Don Worth

Don Worth 02

Don Worth, “Cycas Revoluta, Hilo, Hawaii, 1977.”
Gelatin silver print
14 x 11 in.

Title in pencil on verso, and “4 – 77 – 2” with Worth’s stamp, address stamp, “DO NOT CROP” AND “THIS PRINT FOR REPRODUCTION PURPOSES ONLY” stamps. Remnants of applied label verso. Slight crease bottom margin.


Don Worth (1924 – 2009)
Part of the group of West Coast photographers that included Ansel Adams, Edward and Brett Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Ruth Bernhard.) His photographs of flowers are notable. His book “Plants” was published in 1977. His work is in the collections of museums such as the Getty, Museum of Modern Art, Chicago Art Institute, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, High Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston., Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Don Worth 02 back





HUSBAND, WIFE. 2 – 1/6 PLATE AMBROTYPES IN A DOUBLE CASE. The ambrotypes are on ruby [dark colored] glass, instead of having a dark backing. This is often a sign of higher-quality work. The elaborate mats are unusual. The case has the “Mother Embracing Child 2” motif on the front and back. The posing is the same in each image, but they are presented as mirror images. As ambrotypes they could be reversed if desired. The case has a few small nicks at edges [D3+], the images are fine


illinoisA label in the negative credits Kesson White, Architects. This seems to be a photograph of a painting, perhaps a watercolor. It has then been heavily worked on by coloring applied to the surface. This is especially charming on the streetlights and the headlights from the approaching car
. The dark areas of the bridge structures, the light poles and figures have been darkened.

The image area is 5 x 9 ½- inches. The print is mounted on a card. The card is soiled, with rounded corners, one corner badly bent. It has been matted so we only see the interesting and attractive image.



315z-c.13A masterpiece of vernacular photography. The atanding  figures and those weaving rope are individualized, with heads looking in various directions. This anticipates some mid-century street photography by masters such as Winogrand and Photo League.

The title in the negative, by an unknown photographer, is “No. 138. Lavoatorici di corda – Giudecca.”


Paul Trapier, by George Cook




Daguerreotype, 1/6 This is very special on several accounts. First of all it is by George Cook, a major figure in the Daguerreian era. His main location was in Charleston. He started out in New York, had galleries in several locations in the deep south, and in St. Louis. He had extensive contacts with other of the great daguerreotypists. He assisted at Brady’s NY gallery and at Root’s Gallery in Philadelphia. This image is an a rare and desirable case with his “COOK/ARTIST/CHARLESTON” embossed on the case cover.

It is not only identified as Paul Trapier, but comes with a  card giving the long history of the family that played a significant role in the spiritual life of Charleston.

The daguerreotype has its original seal, so you can see dust under the glass. The plate itself has a few light spots. It has subtle coloring.


Unusual early tintype of three mothers 4 babies

tintypeAn interesting tintype. It is 3 1/8 x 4- inches on the kind of plate that one finds on the earliest tintypes, though it doesn’t have the “Melainotype” stamp. The picture itself is more like what one sees on daguerreotypes; when you look at it directly the character of the image on the plate is different than what one normally sees. It seems to have once been in a case, and there is faint trace of an oval mat.

$90 — Postage paid within US, $10 to Canada


Emery, Nebraska Emery, NebraskaEmery, NebraskaCabinet card shows what seems to be a newly opened storefront. There is still the temporary wooden fence in front of the sidewalk. A wispy tree has been planted. The “Fresh Bread” sign has not been put up yet. There is an interesting checkerboard façade above the porch.

A bit light, with a small tear at the very top. No maker, but “J. J. Connechell [?] Store1, Emery Neb 1888” in pencil on verso. A nice bit of Americana.

$50 -postage paid with US, $10 to Canada


compositecompositeCDV with a nice seller’s label on the verso for Fred Passmore, Cheapside London “Under the Tree.” This covers what was probably the original publisher’s backmark, that I think was London Stereoscopic Company.  A printed text on the bottom margin reads: “UPWARDS OF FIVE HUNDRED PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAITS OF THE MOST CELEBRATED PERSONAGES OF THE AGE. WITH A HAND-MAGNIFYING GLASS EVERY PORTRAIT WILL BE SEEN PERFECTLY.” Royalty are festured in the central panel. This is surely one of the most amazing composite photographs.

