SNAPSHOT of PHOTO BOOKS

by Nick Smith

WHEN ANSEL ADAMS’S Sierra Nevada was published in 1938, it set the standard for what was once rather grandly dubbed the “photographic monograph.” ... What makes a first edition of Sierra Nevada desirable and epensive today – you'll need to cough up $8,000 or more to get your hands on one – is that only 500 were printed.

There’s nothing new in collecting photo books, as monographs are now colloquially known. But the market has enjoyed a quiet revolution over the past decade, spurred in part by a single-owner sale at Christie’s New York in April 2008 – which set benchmarks in excess of $100,000...

For the collector wishing to build an investment portfolio of what were once called coffee-table books, this means there is a burgeoning entry-level market. These days, you don't need to track down $29,000 rare editions of Helmut Newton or Irving Penn to have a meaningful collection....

There are monumental works of iconic imagery that simply don’t fare well with collectors. Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s wonderful Earth from the Air is a decided victim of its own success. With more than three million copies circulating the globe since 1999, even a pristine first edition won’t fetch much more than double its cover price....

The addition of a signature or other inscription on the title page also has the potential to increase a book’s value.... “The addition of a signature, however, may have little to do with price,” adds Berry [Michael Berry, former editor of Bookdealer magazine] “unless the photographer is a rare signer or if the signature predates 1960.” The ideal situation, he says is for the artist to be dead.


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