How to Make Money Buying Old Silver Gelatin Photographs

If you’ve visited an art gallery or museum that specializes in antique photographs, you’ve noticed that some of the most beautiful on display are classified as “Silver Gelatin Prints.” They tend to be large, and they show stunning black and white images that have remarkable shadings of dark and light. You also might have noticed that the most valuable of them were taken by famous historical photographers like Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Alfred Steiglitz.

Ansel Adams: The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service. (79-AAG-1), cataloged under the ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 519904. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ansel Adams: The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the National Park Service. (79-AAG-1), cataloged under the ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 519904. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

How can you make money investing in old prints like those? Here’s what you need to know.

The Prints Contain Very Little Recyclable Silver

This is the first thing that you should know – you’re not going to make much money by buying old gelatin silver prints unless you can snap up a very large number of them. But you can make money if you consider their value as collectibles, not as precious metals that can be refined.

Certain Old Photos Can Be Worth Significantly More than their Selling Prices

Let’s look at several ways to turn a good profit by buying old silver gelatin prints that have collectable value:

  • You can buy photographs taken by famous photographers and wait for them to appreciate. I recently attended a seminar given by the Appraisers Association of America in New York, where I learned that old photographs offer an especially good way to start investing in art. One reason is that photographs taken by important photographers can sometimes be bought for only a few thousand dollars – sometimes only a few hundred dollars. Compare that to the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars that it takes to buy a painting by an important American artist. So old photos offer a viable way to get into art investing without breaking the bank. But buyer beware. At the seminar, I also learned that because inexpensive reproductions of photos by great American photographers like Diane Arbus are flooding the market, it is easy to buy something that is much less valuable than it appears. So be sure to buy only from reputable dealers who stand behind the authenticity of what they sell, or have a qualified art appraiser examine the photos you are considering.
  • You can buy old photos of interesting people or subjects and then learn that they are worth more than you expect. Here is where you stand to make the biggest return on the old photos that you buy. An old photograph of a Native American you find in a bin in an antique store might have historical interest to a museum or to a collector who is building a collection of photos of Native Americans, for example. Or you might snap up an old photo of someone who looks interesting – an athlete, an actor, a musician, a politician – and then do some research and determine that certain museums or collectors will pay you a lot of money for it. Photos of interesting-looking places – a scene in a foreign country, a military encampment, a parade in a small town – could also be just the thing that certain collectors or historical societies are looking for.

Don’t Forget Other Photographic Sources of Silver

In today’s age of digital photography, it’s easy to forget that silver once played a major role in photographic processing. Quantities of recyclable silver can, in fact, be found in old photographic prints, negatives, processing chemicals, x-ray films, and more. If you obtain a quantity of those items, be sure to call our qualified precious metals experts at 800-426-2344 to ask about having us test what you have. When you call, be sure to ask about free or discounted shipping costs when you send your items to us for testing.

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Why It Pays to Recycle Silver in Old X-Ray Films and Supplies 
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How To Recycle Your Old Silver Recovery Columns 
It’s Time to Reclaim Silver that’s Hiding in Old Darkrooms and Film Processing Facilities