There is a soft bend in the upper left.

$140 – postage paid within US, $10 to Canada

Elephants in the U.S. 1924 – 3 Vintage Photographs

Circus Elephant

elephants bathingelephants circus

3 vintage press photographs from International Press, with attached text slugs.

One, 8″ x 10″, shows trainers bathing elephants from Luna Park in the Coney Island surf among the bathers. Another, 6 1/2″ x 8 1/2″, shows a woman riding in an elephant-chariot at the Barnes Circus winter quarters near Venice, California. A third, of the same size, shows a line of trained circus elephants said to be worth millions of dollars.

All show handling and creases at edges.

$200 – Post paid within US, $10 shipping to Canada



Here is a wonderful description from Clarence Bass’s site–

John Grimek, known as the Monarch of Muscledom for five decades, was probably the most revered bodybuilder of all-time. Grimek was so far ahead of other bodybuilders that the rules had to be changed after he won the Mr. America title in 1940 and 1941, to prevent him from dominating the competition for years to come. In addition to being the only two-time Mr. America, he was a national champion and member of the United States Olympic weightlifting team in Berlin (1936). He was chosen “Mr. Universe” at the 1948 Olympic games in London, before going on to win the “Mr. USA” title in Los Angeles in 1949 against the finest professional bodybuilders in the world. The later victory left him as the undisputed best physique in the world, and perhaps the best built man of all time. He retired as the only bodybuilder in history who was never defeated in a contest.

As great as his record was, it doesn’t fully account for the adulation he received. Perhaps it was greatness coming along at the opportune time, but there was a magic about Grimek. Much in demand at universities all over the country, art instructors said they had never seen the human form so beautifully put together as it was in John Grimek. Perhaps even more remarkable was his nature .In spite of achieving almost godlike status, Grimek remained a kind and humble man.

Despite the condition issues mentioned above this is a bright rich portrait.

$125 – Post paid within US, $10 shipping to Canada


“Burnt” — this is a term used to describe the situation where something is offered, such as at an auction, and doesn’t sell. It is sometimes thought that the object will now carry the stigma of its failure to sell, like a scarlet letter on its forehead.

It is feared that some future potential collector will remember or learn of that prior unsuccessful sale and feel it indicates the reserve or selling price was too high.

There is often a struggle within the mind of a collector between the collector’s feeling about a photograph, and the knowledge of the sales record of similar or “comparable” photographs.

I have tried to direct these Newsletters to issues of collecting that are not about money, but there are few collectors who do not figure monetary value into their collecting.

Strict appraisals are based on a probable figure that would be agreed on by an interested buyer and a motivated seller, if that can be supported by objective records. But in reality an interested buyer A might not agree on the seller’s price, nor might interest buyer, B, C… and so on. But then a buyer comes along who will gladly pay that price, or even a higher price. If that price is public, it may now convince some of those who would not pay the original price to gladly pay it or even more for something comparable. On the other hand, when something sells for a high price, and that price is public, it does not at all guarantee that something comparable will sell for that price or even close to it.

Dealers and Auctioneers constantly have to make educated guesses about what a photograph might sell for. This will determine the price a dealer will put on a photograph,  or what an auctioneer will agree to offer at a certain reserve. What does it mean if the dealer or auctioneer is thought to be “wrong?” Is there a price that is the “right” price for a certain photograph?

The lure of consigning something at auction is that it might sell for much more than was originally expected. This happens almost as often as when something doesn’t meet its reserve.

Sometimes at auction a lot will start very slowly, as though there won’t be much interest. Suddenly two people start to raise the level, and now there is a flurry of bids with some bidders who hesitated to offer even an opening bid now bidding at multiples of the high estimate. Did they require the validation that other people want this photograph before they reach out for it themselves? Or do they just not want to show their hand, for fear that it might influence others to bid. The practice of “sniping” on eBay usually has just this purpose.

