Fascinating Photographs from the Collection of Stanley B. Burns, MD

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This fall, Sotheby’s is pleased to offer a selection of important daguerreotypes from the noted collection of Stanley B. Burns, MD. Collected with passion over the last four decades, this unusually fine group of daguerreotypes provides a fascinating glimpse into mid-19th century life, from astonishing medical studies and occupational portraits to rare gold mining landscapes and early cityscapes. Click ahead for a preview of highlights.

Photographs
5 October | New York

Fascinating Photographs from the Collection of Stanley B. Burns, MD

  • Anonymous American Photographer, Dr. Charles Linnaeus Allen Studying Anatomy with Student. Estimate $25,000–35,000.
    A rare early photographic record of a physician teaching session, this daguerreotype is visually rich with memento mori symbolism, from the anatomical diagrams and opened medical volumes to the bleached leg bones and dissected skull. The finely dressed sitter at right is believed to be the noted physician Dr. Charles Linnaeus Allen, professor of chemistry and practice of medicine at Castleton Medical College in the 1850s.  

  • Anonymous American Photographer, Physician with His Operative Kit. Estimate $15,000–25,000.
    The sitter rests his arm on medical dictionaries, his hand pointing down to the tools of his trade. Before the era of the hospital operating theatre, doctors carried their own instruments from patient to patient, and in the present operative roll kit we see forceps, curved scissors, curette, blades and probe. The lettering on the spine of the book advertises “Hooper’s Dictionary,” a medical dictionary that was widely published throughout the 19th century and was a valuable portable resource for physicians of varying specialty. 

  • Anonymous American Photographers, Selected Portraits of Patients and Persons with Physical Abnormalities. Estimate $8,000–12,000.
    The captivating portraits in this group include several sitters with optical disorders or blindness.

  • Anonymous American Photographer, Man with Colt Dragoon. Estimate $6,000–9,000.
    Unlike earlier single-shot firearms, Colt’s revolutionary revolvers had a rotary cylinder capable of discharging six shots without reloading. In the unsettled American West, many miners and pioneers considered the Colt required equipment and, at the height of the Gold Rush, a Dragoon could trade for several hundred dollars of gold in San Francisco.

  • Attributed to Robert H. Vance, Street Scene in Benicia, Solano County, California. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    Benicia was a major thoroughfare in the mid-1840s and 1850s along the route to the goldfields. During the Gold Rush commerce thrived, and from 1853 to 1854 Benicia served as the capital of the young state of California. This daguerreotype shows a fascinating view of lower First Street in Benicia, with storefront signs for the Gazette Printing Office, C. E. Wetmore (purveyor of clothing and dry goods) and Samuel C. Gray clearly visible.  Gray was a noted merchant offering among other items clothing, crockery, hardware and stoves, several of which appear to be on display on the store’s porch. 

  • Anonymous French Photographer, Ceremony Commemorating the Abolition of Slavery in the French Empire, Martinique. Estimate $50,000–70,000.
    This luminous daguerreotype is believed to depict the ceremony of planting a “liberty tree” in Martinique to celebrate the abolition of slavery in the French Republic. Following the French government’s February 1848 decree to end slavery, a series of these unique tree planting rituals took place throughout the French Antilles in the months that followed.

  • Anonymous French Photographer, The Artist and His Wife: A Narrative Portrait. Estimate $70,000–100,000.
    Early photographers utilized traditions long established by artists working in other media. Portrait photographers borrowed compositional techniques from painters by showing sitters with personal or occupational objects to provide a narrative. In the present six photographs, the deliberate sequencing of separate images within a frame is highly unique and provides a remarkable amount of insight into the subjects’ lives. Extant multiple-image, narrative daguerreotypes, such as this unique series of six quarter-plates, are exceedingly rare.


  • Anonymous American Photographers, Selected Images of American Folk Paintings. Estimate $2,000–3,000.
    The historic practice of copying works of art is demonstrated with this group of daguerreotypes after American Folk paintings. 

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