Found Film: Is it Valuable?
September 24, 2013 4:46 PM   Subscribe

I recently purchased 15 rolls of black and white 35mm negatives from a thrift store and had them developed. There are over 500 images from late 30s Italy, mostly Naples. The photographs contain images of: Hitler on parade with King Victor Emmanuel, shots of fascist youth, Pompeii, a building with a big 'Heil Hitler' sign on it, farming, boating, lots of images of a Mobile Oil plant, ships coming into Manhattan, people enjoying themselves, etc. My question: Are finds like this valuable? Who might purchase a collection like this?
posted by PHINC to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
There are certainly markets for old images. This is an interesting article about someone who bought up a lot of old photos and apparently makes $120k a week selling them on eBay. That sounds like a lucrative option.

That said, would you ever consider scanning them and sharing them on Flickr or the like? It sounds like a really fascinating archive of photos, and it would be a shame for them to be purchased by a dealer or collector and never seen again. I imagine there would be a lot of folks (myself included) who would love to rifle through these old images.

(Of course I don't know if you invested a lot for the rolls or anything, so there may be other factors I'm not thinking of, but I'm always in favour of making history available for everyone.)
posted by cvp at 5:32 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could make yourself an account on istockphoto or Shutterstock and see who might be intersted in licensing them. But unless they're really amazing, it's unlikely that Getty or Corbis will buy them outright.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:51 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh and the John Rogers/Chicago Tribune archive info is out of date.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:52 PM on September 24, 2013

Here are a few. Of course I'd prefer to just load them up to Flickr and share them and I may eventually just do that.
posted by PHINC at 6:00 PM on September 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

I don't know if you'll make money on them, per se, but you should definitely check with a research professor who focuses on WWII Italy to see if they have any historical significance. The mix of historical events and daily life might be valuable to someone working on a cultural history, but it's not my area of expertise so it's hard to say.

I do know that photos of Nazi rallies have been used in making arguments about popular support for the Third Reich-- historians analyze the photos and try to figure out how many people were there, what other events might have been going on that day, are the people dressed for a parade or does it look like the local factories were shut down and all the workers were ordered to stand around and look patriotic? Are people cheering, waving flags, etc, or are they watching cautiously?

Memail if you want the name of the professor who taught me about this area of historical inquiry- it's not quite his area, either, but he does a lot of Italy stuff and I bet could point you in the right direction.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:02 PM on September 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

Wow, my preliminary non-expert opinion is that those are remarkable. Try to keep them in order so you know which roll each photo came from so they can be dated, maybe? I'm not an expert so maybe an Italian historian will come in and correct me, but I think they're worth at least offering to a researcher.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:05 PM on September 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

I smell a rat here. They seem suspiciously too remarkable and varied for such a small collection of rolls. I'm wondering if perhaps these rolls contain copies of photos collected elsewhere? I really think you have to consult with experts before you can conclude anything about the value of the images.
posted by jayder at 7:01 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

These are amazing.. you may very well be onto something there, if they really are the originals.
posted by zug at 7:28 PM on September 24, 2013

There are 15 rolls, 11 of which I had digitized. They were all collected together in a box, most in tins like this. They are varied but I think they were of an American working in Naples before the war for Mobil Oil, but some of the shots appear to be in the US. How they ended up in Roanoke, VA in a thrift store, I don't know. I went back to the thrift store today and talked to the manager, she told me she couldn't remember who dropped the negatives off but that they had been there for over a year.
posted by PHINC at 7:34 PM on September 24, 2013

Holy shit, they sound amazing. I do think they have historical/archive value and since they have not been seen before, might be commercially desirable. I think you should find a way to put them online that lets you retain copyright and sell the use of the original high-res file.
posted by Miko at 7:41 PM on September 24, 2013

... find a way to put them online that lets you retain copyright and sell the use of the original high-res file.

