Auction Results: 50 Masterworks to Celebrate 50 Years of Sotheby’s Photographs (online, Part I), April 21, 2021 @Sotheby’s

Even though there were ostensibly plenty of masterworks of photography on offer, the New York half of the 50 Masterworks to Celebrate 50 Years of Sotheby’s Photographs sale was largely carried by a single lot. The gathering of William Henry Fox Talbot images and materials (on offer from the descendants of his sister Horatia) was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for museums, dealers, and collectors interested in early photography to gain wide access to rare prints, books, and perfect provenance artistic ephemera. It isn’t at all surprising that the trove jumped up to nearly $2M (against a conservative pre-sale estimate of $300000-500000), especially when the various pieces/groupings are valued individually.

After that excitement, the rest of sale was decidedly more muted. The original top lot Ansel Adams vintage Moonrise print didn’t sell, and the overall Buy-In rate for the sale was surprisingly high (over 35%). In the end, buoyed by the Talbot material and a $500K outcome for a 1930 Lee Miller nude, the Total Sale Proceeds for the first half of the two-part sale came in at roughly $3.7M, in the middle of the aggregate pre-sale estimate range.

The summary statistics are below (all results include the buyer’s premium):

Summary Statistics
Total Lots 25
Aggregate Pre Sale Low Estimate $3117000
Aggregate Pre Sale High Estimate $4693000
Total Lots Sold 16
Total Lots Bought In 9
Buy In % 36.00%
Total Sale Proceeds $3696060

Here is the breakdown (using our typical Low, Mid, and High definitions):

Detailed Breakdown
Low Total Lots 0
Total Low Lots Sold NA
Total Low Lots Bought In NA
Low Buy In % NA
Aggregate High Estimate of Low Lots $0
Total Proceeds from Low Lots $0
Mid Total Lots 9
Total Mid Lots Sold 6
Total Mid Lots Bought In 3
Mid Buy In % 33.33%
Aggregate High Estimate of Mid Lots $303000
Total Proceeds from Mid Lots $146160
Total High Lots 16
Total High Lots Sold 10
Total High Lots Bought In 6
High Buy In % 37.50%
Aggregate High Estimate of High Lots $4390000
Total Proceeds from High Lots $3549900

The top lot by High estimate was lot 6, Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, NM, 1941/1942, estimated at $500000-700000; it did not sell. The top outcome of the sale was lot 11, William Henry Fox Talbot, William Henry Fox Talbot’s Gifts to his Sister: Horatia Gaisford’s Collection of Photographs and Ephemera, 1820-1824, 1844, 1845-1846, estimated at $300000-500000, sold at $1956000 (image above, via Sotheby’s).

87.50% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range and there was just 1 positive surprise in the sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate) (image above via Sotheby’s):

Lot 11, William Henry Fox Talbot, William Henry Fox Talbot’s Gifts to his Sister: Horatia Gaisford’s Collection of Photographs and Ephemera, 1820-1824, 1844, 1845-1846, estimated at $300000-500000, sold at $1956000

The complete lot by lot results can be found here.

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