In 1989, just as I was making plans to be married and leave New York City, Hiro, the distinguished fashion/commercial photographer, introduced me to Howard Stein, Chairman of the Dreyfus Corporation. While Dreyfus’s New York headquarters had begun to assemble a collection of photographs for the offces, Howard had not yet started to build a collection of his own—with the exception of a beautiful Atget photograph, “Clématites,” acquired in 1982 with the help of his friend, Doris Bry. In a conversation with Hiro, Howard expressed an interest in collecting, and Hiro suggested that he contact me. At the time, I was winding down a decade of work with Gilman Paper Company Curator Pierre Apraxine, cataloguing the company’s photography collection and collaborating on the limited-edition book of its photographs. The education of that hands-on experience was a gift. The Gilman Collection (now a part of The Metropolitan Museum of Art) is known for its curatorial vision and exceptional print and object quality. The experience gave me the conviction to accept Howard’s offer to help him build a collection of photographs.
I had several long telephone conversations with Howard before he made his first purchase in early 1990—a beautiful Eugène Atget tree and an image of a lion by the 19th-century German photographer Ottomar Anschutz. I learned at once that the telephone was Howard’s favorite mode of communication. While he could be shy in person, he could talk endlessly on the phone. He wanted to know about everything in the field—all periods, photographers, styles, the medium of this or that print, the importance of condition, and of course, the market. He seemed to know instinctively that he was getting in early enough, so he didn’t dwell on whether a photograph was sure to appreciate in value or not. If he were patient and bought the best examples, he would be ahead of the game.
One of the first subjects on which Howard focused was that of the bridge—in all of its meanings and forms, with prints ranging in size from a tiny and abstract, 1929 Walker Evans of the Brooklyn Bridge, to Margaret Bourke-White’s monumental George Washington Bridge, New York, and a Gustave Le Gray bridge in 19th-century Paris. In the space where the photography collection resided, there was a stairwell to the second floor that was appropriately lit to hang, salon-style, the nearly hundred bridge photographs that Howard quickly amassed. These photographs were all framed at the time in elegant gilded moldings. I believe it was a collection that also resonated with Howard’s wife, Janet.
Howard quickly moved beyond bridges to the whole range of 19th- and 20th-century photographic imagery. Dealers and museum curators quickly learned of this new collector on the scene, and there were few days when Howard was not looking at or thinking about photography—in addition to his real job. We were active at the auctions in New York, London, Paris, Germany, and even some smaller country sales. Among the first European auction purchases was the very beautiful Francis Frith album, Egypt, Sinai and Jerusalem, containing twenty mammoth-plate albumen prints. In looking at the condition report and seeking advice from dealer friends, it seemed to me that we would never have another opportunity to purchase an example in such good condition and that was not collated from different albums. Having convinced Howard that we had to go for it, ours was the winning bid . . . but not without challenges from good friends. It was the beginning of many friendly rivalries in the auction room, fueled by such acquisition opportunities as the great André Jammes sales and the dispersal of the Dora Maar archive. Apart from the auctions, Howard enjoyed visiting and sparring with dealers and appreciated that he was often the first to be offered great works of art.
After his retirement from Dreyfus in 1996, Howard had more time to devote to his new passion. By this time, Alice Rose George, who had been curating the collection at Dreyfus, and I were working together on Howard’s private collection. We often met with him on a Sunday afternoon to view and talk about the photographs in his collection, and to consider new acquisitions. Before discovering the Internet, Howard loved to look physically at the photographs in his collection. He devised a system of arranging them in themed groupings of five photographs, often assigning a quote to the group that gave it resonance for him. He was always fine-tuning these groups through new acquisitions or just re-installations on the chair-rail in his collection room. One such afternoon, at a time when world news and photographs were centered on war, genocide and corruption, Howard challenged Alice and me to find photographs that reflected hope in all its aspects. We took up the challenge and two years later in 1998, a book was published by Thames & Hudson, and the exhibition, Hope Photographs, began its long tour to ten museum venues throughout the United States. The Hope collection numbered 107 works by photographers from all over the world, working in fine-art photography, photojournalism, and science—all, to our minds, reflecting some aspect of the word, hope. Three of the photographs (by Cindy Sherman, Richard Misrach and Thomas Struth) are in this Sotheby’s auction.
With this auction, we salute Howard and JGS—it presents unparalleled opportunities for fellow travelers and a new generation of collectors.