By the way, there are collectors who only want to add material to their collections in utterly private ways. They want to be the first to have a chance to acquire it. They don’t want to show it in their collection and have someone recognize it as having been offered to others. On the other hand, there are collectors who hold back from buying something when it is offered to them directly, but then, at auctions, they hold up their paddles and bid enthusiastically and publicly.

At every show there are many photographs that remain unsold at the end of the show. Dealers may feel that some of these are among their best offerings, not the worst. This remains true even though these photographs have been rejected by numerous visitors to the booth.

Auctions used to be primarily venues where dealers would acquire material. In recent years both collectors and dealers compete for the same photographs. When a dealer outbids other dealers and collectors at an auction, this is often because the dealer has the feeling that the photograph has value that is overlooked by the competitors at the auction. At shows many sales are made from dealer to dealer. Indeed there are some shows where almost all the sales are made this way. Has the selling dealer priced the photograph too low?

As collector, I believe one should develop confidence in one’s taste and the felt value of a photograph to one’s collection. Especially in the case of a unique or very rare photograph, one should acquire what gives most personal value within the collection, at the level one can afford, and not give too much weight to what others may think. What seems to be the received opinion today may not be so tomorrow. Sometimes it is only in the context of a sensitive collection that what the collector sees in a photograph becomes visible to others. This is case with collections of material that did not cost a great deal, as much as with collections made up of very costly photographs.


There were many fascinating responses to the last Newsletter, “What is it?

This led me to post it on the website, along with a number of earlier Newsletters. I also instituted a Forum, by which readers can post comments on any of those Newsletters. I hope this will lead to interesting discussions. I have summarized some of the responses to the last Newsletter in my own posting.

The discussion in the Newsletter was directed at two issues. The first was a reading of the actual content of the scene depicted, the “picture.” The other was a consideration of what the “picture” actually was, in terms of the margin and whatever else was on the photographic sheet.

Interestingly, all of the comments were directed at a “reading” of the image. Nobody wrote about the other issue, but that is what I want to continue to pursue in this and probably the next Newsletter.

One might want to think that the actual picture is what the photographer saw in the camera’s view. As a film-maker working in 16mm, one took for granted that the framing the camera gave was unalterable With the development of 16mm optical printers a few filmmakers began to work with altering the camera’s framing, but most accepted the camera’s framing. The situation is different in the digital era, where the camera produces only a template for what the “photograph” could be.

With photographs it was different right from the start. The daguerreotypist or tintype maker could envision the mat that would eventually surround the image, and compose the image with that in mind. Early daguerreotypes with square or octagonal mats seem to have been composed expressly for the shape of the chosen mat. Southworth and Hawes often favored very thin straight mats. But mostly later daguerreotypes were less rigorously composed around the edge.

The fancy mats with curves and points along the sides blurred the straight “edge” of the image. If the mat could be opened, additional details would often be revealed that the mat obscured. Were these part of the picture or outside it?  If the case and mat appear “original” then the image that appears within the mat is usually accepted as the “picture”, and the other details are “behind the scenes.” A not uncommon instance of this is a daguerreotype of a child, with the mother holding the child, hidden behind the mat.

19th-century paper photographs fall into two general sizes. The smaller formats were presented on mounts, often decorated and bearing printed information. While the photograph mounted on the card could be seen as distinct from the mount, the mount and the card are today mostly considered to be one object, married forever. Collectors savor even minute variations of the mount as different objects.

Few would think of removing an albumen print from a carte-de-visite and giving it a different presentation. The “photographic object” is the entire mount, including the edges and the verso, as well as what is on it. Yet oddly, in the CDV era, most CDV’s were inserted into albums that obscured the edges and the verso. Indeed the compartments for the CDV’s in albums were so tight that many CDV’s had their edges and corners trimmed to allow for easier insertion into the album. It is only in recent years that it has been more common to place CDV’s’ in relatively safe sleeves, and collectors make a fetish out of the original edges.

