Treasure: Vintage photos remain hot in antiques market

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to the Detroit News

He knew they were good, he just didn’t know exactly how good. That was why Ralph Pedersen decided to bring in some examples of classic American photography for appraisal recently.

Bob DuMouchelle of DuMouchelles downtown art gallery and auction house was happy to see two works by the esteemed photographer Ansel Adams. “Obviously, Adams is an iconic American photographer,” he told Pedersen. “You’re lucky to have these.”

Pedersen and his wife purchased the images — one titled “Tenaya Creek Spring Rain” from Portfolio 3, print 7 of 135, dating to 1959, the other “Siesta Lake” from Portfolio four, dating to 1963 — at the Halstead Gallery about 40 years ago, he told the appraiser, and doesn’t remember what they paid. DuMouchelle said that where the works are in the photographer’s portfolio can be a determining factor in exactly how much they’re worth. “Some are early works, some are later, and it makes a difference,” he told him.

Background information on the artist was found at, which says that the photographer and environmentalist was born in in San Francisco in 1902 and grew up near the Golden Gate Bridge (Interesting trivia: he broke his nose at age 4 during an aftershock of the 1906 earthquake and felt that it marked him for life). Home schooled after having trouble fitting in, he found joy in nature and first began photographing at Yosemite and Sierra Nevada with a Kodak #1 Box Brownie his parents gave him. Early work for the Sierra Club brought him his first exhibition at the club’s San Francisco headquarters.

A meeting with photographer Edward Weston led to an important relationship as friends and colleagues and Adams’ work and fame grew steadily through the 1930s, a time when he also met Alfred Stieglitz, another photographer who also influenced him greatly.

Because he had ongoing financial issues, he also worked as a commercial photographer and writer/lecturer throughout the 1930s. He was a dedicated environmental activist and was both praised and criticized for it.

DuMouchelle said that Adams’ works are in perennially high demand with collectors. He valued the 1963 image at $10,000-$16,000 and the 1959 image at $2,000-$4,000 at auction, explaining the difference in price: “Dramatic shots bring more,” he told Pedersen.

Pedersen also brought another image, a 1946 photograph of Igor Stravinsky by Arnold Newman – another iconic and highly desirable example of vintage photography. The same image is included in important collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Generally acknowledged as the pioneer of the environmental portrait, he is also known for his still life and abstract photography, and he is considered as one of the most influential photographers of the 20th Century,” according to, the website dedicated to his work and legacy. “We do not take pictures with our cameras, but with our hearts and minds,” Newman (1918-2006) said, according to the site, which also mentions that the Stravinsky image is one of his best-known. Pedersen’s piece has some slight condition issues, said the appraiser, but it would bring between $5,000 and $7,000 at auction.

Photography is a really hot collectible, DuMouchelle said, and continues to be a good investment. “Black-and-white photography is especially popular with the way people decorate today,” said the appraiser.

About this item

Item: Black and white photography

Owned by: Ralph Pedersen

Appraised by: Bob DuMouchelle, DuMouchelles

Estimated value: $2,000 and up at auction