by Alex Novak
The following group of classic books and resources is what I consider the basic necessities for a photography collector’s library. There are many other fine examples, but this is where I would start my book collection, if I had to do it all over again. These are "useful" books, as opposed to the tabletop tomes that only have size to recommend them. I also know that many of the early classics are missing from this list. They were important breakthroughs for their times. But times have changed and other more recent works and research have surpassed some of these books. I have generally selected books and catalogues that can still be found easily, although there are a couple of exceptions. I have also left out monographs in order to give this list some limitation. Some of the books and catalogues fit under more than one heading, but they are only mentioned once for brevity sake. I also openly admit that these are my own personal favorites; other authors would certainly select another list. The easiest way to get into an argument is to try to put together the best list of anything, so take pity on this poor author.
Prices cited do not include packing, shipping or insurance, and are only a rough estimate of cost and not an offer to buy or sell. Price ranges often reflect the difference between a first edition and subsequent editions. Prices usually reflect a condition that is very good to fine.
Books are a very cheap investment in your education. If they save you just one mistake, you can often pay for your entire library. They enrich the experience of collecting as you grow in your knowledge and appreciation of photography. The entire list of books below might cost you the equivalent of a nice, but not ultra expensive photograph. Buy them first BEFORE you buy any photographs. If you just want to focus on one particular area of photography, you would have to spend even less on those books that will be the most pertinent for you.
And please remember that this is only a place to START your collection. I hope you go on to add many other books to your library. My personal library is now approaching 9,000 volumes and catalogues on the subject of photography: I think every single dollar has been well spent.
The Photograph Collector’s Guide by Lee Witkin and Barbara London, long out of print and now running close to $200 in hard back (especially in the first edition) and $100 in soft cover on the secondary market. This is still the very best overall guide to photography collecting on the market. I still use it nearly every day as a reference, although not the price guides. Published in 1979 and reprinted in 1980 in soft cover. When will someone update this classic? Apparently soon, because there is a group working on this project.
Photographs: A Collector’s Guide by Richard Blodgett sure sounds like the previous title and there is a little overlap, but Blodgett does give some sound advice in some of his chapters and his picture by picture analysis at the end of the book is a good education in connoisseurship. Also published in 1979, this paperback book is generally available at about $25.
Collecting Old Photographs by Margaret Haller is another oldie but goodie. Published in 1978, Haller is obviously list-obsessed. The good news is that her lists are pretty good. She has lists of photographer’s bios (both 19th and 20th century lists), landmark dates, processes/definitions and photographic publications. The prices are, of course, silly, and the rest of the text is pretty basic, but these lists make the book very worthwhile.
On Collecting Photographs, which is a handy booklet published by the Association of International Photography Art Dealers or AIPAD, has some very solid information on the basics of starting a photography collection and includes a glossary of definitions, a bibliography and a photography timeline. The booklet can be ordered directly from AIPAD at 202-986-0105 for $10 postage paid in the US and $15 postage paid outside of the US.
Collectingphotography (yes, it is spelled without the space; do not ask us why) is one of the newest of the general photo collecting books to hit the market. It is the latest such book to tackle this subject and is the first to substantively deal with important new developments, such as the Internet's effect on the market. If you are into contemporary photography, it is also the first book on photography collecting that I have seen that devotes substantial space to this area. There are a lot of pros and cons to this 200-page book and you might want to read my review under the News & Archives section of this website. Basically, it is well written but there are a few glaring mistakes, and the list of photographers at the back is astonishingly obscure and astoundingly narrow, as well as overfocused on contemporary photographers. The pricing guidelines in this section are also downright silly. Despite these misgivings, I can still recommend the book as "must reading" for every photography collector. Just take that photographers list with a large grain of salt. The list price in hardbound is £25 in the UK; $39.95 in the US; and $60 in Canada.