In the current exhibit of Civil War photography at the Metropolitan Museum, CDV’s are presented on simple stands that allow the full object, front and back, to be seen. For some this seems a brilliant solution, only right. For others, used to looking at albums, it seems strange.

At the other end of the size scale, albumen and salt prints were often mounted by the photographer or publisher on very large mounts. These often had letterpress titles, photographer identification, blindstamps and other markings. If these were in turn placed in portfolios or large albums, the entire mount was meant to be seen. The photograph and its mount were a single “photographic object.”

Here is an example of that:





Indeed this presentation also dictated an order in which the images would be seen. The “Hand and the Wall” issue discussed in some of the earlier Newsletters [See Newsletter 4, available on the home page.] was directed at the issue of small-scale photographs, held in the hand, vs. larger ones meant to be hung on the wall. I wasn’t thinking then about these large-scale photographs that were also originally meant to be turned by hand in larger albums or portfolios.

As photograph collecting expanded by both institutions and private collectors, several factors contributed to the dominance of the wall. The original albums and portfolios were scarce and increasingly expensive, so few could manage to acquire complete ones. Those  fortunate enough to own them would have a problem to display them. This was especially true for institutions, that  had a mission to bring in visitors, and to make their holdings available to the public.

Portfolios and albums were broken up and individual “photographic objects” would be purchased or displayed individually on the wall..

Sometimes curators and collectors who make a fetish out of preserving intact albums that were assembled by patrons rather than photographers (such as travel albums that were assembled from the traveler’s choice of prints available in a shop during a world tour) don’t hesitate to display a single page or sheet from an original album or portfolio.

There is certainly a question about presenting a single page separated from its original context. But beyond this is the question about how to present it, if it is to be matted and framed to put on a wall (where it will be seen vertical to the viewer, rather than down on a table.) Following a trend used in  presenting 20th-century photographs, these objects are often matted so that only the photographically printed image is seen in the window of the mat (I’m assuming the mat is not obscuring part of the image, though this is often not the case..) So the picture is floating in a flat sea of mat board, unmoored from any title, number, name or even signature that was part of the original object. In some cases holes are cut into the mat to show some element that is deemed worth showing—little islands far from the shores of the image itself.

Sometimes the scale of the mat has nothing at all to do with the scale of the original object, as the case of small images and even CDV’s mounted in windows cut into huge oversized mounts.

These issues don’t only apply to 19th century photographs on mounts that are part of the photographic object prepared by the photographer. 20th- Century photographers had many choices in how to print their images on the photographic paper they selected. They could, for example, print their image edge-to-edge on the existing paper. Or they could print the image on the full sheet of paper, and then crop it to the edge of the image. Or, as is often the case, they could print the image onto the paper leaving a margin of even or uneven width. Many photographs are found with many deep margins at the bottom or one or both sides.

For instance:


Photographers could also mount their image directly on mounts, and here they had similar choices. They could mount it with symmetrical or unsymmetrical borders. The photographer could decide whether and where to place a signature, title, date and other information, whether the borders or margins were regular or irregular. If some of the information was “far” from the image, this suggests the photographer wanted the entire mat or margin area to be part of the presentation.

Dealers, collectors, gallerists and curators should be mindful of the choices they are making when matting and framing. These very often go against what appears to have been the intention of the photographer as to what constitutes the “photographic object.”

Far from exhausting this subject, I keep thinking about more related issues that I want to explore in the next Newsletter. Meanwhile I invite you to leave comments on this and previous Newsletters by visiting our website, here.


I’m working on several bodies of material for the Fall Be-hold auction. Let me know if you have exciting material to propose for consignment.



I was working on the description of the photograph illustrated above, for my March auction, and it struck a chord that inspired me to share it with you. I had discarded this from a group of images, but when I looked at it more closely I decided to include it.

