Vintage press photos as collectibles

Does collecting vintage press photographs interest you?  If the answer is yes, you should know few basic things that can help you out. Why should you collect vintage press photos? Well, first of all, original prints by photography legends can cost you thousands of dollars. So, vintage press photos cost a lot less. Still, the same renowned photographers made  these photos.

Open this gate, Mr. Gorbachov! President Reagan’s appeal to Mr. Gorbachov to demolish the wall in Berlin. Image from 1979.


Photographers made most famous press photos during the golden age of photojournalism. Golden age started in the 1930’s. It lasted all up until 1970’s when it suffered great decline. Why? Simply because the magazines couldn’t cope with the competition in advertising. In that period many prolific photojournalists documented the Great Depression, WWII, war in Vietnam and other important historical events. Photojournalists also documented diplomatic, sports and cultural events.

Famous Associated Press photo titled Their dreams Shattered, taken by the photographer P.C. Lee in 1962. Photo is showing weeping Chinese family forcibly repatriated from Hong Kong to China by British forces.   

Every photo captures a special moment. That could be a horrific image of war, expression of particular emotion, portrait or other specific moment.

The photographers

Some of the most famous photojournalists are Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Nick Ut and others. Often the best photographers of the events were their participants. For example, soldier Tony Vaccaro is still known as one of the most eminent WWII photographers.

Tony Vaccaro – The Kiss of Liberation

Collecting photographs can be a voyage of discovery. Just like with books, you probably shouldn’t collect photographs for financial gain. Collect because you love history or imagery. Collect because you want to cherish the captured moment. Or because you like the particular type of camera, or  work of a particular photographer.


Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, 1936. In this work author produced the seminal image of Great Depression.

Five key factors to determine press photo quality

Even if financial gain isn’t priority, some press photos can be valuable. Price of the press photo depends on several factors that you need consider:

Condition: As for all the collectibles, condition is the most important factor for photographs. You should avoid any creases or handling.

Authenticity: When it comes to press photos, you should know that most of the information is on the back of the photo. There you can see date when the image is printed, name of the photographer and description of taken image. You can also look for the stamp of photo agency.

Reputation of the photographer: Has their work being converted into a book or displayed in an art gallery? If it was, that would surely kick up the price of the item.

Reputation of the subject: If it’s human subject, you should ask the following questions: Were they famous? Did they sign it? If subject is particular event, you should find out more about cultural and social context.

Social impact of a particular image:  Do not let the fact that this factor is last one listed fool you. When it comes to press photos, this may be the deciding factor. Think of Robert Capa’s famous image of the soldier being shot in the Spanish Civil War. Or Nick Ut’s shot of the naked girl and horrified Vietnamese children after napalm attack.

The Terror of War by Nick Ut/The Associated Press. Phan Thi Kim Phuc (naked girl in the middle) is running down the road after the napalm bomb hit her village. She survived by tearing off her burning clothes.

Anyhow, if you are lover of history and photography, vintage press photos could be very interesting field for you to explore. I hope that these advises were helpful for you. Stay tuned for more articles.

Image 2 taken from our Sigedon Books and Antiques store.

Other images are taken from

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