• <b>Sotheby’s: The Library of John & Suzanne Bonham. 26 September in London. Viewing 22-25 September</b>
    Sotheby’s London, Sep. 26:</b> Churchill, Winston S. Two Typed Letters Signed, regarding the British North Greenland Expedition (1952-54). £3,000 to £4,000
    Sotheby’s London, Sep. 26:</b> Bernatz, Johann Martin. <i> Scenes in Ethiopia</i>. London: F.G. Moon, 1852. First edition. £6,000 to £8,000
    Sotheby’s London, Sep. 26:</b> Captain Lawrence Edward Grace Oates. Collection comprising (among other things): documents and pamphlets. £1,500 to £1,800
    <b>Sotheby’s: The Library of John & Suzanne Bonham. 26 September in London. Viewing 22-25 September</b>
    Sotheby’s London, Sep. 26:</b> Darwin, Charles, and Philip Parker King, and Robert FitzRoy. <i> Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle Between the Years 1826 and 1836…</i> £15,000 to £20,000
    Sotheby’s London, Sep. 26:</b> Spratt, Thomas A.B., and Edward Forbes. <i>Travels in Lycia, Milyas, and the Cibyratis</i>. London: John Van Voorst, 1847. £800 to £1,200
    Sotheby’s London, Sep. 26:</b> Richardson, John. <i>Arctic Searching Expedition: A Journal of a Boat-Voyage Through Rupert's Land and the Arctic Sea, In Search of Sir John Franklin</i>. £6,000 to £8,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> Printed & Manuscript Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> Broadside proclaiming the end of the Revolutionary War, NH, 1783. $20,000 to $30,000. 
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> Manuscript medical journal kept by physicians aboard Continental Navy vessels, 1777-88. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> Manuscript notes on sermons heard at Boston's First Church & Old South Church, 1684-1703. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> Printed & Manuscript Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> Missionary archive of Samuel W. and Gideon H. Pond, MN, 1833-93. $30,000 to $40,000. 
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> Captain's journal of a mutinous whaling journey, South Pacific, 1839-46. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> <i>McClees' Gallery of Photographic Portraits ... of the Thirty-Fifth Congress</i>,Washington, 1859. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> Printed & Manuscript Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> Juan de Ugarte, manuscript report on first 16 months of California missions, Mexico, 1699. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> Cyanotype albums depicting the construction of the Williamsburg Bridge, New York City, 1897-1903. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> Unrecorded broadside from occupied New York, 1778. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> Printed & Manuscript Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> <i>The Honolulu Merchants' Looking-Glass</i>, first edition, San Francisco, 1862. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> Honorius Philoponus, <i>Nova Typis Transacta Navigatio</i>, first edition, Linz, 1621. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28:</b> The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, NY, 1830. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Consignments now invited<br>History of Science & Technology<br>December 12th, 2017</b>
    NEWTON, ISAAC. <i>Opticks</i>. London, 1704. Presentation copy to Edmund Halley. Sold for $1,330,000
    Apple Computer Contract & Dissolution of Contract, signed by Jobs, Wozniak, & Wayne. Sold for $1,594,500
    DARWIN, CHARLES. Autograph Manuscript page from the manuscript of <i>On the Origin of Species</i>. Sold for $250,000

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2012 Issue

Who Legally Owns This Signed Photograph?

Mahler-schoenberg

Gustav Mahler (left) and Arnold Schoenberg.

The New York Times recently reported on an ownership dispute in the works on paper field, in this case a signed photograph. It pitted the family of the individual who was originally given the photograph against an unrelated individual who now has it in his possession. This is a difficult subject for those in the books and works on paper field, it coming up all too frequently now. However, this one is not the same as most we hear of today, where a private individual and possessor is pitted against a government agency that once owned the paper. There, rules are frequently more clearly stated, and where they are, it is generally the possessor who holds the short stick. In this case, the dispute is between two private parties.

