A well-known photography archive, with roots in the early 20th century, has been acquired by Lelands. The company has acquired the archives of Brown Brothers, recognized as the most comprehensive American stock photo library covering events of the 20th century. Included are images of some of the most famous athletes in American history.
“While we will continue to license images as has been the company’s tradition, for the very first time in history, we will offer the actual vintage prints and original negatives for sale through our ongoing auctions,” said Mike Heffner, President of Lelands.
Founded in New York City in 1904, brothers Arthur and Charles Brown launched the news photography service that would eventually become the preeminent stock photo licensing company in the United States. As New York grew into a world-class metropolis, so did the company, which ultimately expanded to 12 full-time photographers and a cadre of notable independent photographers. Assignments spilled outside of the city, and soon Brown Brothers covered noteworthy happenings and personalities from the nation’s capital to New England.
The company covered some of the most important political, sports, architecture, technology, and historical happenings of the first half of the 20th century, with Brown Brothers building up an impressive photography collection. The company also added to its archive through significant acquisitions, which explains why the Brown Brothers archive has historic photographs from as far back as the 1860s, well before the company’s founding. The archive’s importance grew as publishers, producers, museums, and advertising agencies worldwide began to license the photography.
Many great photographers worked with the Brown Brothers, including iconic baseball photographer Charles Conlon, who captured some of the most memorable baseball photos of all time, including many used for baseball cards.
Unlike newspaper archives, most of the Brown Brothers archive images are not news service or wire photographs but are original prints, some of which have never been published or even seen. Many of the original glass plate and cellulose are in the archive. The glass plate negatives from photographers like Conlon are much rarer than the prints themselves.
Collectors will have a chance to buy physical prints and one-of-a-kind negatives.
“One could argue that some of the images in this collection are as rare and unique as it gets,” Heffner stated. “Selling these incredible pieces of history not only ensures the safety and integrity of these works but also gives the collecting world a chance to own a part of this extraordinary archive.”
Brown Brothers’ photos and the rare glass plate and cellulose negatives will be made immediately available in Lelands ongoing auctions. Because the acquisition is among the last of the significant photo archives that remain intact and virtually unpicked, it is substantial in size and scope. Heffner expects that the library will take years to process and sell to completion.
“We look forward to the discoveries we will make as we pour through the archive,” said Heffner, “and excited to share these rare and vintage finds with our clientele.”