December 2013 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Morbid Spirituality at Auction

SpiritPhotography-MedRes.jpgProof of mystical power from beyond the grave? This album of twenty-seven spiritualist photographs taken during seances in the 1920s and estimated to be worth $4,000-6,000 sold to a private collector last week for $93,750. The silver prints were taken during seances at Dr. Thomas Glendenning Hamilton's Psychic Room in Winnipeg, Canada. They show levitation experiments, psychic mediums in trances, and supernormal ephemera. All are cornered into black pages and accompanied by handwritten explanations, in an unknown hand, in white ink. Apparently the good doctor took to Ouija boards and other spiritualist investigations after his young son died, and these photos comprise one small part of a larger collection of the family's papers, scrapbooks, and photographs housed at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections.

Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs & photobooks at Swann Galleries, called the result "stellar." A second lot--a California mug shot album featuring a line-up of pimps and embezzlers--likewise sold high, at $22,500. Kaplan said, "As new collectors from the fields of Contemporary, Outsider Art and Material Culture enter the photographs marketplace, the gap between classical photography and other fields narrows, and values continue to rise."

Image Courtesy of Swann Galleries.