I often get people asking me how to tell the difference between an ambrotype and a dag, or between an albumen or printing out paper; or asking "What’s a collotype?" or "How do you tell what’s a salt print?" Here are four books (all still in print) to help you tell, and they should be in every photography collector’s library:
Care and Identification of 19th Century Photographic Prints by James M. Reilly (and published by Kodak). The best of the best for paper print identification with a separate chart to help you id print types.
Keepers of Light by William Crawford, very detailed and with excellent illustrations. The relatively new second edition helped make this excellent book more available.
A Guide to Early Photographic Processes by Coe and Haworth-Booth (and published by the V&A Museum).
Looking at Photographs: A Guide to Technical Terms by Gordon Baldwin, of the John Paul Getty Museum, which co-published this with British Museum Press.
A New History of Photography edited by Michel Frizot. While there are hundreds of wonderful histories of photography, let me recommend my friend Michel Frizot’s fabulous new version. He was the editor on this huge project, which also involved a who’s who of photo history researchers. This book has recently been issued in English and you can buy this 776-page (!) massive book for under $40. I had recently broke down and paid nearly $200 for the French version before this version was printed! What a true bargain for some wonderful content and images. This is where tabletop tipping tomes meet up with great resource material.
Photographers Encyclopaedia International by Michele and Michel Auer. Available in two-volume book set, CD-Rom and Paperback Index versions. I use all three versions. The paperback Index lists the most photographers (over 25,000) but gives only the most abbreviated information. Price for the Index is about $45. The CD-Rom is the next most comprehensive with nearly 7,000 names with considerable information on many of the photographers, including biographical and bibliographies on some of those listed. It goes for about $165 when you can find it. The two-volume set from 1985 is still a classic, even though it only presented about 1700 photographers. Copies are now expensive at about $250. These are my most used databases.
Gordon’s Photography Price Annual International. Available from Gordon’s in book form and on CD-Rom. The CD-Rom is the most comprehensive set of auction prices and records that I have found available.
The International Guide to Nineteenth Century Photographs by photo dealer Gary Edwards, a great piece of research by Gary and one of my constant tools, but it too is out of print. Gary, do you want to reprint this one? Edwards compiled all the auction and dealer catalogues listings by photographer. You can find the activity dates, processes, formats, subjects, locations, studios, and if there were any notes on the particular photographer with the auction listing. From 1987 but still essential. About $85 on the secondary market, when you can find it. Scarce.
Répertoire des Photographes de France au Dix-Neuvième Siècle by J.M.Voignier and published by Le Pont de Pierre in 1993. This all-text resource lists nearly 7,000 19th century French photographers and photography-related individuals with studio locations, activity dates and biographical information. It also cross-references the locations with a list of photographers. The book is all in French, but use either a French-English dictionary or your high school French to make use of this little red book. If you collect French 19th century, this is a must for your library. It used to cost $165, but the price has actually come down to $100 now that Voignier has recovered his initial costs. It is available from book dealers in both the US and France, or from Voignier himself.
Portraits in Sepia by Torin Boyd and Naomi Izakura. This book ostensively is about the Japanese carte-de-visite, but what it really covers better than any other previous book is the entire photographic history as it relates to Japan. This 328-page bilingual (Japanese and English) publication is the most comprehensive listing of Japan’s foreign and domestic photographers ever compiled. The extensive biographical notes (over 1150 photographers covered) include dates of operation, studio addresses, formats used, birth and death dates and much other important biographical information. The price is $75 and it is available from Carl Mautz Publishing at 530-478-1610. You can email Carl at email@example.com .
Biographies of Western Photographers by Carl Mautz is truly a monumental work encompassing over 15,000 photographers who worked in the American West during the 19th century. Short biographical information on most. Published in 1997, this book is again available for $85 from Carl Mautz Publishing at 530-478-1610. You can email Carl at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is also available from many book dealers.
The AIPAD Catalogue, available from this Washington D.C.-based organization, has a very good cross-reference by photographer and photography dealer at the back of each catalogue. Price is $25 in the U.S. and $35 outside of the U.S.
