1920s Ruth Harriet Louise Glamour Photography

Value (2006) | $5,000 Auction

I was out looking for a lawn edger at garage sales, and I came to a box of portraits here at a sale and immediately realized that they were some famous people. And so I just approached the man with an offer on the whole thing, and he said no, that he wanted to sell them individually, so I bought them all individually.

How much did you end up paying?

I ended up paying five dollars apiece. He was very firm on five dollars apiece.

Well, people should stick to their price.


Well, what we have here is a collection of what is called special photography, or glamour photography. And almost all of these are by Ruth Harriet Louise. She was a famous photographer of the era, and this actually is her. These special photographers were stars of their own right. She was under contract to MGM for most of her career, and she worked from the late '20s into the early '30s, I believe. Most of these are close to unique. Only a handful of prints were struck from each negative. Most of the stills that we see from a film are those 8x10s (those glossies) and those are taken by a unit photographer. The unit photographer would stand next to the cameraman and snap pictures at exactly the same angle. He was the workaday photographer. He would shoot hundreds and hundreds of shots every day. Special photography-- glamour photography-- the stars would come to a special studio that had been built for the photographer. Or he would descend on the set, and they would redecorate for him to shoot special photography. Over the last few years, it has become very, very desirable, because people began to realize that there was a difference between these large-format, beautifully-done photos, and the workaday 8x10s. We go down here to this particular photograph... This is Jetta Goudal, who was a starlet of the time, but the photograph is absolutely stunning. And here is where the interesting thing about the value of special photography comes in. Signed, this picture is worth $200 to $300. Unsigned, this picture is worth $200 to $300. Her autograph really does not increase the value. The intrinsic value of this piece is in the photographer and the quality of the photograph. Over here is Lon Chaney in “Laugh, Clown, Laugh.” This piece is worth $500 to $600, and it's not signed. But it's a major photograph of a great star. And here he is in “London After Dark.” This is $200 to $300. Now, you'll note her stamp is on the back. And this number is interesting because the records at MGM have been gone through, and they can actually date the month and year that this photograph was taken from that number. It's the stock number for that one. The other reason that they were special, not only were these given to the stars, but only a handful-- maybe one, two or three-- were printed up from the negatives because they were used to be sent out to major publications as an exclusive. So now I sort of added up the whole group-- you know, this would be an auction value-- of about $5,000 for this group. So there were 60 of them. You paid $300. So, by the time the auction house gets through with its percentages and everything else, you should still be ahead of the game.

Thank you very much.

Thank you for bringing them in.

I really love them. Thank you.

Appraisal Details

Heritage Auctions
Los Angeles, CA
Appraised value (2006)
$5,000 Auction
Salt Lake City, UT (June 24, 2006)

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