Experts: Photos found at garage sale worth $200 million

Wed, Jul 28th 2010, 12:00 AM

Los Angeles, California (CNN) -- Rick Norsigian kept two boxes he bought at a garage sale under his pool table for four years before realizing they may be too valuable to store at home.

The Fresno, California, commercial painter learned this week that what was in those boxes he paid $45 dollars for a decade ago could be worth more than $200 million.

"When I heard that $200 million, I got a little weak," Norsigian said at a Beverly Hills art gallery Tuesday.

Art, 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.


1. Rick Norsigian holds up a photograph made from a glass negative shot by the late photographer Ansel Adams Photo: AP

2. Photographer Ansel Adams

Other photos: Photographs from Ansel Adams.

Arnold Peter, the lawyer who led the effort to authenticate that the negatives were made by the man known as the father of American photography, said their approach was "to put these negatives on trial."

Video from ABC

Experts, including a former FBI agent and a U.S. attorney, "came to the conclusion that, based on the evidence which was overwhelming, that no reasonable person would have any doubt that these, in fact, were the long-lost images of Ansel Adams," Arnold said.

The photographs were from the early career of the famed nature photographer, a period that is not well documented since a 1937 darkroom fire destroyed 5,000 of his plates, Arnold said.

"It truly is a missing link of Ansel Adams and history and his career," said Beverly Hills appraiser and art dealer David W. Streets.

The photographs were taken between 1919 and the early 1930s at locations familiar to Adams, mostly around Yosemite, California, Streets said.

"This is going to show the world the evolution of his eye, of his talent, of his skill, his gift, but also his legacy," Streets said.

"And it's a portion that we thought had been destroyed in the studio fire."

Norsigian, who scours garage sales for antiques, was looking for a barber chair when he spotted to two deteriorated boxes in the spring of 2000.

"When I pulled on of those glass negatives out, I seen Yosemite," he said. "As a young man, I worked at Yosemite quite a bit. So, right away I recognized it as Yosemite."

He 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. He bickered the price down from $70 to $45.

It would be two years before he realized they photos may be from Adams, he said. After four years, he had done enough research to realize the plates could be valuable. He moved them from under his pool table and placed them in a bank vault.

How these 6.5 x 8.5 inch glass plate negatives of famous Yosemite landscapes and San Francisco landmarks -- some of them with fire damage -- made their way from Adams collection 70 years ago to a Southern California garage sale in 2000 can only be guessed.

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