People worldwide love going to garage sales and flea markets in the hope of finding hidden gems or treasures. Won’t it be nice if they really find genuine treasures? This is one of those stories.
Ten years ago in the spring of 2000 Nick Norsigian, a painter in Fresno, California, was making the garage-sale circuit in Southern California looking for a barber chair when he spotted two deteriorated boxes. In the boxes were ageing manila envelopes containing glass negatives and when he pulled out one of the negatives, he saw it was a negative of Yosemite National Park because as a young man, he used to work at Yosemite. The owner was asking $70 for the 65 negatives of nature photography, but Norsigian bickered with the seller, finally negotiating down from $70 to $45 for the boxes. The owner said he bought them in the 1940s at a warehouse salvage in Los Angeles.
Norsigian kept two boxes under his pool table for four years before realizing they may be too valuable to store at home. During these four years, he did a lot of research and upon sharing his find with friends and family, people commented that they looked like Ansel Adams’ work. Norsigian was struck by how closely the negatives, which he had scanned and developed into prints, resembled Adam’s published works. He read everything he could possibly get his hands on and spent hours at the California State Fresno library. As he began to make himself an expert on Ansel Adams’ photography and development techniques, Norsigian became more convinced about the origin of the negatives. Realizing that the plates could be very valuable, he transferred them to a bank vault.
Norsigian hired entertainment lawyer Arnold Peter in his quest to authenticate the negatives as Adams’ work. Photography, forensic, handwriting and weather experts teamed up to conclude the 65 glass plates in the boxes were photographic negatives created more than 80 years ago by Ansel Adams, the iconic American photographer whose images of the West inspired the country and who was regarded as the “father” of American photography.
“I have sent people to prison for the rest of their lives for far less evidence than I have seen in this case,” said evidence and burden of proof expert Manny Medrano, who was hired by Norsigian to help authenticate them. “In my view, those photographs were done by Ansel Adams.”
Meteorologist George Wright studied clouds and snow cover in a Norsigian negative to conclude that it was taken at about the same time as a known Adams photo of a Yosemite tree.
The plates were individually wrapped in newspaper inside deteriorating manila envelopes. Notations on each envelope appeared to have been made by Virginia Adams, the photographer’s wife, according to handwriting experts Michael Nattenberg and Marcel Matley. They compared them to samples provided by the Adams’ grandson.
Silver tarnishing on the negatives also helped date the plates to around the 1920s.
They’re now believed to be the lost works of famed photographer Ansel Adams, with experts estimating that they’re worth $200 million.
“When I heard that $200 million, I got a little weak,” Norsigian said at a Beverly Hills art gallery Tuesday.
A mural-size photograph entitled “Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park” by Ansel Adams was sold recently for more than $722,000 at a Sotheby auction in New York City. Sotheby’s said the sale of the photograph set an auction record for Adams.
Anyone care to join me garage-sale shopping this weekend?