Index to the American Annual of Photography by Christian Peterson, curator at the Minneapolis Museum of Art. Published by Peterson privately in an initial quantity of 500 in 1996, this may be difficult to find on the secondary market; however, you might try the researcher, who was self-publishing. Adds tremendous value to this important late 19th and 20th century photography annual, which showcased the work of virtually every important American photographer, plus a lot of other more minor lights.
George Eastman House Database. It bears mentioning that one of the best databases is this on-line version (although in a text only and very antiquated version) with over 16,000 names. Look under the "ask the curator" section for the Telnet database. Not a book, but a great resource.
Keith Davis’ An American Century of Photography from Digital to Dry Plate (the Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged) is without a doubt--to this observer at least–the finest book on American Photography. Get the second edition published in 1999, which really bears little resemblance to the first. This is an example of the sequel outperforming the original by a long shot. Davis’ observations are right on target, and Keith’s eye has made the Hallmark Collection the premier assemblage of American images. Every once and awhile, he hints at expanding the collection. I, for one, would look forward to the comprehensive worldview that might result.
Photography in Nineteenth Century America, edited by Martha Sandweiss, is another fine work, with excellent essays and great image selections. It was published in 1991 by the Amon Carter Museum, which maintains one of the great American photography collections by a museum.
Era of Exploration by Weston Naef in collaboration with James Wood. Subtitled The Rise of Landscape Photography in the American West, 1860-1885, it is a superb study of this slice of American history and place. In softbound copy expect to pay $30-$65 and $75-$125 in hardbound with a dust jacket in fine condition.
The Art of the French Calotype by Andre Jammes and Eugenia Parry Janis is simply my personal favorite photography book. This neat piece of writing and research is the result of a lifetime of collecting by Jammes added to the writing skills and knowledge of Janis. Without it, most scholars, collectors, museums and dealers in early French images would be lost. The superb and comprehensive list and biographies of early French photographers, who were the pioneers of the paper print, is indispensable. The photographs are wonderful, and the printing excellent. Published by Princeton University Press in 1983, the book now runs about $85-$150, depending on condition.
After Daguerre: Masterworks of French Photography (1848-1900) from the Bibliothéque Nationale, which was published by the NY Met in association with Berger-Levrault, Paris in 1980, is one of those classics. Drawing from the fabled collections of the Bibliothéque Nationale, this book is a great companion to the Jammes-Janis collaboration above. Price is now about $85-$125.
Une Passion Francaise showcases the marvelous collection of the recently deceased Roger Therond. Because Therond had done such a magnificent job putting together important French images, the book also sets a new standard for a picture history of French photography, particularly the early pioneers (although Therond covered the 20th century in depth as well). Some of these pioneers had little or no editorial coverage elsewhere and yet are clearly masters–Terris, the Varin Brothers, Cuvelier, Roman, and Molinier. All are regional photographers and most would remain unappreciated if it were not for Therond. The lengthy article by Anne Mondenard also provides fascinating reading about the early collectors and their impact on Therond, himself a legend. The essay and introductions by Pierre Apraxine and Therond himself are all in French and English. Price is about $85-$100 in the U.S.
The Golden Age of British Photography: 1839-1900 edited and introduced by Mark Haworth-Booth. Price for soft cover is about $35 and hard cover is about $65.
Treasures of the Royal Photographic Society 1839-1919 by Tom Hopkinson. Price for soft cover is about $25 and hard cover is only about $50 (although I also saw one for $125; go figure).
The British Photographer Abroad: The First Thirty Years by Robert Hershkowitz. An unusual and interesting selection of images (some rarely seen even in other publications) along with a good essay by Hershkowitz and an important appendix of British images in four exhibition catalogues of the 1850s. Price in hardback is about $50-$55 and in soft cover about $30-$35.
Silber und Salz (or Silver and Salt) is a soft cover book published in 1989. It covers the first 21 years of photography in Germany. Good essays but only in German, however, it is the photography that you would buy this very thick book for. You can buy it for about $85-$150 in the US.
