of dollars in nice condition.


Horner, Carl.  In the early 1900s Horner’s stoic, some will say bland, portraits of Major League Baseball players were commonly reprinted by newspapers, magazines, board games and trading cards.  He shot what is one of the most recognizable images in the history of the American sport: the portrait of Honus Wagner used on the 1909 T206 card. 

While reproductions of his images are common, Horner’s original mounted photographs are rare and highly desired.  He produced a number of hen’s teeth rare and extremely expensive cabinet cards with T206 portraits (same portraits as used on the baseball cards).  These cabinets are usually on light colored and ornately embossed mounts with his name on the bottom.  He also produced full body cabinet cards and larger mounted photos of baseball players.  These are desirable, though not as rare or expensive as his ‘T206’ cabinets.  These also have his name on the mount and are ornately embossed. 

Horner produced some monster-sized composite baseball photographs.  Made for particular leagues or teams, each photo contained many player vignettes.  His name usually appears somewhere on the front.  These are also rare and extremely expensive.

There are early 1900s imperial cabinet sized premiums that have reproductions (photoengravings with a dot pattern in the image) of Horner’s T206 images affixed to a dark colored mounts.  Baseball card collectors refer to these as ‘Horner Cabinets.’  A few of the images in this issue were shot by Benjamin J. Falk not Horner.  Though collectable and scarce, these are not actual photographs and are to be distinguished from Horner’s more expensive original photographs. 



Carl Horner’s ‘full body’ cabinet.  Horner’s name is on the mount for easy identification (Photo courtesy of Tom Mills).


Sarony, Napoleon.  A Broadway New York City photographer and lithographer, Sarony remains amongst the most famous theatre photographers of the late 1800s.  He specialized in cabinet cards and CDVs of actors, but photographed everyone from Oscar Wilde to boxer James Jeffries.  His subjects often were posed in colorful and eccentric situations.  He sold many of his celebrity photos and lithographs to the public.  His photographs are easy to identify, as his name is boldly on the mount. 

Napoleon’s son Otto Sarony took over the studio and some quality 1900s cabinet cards of sport stars bear Otto’s name.


Scharffman, Herb (Herbie).  A famed middle to late 1900s photographer for International News Photos and Sports Illustrated, Scharffman specialized in boxing and baseball.  A few of the Exhibit Supply Company boxing cards and Sports Illustrated covers were photographed by Scharffman.  His photos often have his name stamped or tagged on back. 


Wingfield, Don was a prominent mid to later 1900s Washington D.C. based baseball photographer for The Sporting News, Topps Chewing Gum and the Washington Senators.  Many of the images on old  Topps baseball cards were shot by Wingfield.  Along with fellow photographers Jim Rowe and George Brace, Wingfield issued a number of postcards with second generation baseball images.


Wood, John (J.)   Wood shot some of the images used for the 1880s Old Judge cards, and made CDVs and cabinet cards of famous baseball players and boxers.  His studio photos have his printed name, typically ‘J Wood’ of Brooklyn New York, on the front and/or back.  Amongst 1800s baseball photo collectors, Wood is highly regarded, probably ranked a distant second in popularity behind Joseph Hall.


Photographs by famous photographers not known for sports images.      


1935 photograph of Joe Louis by Lusha Nelson.  Famous as a Vogue magazine fashion photographer, Nelson rarely shot sports photographs.


Occasionally, the collector will find sports themed photographs by world famous photographers not known for shooting sports.  Photographers like Richard Avedon, Annie Liebovitz, Cecil Beaton and Edward Steichen have occasionally shot sports photographs.  These original photos will attract both sports and non-sports collectors and can fetch high prices.      photos guide Judging the Authenticity of Photographs

© david rudd cycleback,