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$45 Turns into $200 Million

Ansel Adams photos found at garage sale worth $200 million

Los Angeles, California (CNN) 7/27/10 -- Rick Norsigian's hobby of picking through piles of unwanted items at garage sales in search of antiques has paid off for the Fresno, California, painter. Two small boxes he bought 10 years ago for $45 -- negotiated down from $70 -- are now estimated to be worth at least $200 million, according to a Beverly Hills art appraiser. Those boxes contained 65 glass negatives created by famed nature photographer Ansel Adams in the early period of his career. Experts believed the negatives were destroyed in a 1937 darkroom fire that destroyed 5,000 plates. "It truly is a missing link of Ansel Adams and history and his career," said David W. Streets, the appraiser and art dealer who is hosting an unveiling of the photographs at his Beverly Hills, California, gallery. The photographs apparently were taken between 1919 and the early 1930s, well before Adams -- who is known as the father of American photography -- became nationally recognized in the 1940s, Streets said. Streets said. "It's a portion that we thought had been destroyed in the studio fire." How these 6.5 x 8.5 inch glass plate negatives of famous Yosemite landscapes and San Francisco landmarks -- some of them with fire damage -- made their way from Adams collection 70 years ago to a Southern California garage sale in 2000 can only be guessed. The person who sold them to Norsigian at the garage sale told him he bought them in the 1940s at a warehouse salvage in Los Angeles. Photography expert Patrick Alt, who helped confirm the authenticity of the negatives, suspects Adams carried them to use in a photography class he was teaching in Pasadena, California, in the early 1940s.

Alt said it is impossible to know why Adams would store them in Pasadena and never reclaim them. The plates were individually wrapped in newspaper inside deteriorating manila envelopes. Notations on each envelope appeared to have been made by Virginia Adams, the photographer's wife. While most of the negatives appear never to have been printed, several are nearly identical to well-known Adams prints. Art expert Robert Moeller said that after six months of study, he concluded "with a high degree of probability, that the images under consideration were produced by Ansel Adams. Silver tarnishing on the negatives also helped date the plates to around the 1920s,” Alt said. "I have sent people to prison for the rest of their lives for far less evidence than I have seen in this case," said evidence and burden of proof expert Manny Medrano. "In my view, those photographs were done by Ansel Adams."  Norsigian wants to sell original prints of the photographs to museums and collectors. "I have estimated that his $45 investment easily could be worth up to $200 million," Streets said.

Garage Sale Prices

A friend of mine bought an almost new $125 ski bib for a nickel at a garage sale. At one time, the original owner wanted it badly enough to pay $125. As time passed, the owner’s appreciation for the item dwindled down to a mere five cents.

Many people put garage sale prices on their blessings, ready to surrender them to the lowest bidder. Are you one of those people?

(Kent Crockett, I Once Was Blind But Now I Squint, Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2004, 170)



Cross Reference:

How Much is a Homeless Man Worth?

Fuzzy Math

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