The Waking Dream: Photography’s First Century is probably THE classic photo-history-by-pictures book. All of the images are drawn from the Gilman collection and most are stunning. Pierre Apraxine, curator of the collection, has always been known for his "eye" and this book showcases why this is so. Lots of good information on the photographs themselves and their photographers. This was a team effort of Apraxine and the NY Metropolitan Museum staff of that time of Maria Hambourg, Malcolm Daniel, Jeff Rosenheim and Virginia Heckert. Published in 1993, the current printing’s price is $75.
A Book of Photographs,published by Gray Press in 1978 and republished in 1990, is a selection from the legendary Sam Wagstaff’s collection, which now resides at the Getty Museum. Simply titled and presented, it is still one of the classics. Price for the reprint is about $35.
Happy Birthday Photography: The Bokelberg Collection, published 1989 with 150 stunning images in wonderful reproduction, unfortunately this book is almost impossible to find. It is the only one on my list that is so difficult, but it is such an important collection (now owned by the Qatar government) that it deserves mention. Probable value: $400+.
The Art of Photography: 1839-1989 by Mike Weaver with photos selected by Daniel Wolf and On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography by Sarah Greenough, Joel Snyder, David Travis and Colin Westerbeck are two books coming out of the 150th anniversary of photography like the previous selection. Both are excellent groups of images and both are serious candidates for any photographic library. Hardcover price on the first book is about $65-$110 and on the second is $100-$150. Soft cover prices are about $25-$35 each.
The Dictionary of American Portraits published by Dover Press. Now about $65-$85 on the secondary market, this is a must-have book for any one trying to identify portraits, whether 19th or 20th century.
The Strober Collection, Sotheby’s Parke-Bernet, February 5 and 6, 1970. Current value about $75-$125. This is the classic auction that all the old guys of photography talk about like fishermen do when relating their stories about the one that got away. It was not the first important photography auction, but it sure got a lot of attention.
The David Feigenbaum Collection of Southworth and Hawes: Sotheby’s New York, April 27, 1999. A very good piece of research by this auction house. They also went out of their way to get many of the pieces published–even those in multiple-image lots. This catalog will be a necessity for any Southworth and Hawes scholar. As Sotheby’s Chris Mahoney notes, "Anyone researching Southworth & Hawes is going to find their way to this catalogue. I think it will stand beside the Spirit of Fact on people's bookshelves."
La Photographie: Collection Marie-Therese et Andre Jammes, Sotheby’s London, October 27,1999. The largest single owner sale of photography ever. This sale set numerous records and was the most important collection of early French material to ever make it to public market. Jammes II and III have also become collector’s items, especially sale III, which was the Charles Negre archive sale. Sotheby’s has repackaged the three volume set and put the set in a hard slip cover case. Check with Sotheby’s for details.
Early Photographs of India: The Archive of Dr. John Murray, Sotheby’s London, June 18,1999. This catalog, with excellent research by the department and by John Fraser, is important documentation of this very influential early photographer and doctor. Murray not only took what were probably the first photographs of the Taj Mahal and other important sites in India, but his paper negative and multiple image panoramas are some of the larger known images in the early history of photography.
The Craven Photographic Collection, Bearne’s Auctioneers, May 6,2000. Noel Chanan’s excellent research was a wonderful surprise, like an unexpected birthday present. When a previously unknown regional auction house in the nether regions of Exeter in the United Kingdom (two hours outside of London by train) uncovered a major trove of work by the relatively unknown William 2nd Earl of Craven and his contemporaries, they might have just copied over a list of the images and still had a successful auction. But both the auction house’s management and the industrious Mr. Chanan decided to do the Earl proud. The result was the best auction catalogue writing and research of the year. If you are into early English (or even early French) photography, this is a must catalogue.
Photography, the First Eighty Years by Valerie Lloyd and published by P. & D. Colnaghi. A very important dealer catalogue from 1976 published by the same company that used to publish Julia Margaret Cameron in the 1860s and 1870s. Current price about $40-$50. If it has the original price list, you will get a good chuckle about most of the prices.
