Beckett photo advisor David Rudd Cycleback has a downloadable book that will put some serious photo knowledge in your collecting arsenal.
It’s the kind of thing you might pay thirty bucks for in a brick-and-mortar shop.
Expert information that would likely take years to accumulate on your own is available through a new eBook, Judging the Authenticity of Photographs. Author David Rudd Cycleback, photo authentication advisor for Beckett Media is offering the chance to download it for free.
The color illustrated book covers how to identify and date sport and non-sport photographs from the origins in the 1800s to today.
Photos covered range from wire photos to cabinet cards, tintypes to Polaroids, movie photos to real photo postcards.
Vintage photos have become a hot segment of the sports memorabilia hobby but many potential collectors or newcomers may not be sure how to identify a potentially valuable photo than something more run-of-the-mill.
“Photography collecting has been around a long time, and there has also been a small club of baseball photo collectors,” Cycleback told Sports Collectors Daily. “I think the major and well publicized photo-only auctions by Mastro, Legendary Auctions and Lelands caught many eyes and helped the recent boom.
“Beckett and PSA/DNA are now grading photos which likely will only further the popularity. I followed photos long before the boom, so it’s interesting to watch. I am even a bit wary. It’s like when your favorite cult underground band signs with a major label.”
Cycleback maintains that with a little bit of homework and the dozens of pages and examples available in his online book, anyone can develop a good eye.
“I’d say it’s as easy as getting comfortable with collecting trading cards,” he stated. “With tips and experience, the collector can get a handle on it. Besides, most collectors specialize in a area, such a news service photos, which makes things that much easier. To me, autographs and game used equipment are far scarier areas. You never have to prove a cabinet card was worn by the player in a game.”
Cycleback has advised and examined material for major sports auction houses, and wrote articles for the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Photography which is generally ranked the definitive and standard academic reference. He says photo collecting rookies looking to build or expand their collection sometimes make some common mistakes.
“The first is misdating. This ranges from mistakenly thinking a reprint is an original to thinking a 1910 cabinet card is from the Civil War,” he explained. “The second common error is misidentifying the image subject. This ranges from thinking a nobody is Abe Lincoln or Babe Ruth to thinking a 1870s firefighter is an 1870s baseball player. Back then the two wore similar uniforms. With experience and care, the collector can learn to overcome these types of errors.”
Large numbers of wire photos have entered the hobby over the last decade, thanks in part to dealers purchasing the archives of major newspapers. Because they are usually dated and often capture striking or candid images of players, they’ve become popular. Original wire photos, however, are much more valuable than those distributed and printed by print media outlets across the country.
“The distribution was limited and most were lost or destroyed through the years,” Cycleback explained. “If you have a great Ted Williams wirephoto, there may only be a handful at most in existence.”
Originality, age, the image subject and quality as well as condition and who took the picture can all affect what a vintage photo is worth according to the Seattle resident and lifelong baseball fan.
“If the photographer is famous like Charles Conlon, that might double the value. If you find an original and great looking news photo of Christy Mathewson, Joe Jackson or Cy Young from their playing days, it will have good value.”
Photos taken by early news services like the Associated Press and United Press International can be among the most desirable and sometimes offer the best bargain for the collector.
“The photo subjects range from Ty Cobb to Bronco Nagurski to movie stars to US Presidents to Nobel Prize winning scientists,” Cycleback stated. “Many of the photographers were famous, including Ansel Adams, George Hurrell and Charles Conlon. In short, there’s something for everyone in this area.”
“Many sports collectors like vintage cabinet cards and real photo postcards. The subjects will range from famous athletes and teams to small town teams and high school players. A collector can find these showing nearly all sports, baseball and football to badminton and track. You can also find these of non-sports celebrities, US Presidents to movie stars. As with news service photos.”
While technology and experimentation have sometimes made it a challenge to detect counterfeit baseball cards or game-worn material, identifying copied photos from originals has actually gotten easier according to Cycleback.
“Realize that Kodak, Polaroid and other companies are phasing out photography, so many counterfeiters have to turn to digital photography and computer printers. Even a beginning collector can learn how to identify digital reprints.”
The book is available for download here.