The picture was that of Gustav Mahler, a notable Viennese musical composer at the turn of the previous century. The recipient was Arnold Schoenberg, a younger man and admirer, and himself a notable composer. Schoenberg was also from Vienna, but later emigrated to America. It is believed the photograph was signed and given to Schoenberg in 1907. Certainly, it was no later than 1911, as that is when Mahler died. Schoenberg lived until 1951. He obviously treasured the picture of his mentor. A photograph of Schoenberg in his Vienna home shows the Mahler photograph in the background.

Schoenberg's daughter said she remembered seeing the photograph in her father's study in the 1950s. This would mean the picture came with him to America. She said she realized it was missing in the late 1980s when she was examining her father's archives. Only the frame was still there. It did not show up on an inventory of those archives taken in the early 1970s either.

Recently, the Schoenbergs became aware that Cliff Fraser of Los Angeles was offering the photograph for sale. They at first expressed an interest in buying it, but Fraser wanted a lot of money, and they became convinced the photograph came into his hands wrongly. That is not to say Mr. Fraser had done anything wrong, just that somewhere in the chain of possession between the 1950s and the present, it had wrongfully been removed from the Schoenbergs' possession.

This would sound very suspicious, a 35-year-old emergency room technician and late in life college student from Los Angeles possessing a photograph that clearly once belonged to the Schoenberg family from Austria. The Schoenbergs claimed that their father, who admired Mahler, never would have given this photograph away, nor would his wife and widow, who would have understood his wishes. However, Fraser came back with a plausible explanation. He produced a notarized statement from his grandmother, now in her 90s, saying her late husband had received the photograph as a gift from his teacher, Josef Schmid, when they lived in Brooklyn, before moving to California in 1958. Apparently, Schmid was a great admirer of Schoenberg, sent him letters, and Fraser says he even knows of a photograph of the two together. Perhaps Schoenberg gave it to Schmid. Additionally, Schmid was said to have studied under Alban Berg, a student of Schoenberg, so the photograph may have been given to Berg and then Schmid.

So, what happens if the two parties are not able to reach a settlement on the issue? Is the photograph Fraser's or the Schoenbergs'? It brings to mind cases where old government documents, most likely intentionally disposed of years ago, either sold, given away, or trashed, are seized from collectors. The government agency may have given the stuff away a century or two ago when it seemed to have no value, but statutes have been passed in many states that say it still is government property. Collectors may prevail if they can find a sales receipt, presuming one ever existed, but even if it did, who would keep it a hundred years? Collectors are forced to return items perhaps legitimately in their family for generations, or purchased from others who held them legitimately, because a statute enacted only recently says, retrospectively, it is still government property.

However, those cases are ruled by specific statutes that give the government priority over the holder. Without such laws, and this is a private person vs. private person, we probably can revert to the old adage: possession is 90% of ownership. It seems to me unlikely that Schoenberg or his wife would ever have given away what must have been a family treasure. Nor can one imagine why Berg or Schmid or both would do the same with a signed photograph of a notable composer if it were given to them. Still, if Fraser can show his grandfather was connected to someone who knew Schoenberg, or that he studied under a pupil of Schoenberg, that is quite a coincidence. It certainly establishes how the photo could have ended up in Fraser's possession without any wrongdoing on his part. Perhaps one of the earlier associates of Schoenberg in the chain “borrowed” the photograph from Schoenberg and forgot to return it? Or maybe Fraser's elderly grandmother has forgotten exactly what happened years ago? It's an interesting case, and one that hopefully you, as a collector, will never have to personally face.


