Auction Preview: 175 Masterworks To Celebrate 175 Years Of Photography: Property from Joy of Giving Something Foundation, December 11 and 12, 2014 @Sotheby’s

About a decade ago when we first moved back to New York, I had the good fortune to spend an afternoon with Howard Stein. One of the more prominent photography collectors in the city at the time, he had generously invited me over to see a few pictures and talk collecting. While we spent most of our time that day discussing a new video project he was working on with Naoya Hatakeyama as part of his burgeoning online photography presence, it was clear that he had nearly limitless passion for the medium and was enthusiastically eager to share his excitement with a fellow devotee, regardless of the glaring mismatch in scale of our collecting activities.

So it was with mixed emotions that I saw the sale announcement for a selection of the masterworks from his vast collection coming up at Sotheby’s in New York later this week – I am both sad and amazed to see a collection of this quality get broken up and thrown back into the marketplace; one flip through the catalog will certainly take your breath away if you are a vintage photography collector. It is an astonishingly deep selection of icons and rarities, the likes of which we haven’t seen at auction in a very long time, and the time, energy, and thoughtfulness invested in assembling it deserve to be remembered and celebrated. The auction preview itself will rival the many of the museum shows on view in the city this year.

Statistically speaking, this is the first time in the history of this site that we have covered an auction with 100 photography lots in the highest price tier, and the first time that an aggregate Total High Estimate has topped $20M in value. This will not be a sale for bargain hunters, and there will clearly be some records broken by deep pocketed buyers – it’s just a fact that this kind of vintage material doesn’t surface every day (or even every year) and so there’s going to be some stiff competition for much of what is on offer. Overall, there are a total of 175 lots available (hence the title of the sale), with an eye-popping Total High Estimate of $20183000.

Here’s the statistical breakdown:

Preview Statistics
Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including $10000) 13
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of low lots) $119000
Total Mid Lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000) 62
Total Mid Estimate $1547000
Total High Lots (high estimate above $50000) 100
Total High Estimate $18490000

The top lot by High estimate is lot 8, Alfred Stieglitz, Out of Window – 291 – N.Y., 1915, estimated at $400000-600000.

Here’s the complete list of photographers with three or more lots in the sale, along with the number of lots on offer:

Multiple Lots For Sale
Alffed Stieglitz 8
Gustave Le Gray 4
László Moholy-Nagy 4
Edward Weston 4
Eugène Atget 3
Roger Fenton 3
Robert Frank 3
André Kertész 3
Martin Munkácsi 3
Charles Nègre 3
Edward Steichen 3

The idea that one could select a handful of lots to feature out of such a broad auction seems downright foolish; there are dozens of prints that could easily be selected, from Schad and Coburn to Moholy-Nagy and Weston, plus a rich detour into the 19th century. That said, here are a couple worth noting: lot 46, Charles Sheeler, Abstract – Ford Plant, 1927, estimated at $300000-500000 (image above, left, via Sotheby’s), lot 2, Lee Miller, Untitled (Iron Work), 1931, estimated at $150000-250000 (image above, middle, via Sotheby’s), and lot 158, Lewis Baltz, Commercial Building, Pasadena, 1973, estimated at $25000-35000 (image above, right, via Sotheby’s).

The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here.

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Read more about: Charles Sheeler, Lee Miller, Lewis Baltz, Sotheby's

One comment

  1. Pete /

    I googled a few sites to find out about Howard Stein, and I’m glad I did.

    Sounds like the collection is being broken up to benefit a non-profit he was a supporter of.

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