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    Auction Finds

    Reader asks about James Van Der Zee signed poster

    Friday at Auction Finds is readers’ questions day. I try to guide readers to resources to help them determine the value of their items. I’m not able to appraise their treasures, but I can do some preliminary research to get them started. So, these are market values, not appraisal values for insurance purposes that I suggest for items that have been determined to be of great value.

    This week’s question is about a James Van Der Zee signed poster of his iconic photograph of a Harlem couple posing with a fancy car in 1932.

    James Van Der Zee photographs

    A signed poster of James Van Der Zee's most recognized photo of a Harlem couple, 1932.

    Question:

    I obtained from my father’s estate an autographed poster from a photo exhibit in Los Angeles featuring the photo of the figures with raccoon coats in front of a Cadillac. I am interested in selling it. It is framed and in perfect condition. Please let me know if you are interested.

    Answer:

    The reader had read a blog post that I wrote two years ago about James Van Der Zee, one of the foremost chroniclers of African American society in Harlem in the 1920s and beyond. The photo of the couple is among his most recognized. Click on the photo above for a full view of the poster.

    Van Der Zee was born in Lenox, MA, in 1886 and was around 93 years old when this exhibit was held at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery on May 6-31, 1980.

    Reader’s reply:

    I have no idea of its worth. I submitted a request for an estimate from Heritage Auctions (in Dallas). It may take up to a week to hear back from them. I can tell from your website that you would be someone who would really value this poster and I think that would have made my father happy. I would be willing to sell it for less than it’s worth if I can determine what it is. If you have some sources feel free to do your own investigation. I would rather it goes to someone who wants it for what it is and not just an item of prestige for someone’s ego.

    My dad was an amateur photographer and liked to shoot abstracts. I am also an amateur photographer and prefer landscapes.

    James Van Der Zee photographs

    James Van Der Zee's autograph from the poster.

    My reply:

    I don’t usually buy posters. I’m more of a fine arts buyer, primarily paintings and prints. And because I buy at auction, I don’t usually pay much for them.

    I would like to see you get as much as you can from selling the poster. I was at an African American manuscript auction at Swann Auction Galleries in New York recently where several posters were sold (many of the early movie posters went unsold).

    You should contact Wyatt Day at Swann (you can find his email on the Swann website) and ask him about the possible worth of the poster and whether it’s a good idea to try to sell it through Swann. Day is the consultant for the manuscript sale, which Swann holds once a year.

    Try auctionzip.com, type in your zip code and see what auction houses are in your area. Check out their websites, and if they look reputable, have an associate take a look at the poster and ask if they’ll give you an eyeball estimate. There are usually reputable auction houses that will perform that service for free on certain days. That information should be on their websites.

    I did some research and found a Van Der Zee-signed poster for a 1983 exhibit that sold for $130 on eBay. I found another poster of one of his photos printed in the 1970s that was selling (not sold) for $1,500.

    A silver gelatin print – not a poster – was sold at Christies in 2011 for $52,500 (it had been estimated at $7,000-$9,000). That sale set a world record for a Van Der Zee photograph, according to the auction house. The photo had exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1999. The auction house Doyle New York sold #63 of 75 prints for $1,063 (plus the buyer’s premium). I suspect that those were later prints of the photo.

    James Van Der Zee photographs

    A print numbered 68 of 75 of the Van Der Zee photograph. From the Doyle New York website.

     

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