Sun Pictures, Hans Kraus’ wonderful catalogues of early English paper photography with the excellent writing and research of Larry Schaaf, have become classics. Most are still available from Hans directly or some of the better photo book dealers. Do not expect to find Han’s original prices sheets in these catalogs though.
Étude d’Après Nature, a dealer catalogue by Ken and Jenny Jacobson is so much more than that. It is the most comprehensive view of relating 19th century photography to the production of traditional art. Published by the Jacobsons in 1996, this soft cover volume deals with artists’ studies, works of art, portraits of artists and models, and mixed media, such as collage. There are excellent essays by both Ken Jacobson and Anthony Haber and a great photographers’ biography list at the end, plus a related bibliography. Still available from the Jacobsons for $65 plus shipping.
A Ten Year Salute from the Witkin Gallery by Lee Witkin and published in 1979, is usually priced at $35-$60. This catalogue from this gallery, which some say was the first successful modern photography gallery, reflected on the gallery’s first ten years of existence. An interesting testament to Witkin’s personal struggle to succeed and a great group of images.
Man Ray, Sotheby’s London, March 22 and 23, 1995. THE catalogue of this artist’s work, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, and most of all, photographs. Price well over $100 when you can find it.
Les Photographies de Dora Maar, Piasa, November 20, 1998 (and later a second auction catalogue in November 1999). These auction catalogues curated by Michèle Chomette have become the standard on Dora Maar’s life and work.
From the book of the same title as our subheading, Photography and Architecture: 1839-1939, by Richard Pare with catalog work by Catherine Evans Inbusch and Marjorie Munsterberg. This is a beautifully reproduced book with great text, which draws on the Canadian Centre for Architecture’s very fine collection in this area. Published in 1982, it is readily available for $65-$85, which is a great price for such a well-made book.
Architecture Transformed: A History of Photography of Buildings from 1839 to the Present by Cervin Robinson and Joel Herschman was published by MIT Press five years after its companion in this category. Still available at its published price of $50, this is another fine book with good content and great images at a reasonable price.
The American Daguerreotype by Floyd and Marion Rinhart (out of print and about $150-$200). Published in 1981, this is still one of the most information-laden publications of its kind, even though there are a number of errors of fact. Craig’s references (see below) correct most of them. I guess it comes with being the pioneer. Still, this book is incredibly useful and important.
Nineteenth Century Photographic Cases and Frames by Paul Berg. It's the most comprehensive and most recent book on dag cases/frames, especially since Paul has just published the second revised edition.
The three-volume set (Craig’s Daguerreian Registry) on daguerreotypists by John Craig. In my opinion, this is the most important contribution made by a single individual to daguerreian research.
The Daguerreotype Nineteenth Century Technology and Modern Science by Susan Barger and William White, an excellent text on the chemistry of daguerreotypes.
The Scenic Daguerreotype by John Wood (one of our more literate writers).
The Daguerreotype in America by Beaumont Newhall (getting a bit scarce now in first editions; you’ll be lucky to find a copy for under $100; but luckily low priced paperback reprints abound).
Union Cases: A Collector’s Guide to the Art of America’s First Plastics, the other classic book on cases by the Krainiks and Walvoord and still the best reproductions of cases on the market, but out of print. Currently runs between $80-$125 in its original hard cover format.
American Miniature Case Art, another good book on Dag cases by the Rinharts. Now long out of print (published in 1969) and runs about $175-$200. Not to be confused with their American Daguerreian Art, which is not quite good enough to make this list and runs about $45-$85.
Facing the Light: Historical American Portrait Daguerreotypes, another classic on important daguerreian portraiture by Harold Pfister. Published in 1978 by Smithsonian Institution Press, this is still the standard for research on key portraits. About $85-$125 on the used book circuit.