The photograph appears to be from 1930 – 1940. There is no indication of photographer, publisher or subject. At first I couldn’t make out much. It wasn’t clear that the whitish area at the right wasn’t a defect in the negative, until I realized it was the shoulder or body of someone who was “blocking the view.” And it took me a while to see bullets in the belt at the left, and then the bit of uniform, that indicated that policemen were twisting the arms of the young black man whose upper body was bare. As our view is very restricted, I couldn’t tell the position of the youth in relation to the space that was hardly indicated. His face points into a triangular wedge in the light area at the right. There is a small white dot near the apex of the triangle. Is that light reflecting off his eye?

From looking at so many daguerreotypes of two people, I have become accustomed to paying a lot of attention to the subjects’ hands. The position of the arms and hands are often very revealing of the relationship between the subjects. Here the hands are particularly interesting, as the policemen’s hands hold the prisoner’s hands in a curious manner, gentle as well as containing.


The light area at the right has some light gray blotches that indicate it is something right in front of the camera lens. This lightness is almost the same color as the margins. In this case the image is printed smaller than the photographic paper on which it is printed, so the bottom margin is much wider than the other margins. This wide bottom margin almost merges with the white area, so the image of the caught man floats within a light border with light strips of various thickness at the left, top and bottom, and a curved irregular wider shape at the right.

The question arises: what is the actual “picture?”

This has two dimensions. One is to determine the “content” of the picture from so little supporting information. The other is what, on the object in front of us, is the “picture.”

The second question can have several solutions. One can think of the picture as everything inside the margins, even the invisible margin at the right, but not the margins themselves.

Here is how that looks:


The picture can be cropped by a mat so the wider white area at the bottom is cropped out, and we see only the dark picture area and the white area at the right, but without the strip of the supposed right margin.

Here is how that looks:


Or we can think of the photograph as everything on the full sheet of photograph paper, and that will include all the margins. That is the image presented earlier.

In matting and framing, decisions are made that define what the photograph is, often interpreting the photograph in ways that alter it. The photographer’s intent might not be known or even be relevant. A matted, framed photograph is an interpretation of the photograph. The photograph “itself” might be more ambiguous, not only subject to various “meanings” but also various understandings of what is and is not part of the image.

When I look at this photograph as it is now, in a sleeve but not matted or framed, other things come to mind. The white margins constitute some kind of border that separates the photograph from the world outside. But in a photographic print of this kind, I see the outside world encroaching into the photograph. Each photographic print is a physical object. It is not only an interpretation of the negative, but as a print it has a life and history of its own.

As is so often the case with this type of print, the corners are wounded from previous mounting corners. [Why are these still being used so frequently?] There are some folds and cuts that are coming into the edges of the photograph.

I very often see mats used to hide these invasions. They hope to restore the image to its “original” virgin state, though by cropping out some borders and edges they change it from the original. If a mat is chosen to cover some damage, this surely changes the picture. Many photographs offered for sale have been carelessly matted so that some of the image is unnecessarily covered, often with the person who did the matting not even caring. In this case, the photographer made an immediate decision to make the tight framing a major element in the picture. So we must respect this as well as we can.

It seems much better to “float” the entire print, so the entire image can be seen, including its edges. If there is damage that appears as a blemish, there are conservation techniques that can minimize the effect. These techniques are expensive, if they are done properly. It is only the low value still placed on many photographs that makes this cost out of proportion to the “value” of the photograph.

I don’t at all mean to minimize the issue of condition, but rather to take the issues of condition in a wider perspective.

In the case of the photograph we are discussing, the invasion of outside forces somewhat parallels the picture itself, and seems an appropriate part of its character. The feeling of the paper, the character of the print, the indications of previous handling, tremendously enhance its character. They are part of what I love about it. The people in the image who are caught in this tightly framed space have a kind of vulnerability. That their photographic depiction is also vulnerable to outside invasion is somehow appropriate.

This is a great authentic vintage photograph. The chances are you will never encounter another example of it. What is it? What is its value?

It’s been a long time since I was struck by something that compelled me to write. Now I have lots of things that continue the thoughts started in this Newsletter so I hope to continue this.

This photograph is available for purchase. Click here for more information.