A trove of nearly 200 early photographs by William Henry Fox Talbot quadrupled its pre-auction estimate to achieve $1,956,000 (£1,411,557) this week, a new auction record for the seminal British photography pioneer. Gifted by the photographer to his sister and remaining in the family since, the collection made its auction debut as a highlight of Sotheby’s 50 Masterworks to Celebrate 50 Years of Sotheby’s Photographs sale.

Horatia playing Amélina’s harp (1843) – Fox Talbot gifted the collection to her back in the day

The sale set a new artist record for Talbot, and a new benchmark for a work of 19th century photography at auction.

Chepstow Castle, Monmouthshire

An early pioneer of the medium and recognized from the start for his artistic capabilities, Talbot’s contributions to photography were critical to its development as an artistic and scientific medium.

Gifted by the photographer to his sister, Henrietta Horatia Maria Gaisford (née Feilding) in the 1840s, and passed down through the family, the collection is comprised of loose photographs, personal albums, fascicles of The Pencil of Nature, and a complete Sun Pictures in Scotland.

“It is arguably the most important lot of 19th century photographs to have ever come to market, with nothing nearing its scale or scope ever having appeared at auction before,” said Sothebys.

The auction house’s Emily Bierman, added, “This record-shattering sale is a true celebration of the birth of photography… The fierce competition between bidders in Europe, America, and Asia demonstrates the enormous appetite among a broad base of collectors. After 50 years of traditional auctions of Photographs at Sotheby’s, bidding on this landmark collection of 19th century photographs was conducted entirely online – a resounding confirmation that we are indeed in a new, exciting, digital era.”

The major sale saw further records set, with Hansel Mieth’s Rhesus Monkey achieving $12,600, and Lee Miller’s rare print, Nude, created while she lived and worked with Man Ray in the early 1930s, doubling its pre-sale estimate to make $504,000.

Chris Levine’s meditative view of the Queen, Lightness of Being, 2008, also tripled its pre-sale estimate to achieve £119,700 in the London auction.

Further reading
How to make money from your old photographs

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