They sit in the offices of newspapers and magazines, waiting to be discovered.
Millions of images taken by photographers across the country, telling countless stories and taking anyone who looks at even one of them back in time to a singular moment or place.
Historic images, many of which feature sports subjects, are gradually becoming available to fans and collectors as media companies begin to realize their potential value.
The Baltimore Sun is the latest company to take advantage of a new all-encompassing service provided by AIA, a service aimed at unlocking the revenue potential of their unused image archive assets and bringing those photos into the hands of collectors and anyone else who sees value in photographs from decades gone by. The newspaper’s archives contain over two million images.
The Chicago Tribune was the first major client for AIA, with a library that includes more than six million rare, historic photos and negatives, many dating back to the nineteenth century.
“We’re setting up a state of the art digital archive,” said Bob Pokress of Image Fortress, which combined forces with Masterpiece Marketing Group to form AIA.
“It’s a level of digital archiving that’s on par with what we did for the National Archives,” said Pokress, whose company handled the same task there. Each photo receives a bar code tag and can be tracked throughout the entire process of turning a photo from a box in a giant store room into an online asset that has tangible value.
“Individual photos can be worth thousands of dollars but here there’s never a possibility of anything walking out the door,” he said of his company’s system.
While Image Fortress handles the image libraries’ safety, security and inventory, MMG markets the digital images through various platforms including the papers’ own websites, eBay and auction houses. Some are press service wire photos, others are images captured by staff photographers. Many have never been seen before. Sports have always been a popular subject.
“I’ve personally seen photos of Jack Dempsey taken prior to World War I that have never been published,” Pokress told Sports Collectors Daily. “There is a photo we uncovered that pictures Joe Louis and Joe DiMaggio together with Jim Braddock (former heavyweight champion). It was before Louis became a champion and before DiMaggio had played his first full season with the Yankees.”
A 1923 Yankees photo recently culled from the Sun’s archives sold at auction for $4400.
“There’s a bit of a treasure hunt involved here,” said Eric Amundson of MMG regarding the painstaking process of going through so many images. The volume of photos now available to the public is staggering in size.
“We are adding ten to twenty thousand new pictures a week onto our website,” said Amundson.
Determining which photos are worthy of special attention is an ongoing task. “We sort through everything before we list it for sale,” Amundson explained. “It’s a long process. We set aside the best for major auctions and then determine which images fit best in which platform.”
With photos, however, beauty is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. Dealers who purchase quantities of images and collectors who look for rare pictures sometimes come away with a gem for an investment of less than $50.
“We hear every day from customers who shop eBay and are ecstatic to locate and buy some of these,” said Amundson.
The photographs are a potential gold mine for authenticators who look for images to help photo match game used jerseys and other items.
“Those who are interested in using these as a research platform would find them to be a great asset,” Amundson stated. “The ideal package is to have a jersey and have a photo helping establish the authenticity.”
Here are the photos currently listed on eBay.