The French Daguerreotype by Janet Buerger. Astonishingly enough, this is published in English. Published by University of Chicago Press, which has published many of the great books in photography, this is the classic text on French hard images.
The Daguerreian Society’s Annuals, published by this excellent association, a one-inch thick annual with some of the best features on this subject that you can find any where (some back copies are available through the society).
The Daguerreotype: A Sesquicentennial Celebration, another fine book edited by John Wood, who is joined by fellow authors and experts Ben Maddow, Janet Buerger, Alan Trachtenberg, Matt Isenburg, Ken Appollo, Roy Flukinger, Susan Barger and Grant Romer. Excellent content and images.
The Spirit of Fact: The Daguerreotypes of Southworth and Hawes, 1843-1862, by Sobieszek and Appel with research assistance by Charles R. Moore, published in 1976 and then in a later retitled reprint dropping the Spirit of Fact portion. The original currently sells for $45-$75, depending upon condition. The reprint about $25-$30.
Secrets of the Dark Chamber by Merry Foresta and John Wood is a beautifully produced little (but thick) red book that has become a classic in the daguerreian community. Good essays and superb selection of images that are printed so that they pop off of the page. Published in 1995, this book currently sells for $150-$250.
The Silver Canvas by the Lowry’s. This book is subtitled "Daguerreotype Masterpieces from the J. Paul Getty Museum." That sort of says it all. Nice essays and descriptions of the images by the Lowry’s. Price $25-$65.
The World of Stereo Views by William Darah, originally published in 1977, and still the best text on the subject
Stereo Views: A History of Stereographs in America and Their Collection by William Darah. An earlier work by the master.
The Auction Catalogue of Darah’s collection.
La Photographie Stéréoscopique by Denis Pellerin and published by the Bibliothéque Nationale de France is an excellent overview of French stereo views during the second Empire period. Written in French, stereo enthusiasts would still find it worthwhile for all its excellent illustrations and identifications of photographers. There is a great list of French stereo photographers with their biographies at the end of the book. Price is about $40-$45 in the U.S. or about $25 (180 French francs) from the BN bookstore in Paris.
Incunabula of British Photographic Literature 1839-1875, by Helmut Gersheim is still the finest research book of its genre. Yes, it is a very bare-bones approach, but it is also a very comprehensive approach. Scarce now and about $150 or more.
The Truthful Lens by Lucien Goldschmidt and Weston Naef. An out-of-print and very expensive book (try about $400). Beautifully produced in slipcase, it really is only a very partial look at some rare photographic books. Gersheim’s book is a bit more limited (being focused on only British 19th century books before 1875), but it still is more encompassing than the Truthful Lens. Still, T-L has proven its worth on more than one occasion.
The Photograph and the Book. I've long been a fan of Charles Wood's photo book catalogues. Wood has published thick well-illustrated catalogues for some decades now, and past copies have become sought after as classics. The books listed in them are indeed rare and important. Wood is often the only source to buy these particular publications, which are often photographically illustrated.
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Novak has over 42 years experience in the photography-collecting arena. He is a long-time member and formally board member of the Daguerreian Society, and, when it was still functioning, he was a member of the American Historical Photographic Society. He organized the 2016 19th-century Photography Show and Conference for the Daguerreian Society. He is also a long-time member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers. Novak has been a member of the board of the nonprofit Photo Review, which publishes both the Photo Review and the Photograph Collector, and is currently on the Photo Review's advisory board. He was a founding member of the Getty Museum Photography Council. He is author of French 19th-Century Master Photographers: Life into Art.
Novak has had photography articles and columns published in several newspapers, the American Photographic Historical Society newsletter, the Photograph Collector and the Daguerreian Society newsletter. He writes and publishes the E-Photo Newsletter, the largest circulation newsletter in the field. Novak is also president and owner of Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, a private photography dealer, which sells by appointment and at exhibit shows, such as AIPAD New York and Miami, Art Chicago, Classic Photography LA, Photo LA, Paris Photo, The 19th-century Photography Show, etc.