Fresno Downsizer Gives Away $200 Million in Ansel Adams Negatives for $45

Posted on Jul 27 2010 - 7:56pm by John Stevens

You never know what you will find in a garage, attic, basement, or self storage unit — or at a garage sale or yard sale. If you find old photographs, artwork, or antiques, maybe you should store them in a secure storage unit until you are sure that they are not a lost treasure. A Fresno, California resident sold two boxes of Ansel Adams’ negatives at a garage sale in 2000, their buyer confirmed today. Rick Norsigian, an antique aficionado, was hoping to find a vintage barber’s chair, but when he saw the two boxes of antique glass negatives, he started bargaining. Norsigian managed to negotiate the price of the antique negatives down from $75 to $45. Then he began the process of finding an antique appraiser to verify his opinion as to what, exactly, he had found. The value of the antique collection is actually around $200 million. Ansel Adams is regarded as the father of American photography.

Norsigian bought the collection of negatives in 2000, and they quickly became the subject of controversy in the art world. A team of experts has been reviewing them, and finally concluded that the 65 negatives really are Adams’ early work. They were probably taken between 1919 and the early 1930s. In 1937 they were rescued from a fire — the same fire that destroyed one-third of Adams’ work and which, he said, broke his heart.

The process of evaluating the authenticity of the negatives took a long time because it involved so many experts in different areas. The negatives were in envelopes that bore handwriting that experts said matched the handwriting of Adams’ wife, Virginia. A meteorologist compared another famous Adams work, showing snow on mountains and a shadow cast by a tree, confirmed that one of the negatives was taken on the same day at around the same time. The panel of experts who were consulted included FBI officers, court reporters, and art scholars.

“You look at these photographs and they take your breath away,” Norsigian said in today’s Independent. “But it is even more meaningful and rewarding to finally have the leading experts confirm what I believed in my heart when I saw the images for the first time.”  Norsigian was fairly sure that he had found work by Adams because he had seen similar images among Adams’ other work. He proceeded to go on a decade-long quest to confirm that he was right.

Sources used:

Foley, Steven. “Bought at a garage sale for $45, the photographs worth more than $200m.” The Independent. July 28, 2010.

Whyte, Murray. “Garage sale negatives verified as $200M Ansel Adams trove.” The Toronto Star. July 27, 2010.