Robert Frank: The Americans, December 2015 Auction Summary


After New York’s uninspiring fall photography auction season, the year ended on a more optimistic note with the rather successful evening sale of Robert Frank’s The Americans, which took place at Sotheby’s, New York, on 17 December 2015.  The collection was assembled by Californian collectors Ruth and Jake Bloom, and consists of 77 of the 83 photographs originally published in 1958.  This is considered the single largest collection of The Americans ever offered at a public auction.  The Sotheby’s sale was welcomed enthusiastically based on the quality and rarity of the collection.  According to Stuart Alexander, a leading scholar on Robert Frank’s work, the artist did not make many prints of images he did not like, contributing to the rarity of the prints themselves and a collection as comprehensive as that of the Blooms.[1]   The sale had a strong turnout with excited bidding in the room, which resulted in 69 of the 77 lots or a remarkable nearly 90% of the lots finding buyers.  The realized sales totaled $3,739,375, which came close to the sale’s total high-end estimate of $3,761,000.  This was due in part to several of the lots selling well beyond the high-end estimate.  Among the sale’s surprises was a later print of Hoboken (Parade), 1955, which realized $237,500 with an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000.  This lot tied with another for the highest realized price of the sale.  The other lot, a late 1960s or early 1970s print of New Orleans (Trolley), 1955, also sold for $237,500 with an estimate between $200,000 and $300,000.  Other highlights of the sale included seven lots selling for at least double their high estimate, including 1970s prints of Charleston, S.C., 1955 realizing $162,500 with an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000, and Blackfoot, Idaho (US 91, Leaving Blackfoot, Idaho), 1956, selling for $93,750 with an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000.  Overall, as the Sotheby’s Department Head of Photographs Christopher Mahoney commented, the positive results of the sale clearly represented the enduring relevancy and strong market for Frank’s seminal works.[2]


Robert Frank, Hoboken (Parade), 1955

[1] Moses, Jeanette D., “77 Images from Robert Frank’s The Americans Going to Auction at Sotheby’s.” American Photo. December 15, 2015.

[2], “Sotheby’s auction of Robert Frank: The Americans totals $3.7 Million in New York.”–Robert-Frank–The-Americans–totals–3-7-Million-in-New-York#.Vo1_xvkrKUl

By Dora Yordanova