One big, big thing you need to understand: owning the negatives is not the same as owning the copyright. Copyright belongs to the creator of the art, even if you have no idea who it is, and not the person who owns the medium containing the art. Current public domain laws for unpublished works -- which these certainly are -- says they are protected under copyright for 70 years after the creator's death, which means they'd be public domain only if the photographer died right after taking those photos. The fact that the photos were taken in Europe might complicate things further, because their copyright laws are somewhat different and can be more restrictive.

What this means is: the physical negatives can be sold without legal repercussions, but if somebody wants to defend the copyright on the photos, then you could get in trouble for making prints from the negatives.

I don't say this to discourage you from making prints and selling them; IANAL, but unless there's some very specific proof to identify the photographer, you're probably scott-free. Make prints and sell them, but keep the knowledge, in the back of your head, that you are running a very, very slight risk of legal troubles. There's people selling DVDs full of scans of old nudie mags, which are most definitely copyrighted by photographers whose litigious estates do serve people papers regularly, and they still go unpunished. Heck, Reddit and Tumblr exist entirely to reproduce copyrighted, uncredited works without being punished.

However, do not get excited and tell people that these are old public domain photos, or upload them to some clipart site and sell them as your own copyrighted works, or do anything that misleads people into believing you took the photos or own the copyright, because it's not true -- and if you violate the TOS of some website, particularly one you're making money off of, then you could have just as unpleasant an experience as if the copyright owner's estate tracked you down.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:43 PM on September 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

I was going to say something along the same lines as jayder, above: any chance that these rolls were shot using a slide duplicator or a copy stand? I can imagine scenarios in which someone who shot the originals neglected to develop them, but they seem fairly implausible. (However, as a historian, I know that plenty of seemingly implausible things have happened; it's an argument from probability.)

Have you tried running any of them through (without your watermark)?
posted by brianogilvie at 7:56 PM on September 24, 2013

I've not tried running them through tineye. But the photos I've shown are some of the best. There are probably over 500 total, many of which are not as interesting or really blurry, which makes me think they are original rolls. Why would someone copy a bunch of blurry images?
posted by PHINC at 8:02 PM on September 24, 2013

One big, big thing you need to understand: owning the negatives is not the same as owning the copyright.

Oops - that is totally right, and I once knew that but forgot it again. Sorry.
posted by Miko at 8:02 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some of those are really great shots; the ones from Pompeii (?? Pretty sure that's the forum but not sure given given eras of reconstruction and being sleepy) and Herculaneum (the mosaic) look like your normal, cool, slightly off-center tourist snaps. Assuming they don't leap between sites, which would be really odd, I don't know why someone would copy those pictures over others if getting them from a slide. And they would fit with the other shots of the modern towns.

I think they're really quite cool and I hope you can have a specialist look at them! I can also think of a lot of reasons why wartime shots and Heil Hitler photos wouldn't have been developed or brought out, especially depending on the person's own interaction with the war-- even Pompeii was damaged by bombing.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:11 PM on September 24, 2013

I immediately thought about the Library of Congress digital archives...their photograph collection is amazing-have you looked there for info? I went looking for any hints or clues...but I haven't had any luck yet. I did find their list of photography appraisers/ experts. I think that would be a great start to finding out the details of what you have! Let us know what you find! Good luck!
posted by W.S (disambiguation) at 10:38 PM on September 24, 2013

It looks like in 1938 Acme Newspictures (NY) were in Italy taking photos...LOC photo listing
posted by W.S (disambiguation) at 11:16 PM on September 24, 2013

Well...I got caught up in the search and also lost in a million internet distractions! I found the scanned/searchable version of the newspaper clipping/photo of article that you attached. My guess is that it's a newspaper photographer...maybe the Associated Press or something similar can help you locate the photographer. I think establishing the photographer will establish the value of the negatives or at least the copyright status and the best way to potentially share them.
posted by W.S (disambiguation) at 11:44 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Re copyright:
posted by Nothing at 3:14 AM on September 25, 2013

Set on Flickr.
posted by PHINC at 6:49 AM on April 30, 2014

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