Andrew J. Russell Civil War Photographs, ca. 1885

Value (2012) | $15,000 Auction

This is just a small group-- four, in fact-- of 35, 36 photographs that you brought in today.

About, yeah.

Tell me about where you got these.

When I was a kid, I had a relative, a second cousin, who was an eccentric. He was a collector. And I visited him a few times a year. And every time I went to see him, he'd send me up to the attic, and I'd come down with something, and he'd say, "Kid, if you want those, they're yours." And I came down one day with this album of Civil War photographs, and he gave me the collection when I was seven or eight years old. He told me he thought they might be taken by Mathew Brady; he wasn't sure. I thought they were great. They're pictures of Civil War scenes. I took the album apart, which may not have been the smartest thing. And it's only recently that I was able to determine who the photographer was, and it's taken many years to do that.

And who do you think took the photographs?

Well, I think they're taken by Russell, who was a Civil War photographer. And I believe he was Civil War photographer for the U.S. Army.

Andrew J. Russell, he was the official photographer for the Military Railroad, for the Union Army. So they were all mounted on album pages like this, correct?

That's correct.

And you had them removed from the album pages. When did you have that done?

About five years ago. I just thought they'd get ruined the way they were glued and mounted onto those cardboard pages. So I had a conservator take them off and it was costly, but it preserved them.

The paper helps us date these photographs. This is albumen paper, and albumen paper is what we would expect to see from this time point. In other words, the light-sensitive material is adhered to the paper with albumen or egg whites. They're clearly photographs that were made from A.J. Russell's negatives. Here you have City Point, which was sort of a locus for all the supplies on the East Coast to sort of be trans-shipped, heading south. Great deck scene of a Union gunboat, I assume. Here is another great camp scene from City Point, Virginia. This also is a photograph from the Virginia theater, just looking at the pine trees here. Now, were they printed during the Civil War or after the Civil War? When you look at the thickness of the paper here, it's a really thick albumen paper. And that tells me that these photographs were probably made sometime after the Civil War, because the Civil War albumen paper was very, very thin. And the other thing you wanted to know was, "Maybe I made a mistake taking them off of the original album pages." Well, you didn't. It really was a smart thing to do to preserve them. If this was an A.J. Russell photograph printed during the war, that might be worth $1,500 or $2,000. Same way here and here, they're in great shape. The tonality is spectacular. But in terms of their value, they are worth less. A good auction estimate may be $500 apiece, even though they were printed in the 1880s. So if you've got a collection of 30 plus, I would think that $15,000 would be a decent price for the group.

Wow. Well, I'm very surprised.

Appraisal Details

Cowan's Auctions, Inc.
Cincinnati, OH
Appraised value (2012)
$15,000 Auction
Boston, MA (June 09, 2012)

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