A Letter to the Editor has been received regarding this story. Click here to read.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Announcing a new Books for Sale platform hosted by Biblio!</b>
    <b>List your books simultaneously on Rare Book Hub and Biblio!</b>
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Cook (Captain James).- Webber (John) and Marie Catherina Prestel. Four views in the South Seas [bound with] <i>Atlas to accompany Captain James Cook's account of his voyages...</i> £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Knight (Joseph). <i>On the cultivation of the plants belonging to the natural order of Proteeae</i>, 1809. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> India & China.- Sonnerat (Pierre). <i>Voyage aux Indes Orientales et a la Chine, fait par ordre du roi, depuis 1774 jusqu'en 1781</i>. £20,000 to £30,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Mongolia.- Pallas (Peter Simon). <i>Sammlungen Historischer Nachrichten uber die Mongolischen Volkerschaften.</i> £15,000 to £20,000 
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> America.- Warre (Henry). <i>Sketches in North America</i>, 1848. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Atlases.- <i>English Pilot (The). The Fourth Book. Describing The West-Indian Navigation, from Hudson's Bay to the River Amazones...</i> £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Greece.- Lear (Edward). <i>Views of the Seven Ionian Isles</i>, signed presentation copy from the author to Evelyn Baring, 1863. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Lear (Edward).- [Gray (John Edward)]. <i>Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall</i>, 1846. £7,000 to £10,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Flamsteed (John). <i>Historiae Coelestis</i>, first edition,1712. £20,000 to £30,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Flamsteed (John). <i>Atlas Coelestis</i>, 1781. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Conjuring Posters.- The Steens, American Mystifiers: Originators of Silent Transmission. broadside poster, [probably 1890-1900]. £300 to £500
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Tyndale's Bible.- Bible, English. The newe Testament, Richard Jugge, 1552; sold not subject to return. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Cook (Captain James).- Webber (John) and Marie Catherina Prestel. Four views in the South Seas [bound with] <i>Atlas to accompany Captain James Cook's account of his voyages to the Pacific Ocean in the years 1776-1780.</i>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Knight (Joseph). <i>On the cultivation of the plants belonging to the natural order of Proteeae</i>, 1809. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> India & China.- Sonnerat (Pierre). <i>Voyage aux Indes Orientales et a la Chine, fait par ordre du roi, depuis 1774 jusqu'en 1781</i>. £20,000 to £30,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Mongolia.- Pallas (Peter Simon). <i>Sammlungen Historischer Nachrichten uber die Mongolischen Volkerschaften.</i> £15,000 to £20,000 
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> America.- Warre (Henry). <i>Sketches in North America</i>, 1848. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Atlases.- <i>English Pilot (The). The Fourth Book. Describing The West-Indian Navigation, from Hudson's Bay to the River Amazones...</i> £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Greece.- Lear (Edward). <i>Views of the Seven Ionian Isles</i>, signed presentation copy from the author to Evelyn Baring, 1863. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Lear (Edward).- [Gray (John Edward)]. <i>Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall</i>, 1846. £7,000 to £10,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Flamsteed (John). <i>Historiae Coelestis</i>, first edition,1712. £20,000 to £30,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. September 27, 2017</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Flamsteed (John). <i>Atlas Coelestis</i>, 1781. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Conjuring Posters.- The Steens, American Mystifiers: Originators of Silent Transmission. broadside poster, [probably 1890-1900]. £300 to £500
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 27:</b> Tyndale's Bible.- Bible, English. The newe Testament, Richard Jugge, 1552; sold not subject to return. £10,000 to £15,000
