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Set of World’s Earliest Photos by Fox Talbot Sells for Staggering $1.96M

Set of World’s Earliest Photos by Fox Talbot Sells for Staggering $1.96M

In a sale celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sotheby’s photography auctions, a set of nearly 200 early photographs by William Henry Fox Talbott quadrupled its pre-auction high estimate and achieved a new auction record for the artist: $1,956,000.

Talbott, who is considered by some to be the father of photography, was an English scientist, inventor, and photography pioneer who invented the salted paper and calotype processes, which are the precursors to the photo processes that would come in the next two centuries. An early pioneer of the medium and recognized from the start for his supreme artistic capabilities, Talbot’s contributions to photography were critical to its development as an artistic and scientific medium.

Sotheby’s notes that this particular collection of photos were 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. Sotheby’s says 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.

Six “determined” online bidders — as described by Sotheby’s — continued to bid against another, driving the price well beyond the $500,000 high-end of the set’s initial valuation.

As noted in PetaPixel’s original coverage of the offering, these photos are exceptionally valuable, though clearly more so to a set of special individuals than the original estimation considered.

“This record-shattering sale is a true celebration of the birth of photography — the most inventive and beautiful artistic medium of our time. The fierce competition between bidders in Europe, America, and Asia demonstrates the enormous appetite among a broad base of collectors,” Emily Bierman, Sotheby’s Head of Photographs in New York says.

“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. For our entire team, the experience has been nothing short of a privilege that we will forever cherish.”

You can peruse the full listing for the set’s offering on Sotheby’s website here.


Image credits: Photos by William Henry Fox Talbot courtesy of Sotheby’s.