Colorado Mining History in Images
Tips on Collecting Historic Photographs
March 4th 2006 Rare Gold Mining image on eBay Item number: 6258097110 Mining Photograph titled "TRIUMPHANT " By "GEO. H. JOHNSON.....SACRAMENTO, CAL." Color tinted half plate daguerreotype of the California Gold Rush Listed on EBAY with bids over $22,900.00
The Colorado gold rush was in 1859 one decade later than California, but many of the images are just as rare. Early Colorado images have not appreciated as much as the early California market and are undervalued at this time and could make great investments in early American history. Only invest in images you enjoy and that are of the highest quality and condition.
In a recent visit with the director of one of Colorado's premier western history museums. We discussed collections and the benefits of the internet and specifically eBay for research and acquiring museum quality artifacts. It was noted that there is a growing problem with a minority of fraudulent sellers making misrepresented or un represented reproductions. Provenances are non existent and if provided of little real value.
From that meeting I decided to share some basic tips and information on reproductions and fakes in the photographic market of collectibles. The main focus will be on early Colorado and the west, but the information can be generalized for other niches. Experience and knowledge are foremost in importance, The more you know about the subject matter in the images the more prepared you will be to spot inaccuracies and frauds.
If purchasing images on eBay you need to watch out for fakes and reproductions, although it has not become as insidious in old photographs as it has in other areas of collecting. Obvious things to watch out for are copies passed off as if they were genuine. There is the exception of period copies that were made near the same time as the original image.
The front view of an early stereo camera, clearly shows the dual front lens system which enable the camera to capture three dimensional images.
One of the first things to do is date the photograph. This is done by determining the photographic process utilized. The more common processes are Albumen process made with egg whites, Ambrotype glass plate, wet collodion film, and platinum or silver contact prints. There are very few early Colorado images created by the Daguerreotype process and most are now in the state historical society's collection.
Most of the important mining images in Colorado were produced between 1859 to 1920. If an image was created by one of Colorado's well known photographers the date can be arrived at with even greater accuracy. Examples are William H. Jackson, Charles Weitfle, Alexander Martin, Collier, and W.G. Chamberlain. The image is dated within the time frame that the photographer was active.
The size of the photograph is important, many of the earlier images were created in small sizes , the most common being the Cartes-de-visite. (2.25"X4") about the size of a contemporary business card. The cardboard the photograph is attached to helps to date the image by imprints, and borders, and later embossing borders. Usually the larger the photograph the later it was produced. Although there were a few early full plate images created, but rarely available are on eBay. Occasionally there are recent reprints that have been reprinted from the original photographer's glass plates.
As mentioned above the mount helps to identify timeframes when stereographs were also created. The color of the mount, and the corners and even the curve of the mount also helps to narrow the time frame. For example W.G. Chamberlain mounted his photographs for a period on green mounts that date from around 1866-1870. More recent stereographs are usually mounted on gray, or black card board.
Inscriptions and notes in period writing are very important. Although these could be easily forged, The text should accurately reflect what is pictured and be in a method consistent with the period. An example would be pen and ink in script, or pencil.
Although there are exceptions, these are a few good guidelines to follow. Knowledge and experience develop as you view more and more images. I have read of individuals photographing reenacted old events and printing them in the old process to make unknown fakes of early gun fights. These images need a thorough visual investigation of the content of the images such as the clothes, signs, tools, etc. as there will almost always be a incongruity.
Summary of rules for determining authenticity of old photographs.
1.) Accurately determine the true age of the photograph. By the photographic process used and photographer. The photographers production time frame. Period dating by known objects or people in the image, and by inscriptions on front and back.
2.) Check for variations of the same image by the same photographer, and similar images by other photographers of the same period and location.
3.) knowledge gained by studying many images from the same period, helps to identify unauthentic images. Caveat emptor
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