  • <b>Bonhams, Sep. 26:</b> Cook in Tahiti. [Playbill]. [Germany, c.1840.] $3,000 - $5,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 26:</b> Roberts' Sketches in Egypt and Nubia. London, 1846-9. $20,000 - $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 26:</b> Breydenbach. Peregrinatio in terram sanctam. Mainz, 1486. $100,000 - $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 26:</b> Dürer. Underweysung der messung [and two more]. Nuremberg, 1525-8. $150,000 - $200,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 26:</b> Whitman. Autograph Manuscript [in] The Complete Writings. One of 32 sets. $8,000 - $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 26:</b> Columbus. De Insulis nuper in mari Indico repertis. Basel, 1494. $700,000 - $1,000,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 26:</b> The Dr. Hendon M. Harris Jr. Korean Atlas Collection. [Korea; c.1700 to c.1890.] $35,000 - $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 26:</b> Aa, Pieter van der. Naaukeurige versameling der gedenk-waardigste zee en land-reysen. Leyden, 1706-8. $8000 - $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 27:</b> Russian Kholod 5D67 HFL Rocket Engine. $25,000 - $40,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 27:</b> Neil Armstrong Apollo Era Training Glove. $8,000 - $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 27:</b> Large Lunar Near Side Chart, Signed by 20th Century Surface Explorers. $20,000 - $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 27:</b> Annotated Photo Album Detailing Alexander Graham Bell's Experiments with Tetrahedral Kites. $50,000 - $80,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Exodus 10:10 to 16:15. Complete Biblical scroll sheet in Hebrew, a Torah scroll panel. Middle East, ca. 10th or 11th century.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Copernicus Refuted. (Astronomy.). Scientific manuscript of a course of studies at Collège de la Trinité, Lyon. 1660s.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Israel’s War of Independence and the Early Days of the IDF. 58 photographs presented to Israel Ber, IDF officer and later convicted spy.
    <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man. Autograph Letter Signed [to Henry Denny]. Down, Kent, June 1, [1844].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Classic Image of American Slavery. Kimball, M. H. <i>Emancipated Slaves</i>. New York: George Hanks, 1863.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> (Underground Railroad.) Scaggs, Isaac. Important Runaway Slave Poster: $500 Reward Ran away, or decoyed from the subscriber…
  • <b>Sotheby’s in collaboration with Binoche & Giquello: BIBLIOTHÈQUE R. ET B. L. LIVRES ILLUSTRÉS ROMANTIQUES [and] EDITIONS ORIGINALES ROMANTIQUES.<br>Paris 10 October
    <b>Binoche & Giquello/Sotheby’s<br>10 Oct:</b> GRANDVILLE --- DE FOE. Aventures de Robinson Crusoë. 1840. 43 original dip pen drawings by Grandville. 25.000 – 35.000 €
    <b>Binoche & Giquello/Sotheby’s<br>10 Oct:</b> GRANDVILLE. Advertising poster for Un Autre Monde. 1844. 7.000 – 9.000 €
    <b>Binoche & Giquello/Sotheby’s<br>10 Oct:</b> GRANDVILLE. Un autre monde. 1844. Pristine copy in editor binding. 20.000 – 30.0000 €
    <b>Binoche & Giquello/Sotheby’s<br>10 Oct:</b> GRANDVILLE. Original drawing [c. 1845]. 88 x 95 mm. 3.000 – 4.000 €
    <b>Sotheby’s in collaboration with Binoche & Giquello: BIBLIOTHÈQUE R. ET B. L. LIVRES ILLUSTRÉS ROMANTIQUES [and] EDITIONS ORIGINALES ROMANTIQUES.<br>Paris 10 October
    <b>Binoche & Giquello/Sotheby’s<br>10 Oct:</b> BALZAC. Mémoires de deux jeunes mariées. 1842. Empress Marie-Louise’s copy. 12.000 –<br>15.000 €
    <b>Binoche & Giquello/Sotheby’s<br>10 Oct:</b> DUMAS. Henri III et sa cour. 1829 – Stockolm, Fontainebleau et Rome. 1830. Inscribed to tragic actrice Mlle George, bound by Touvenin. 35.000 – 45.000 €
    <b>Binoche & Giquello/Sotheby’s<br>10 Oct:</b> DUMAS. Les Trois mousquetaires. 1844. First edition. Rare copy in period binding. 50.0000- 80.000 €
    <b>Sotheby’s in collaboration with Binoche & Giquello: BIBLIOTHÈQUE R. ET B. L. LIVRES ILLUSTRÉS ROMANTIQUES [and] EDITIONS ORIGINALES ROMANTIQUES.<br>Paris 10 October
    <b>Binoche & Giquello/Sotheby’s<br>10 Oct:</b> HUGO. Unpublished autograph notebook, for Juliette Drouet. 1834. 70.000 – 90.000 €
    <b>Binoche & Giquello/Sotheby’s<br>10 Oct:</b> HUGO. Gibet de Montfaucon. 1847. Original drawing. 288 x 367 mm. 80.000 – 120.000 €
    <b>Binoche & Giquello/Sotheby’s<br>10 Oct:</b> Stendhal. Le Rouge et le noir. 1831. 2 vol. First edition. Superb copy in period binding. 30.000 – 50.000 €

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions