Art detective Howard Schickler has spent decades and numerous trips to Scotland, diligently assembling an impressive archive of golf photographs. His resulting treasure of over 1,000 original, exhibition-quality photographs from 1850 until the beginning of World War II was just sold to the USGA Museum. None of the parties aware of the sale would reveal the acquisition price, but a respectable golf collector expert, who wished to remain anonymous, attributes a current market value to the collection at $ 1 million.
“We have been looking at his collection for a long time. He has a unique perspective – he is a fine art photography retailer – so in terms of acquisitions this is a truly exceptional collection, ”says Hilary Cronheim, director of the USGA Museum.
“It has been the right time in the past two years to start the conversation and we have worked to make the USGA a long-term repository for its collection.”
Highlights from the vast history of golf history that focuses intensely on portraits and action shots of great champions include an iconic image of Old Tom Morris visiting his son Tom Morris’ grave, a series depicting the sequence of swing by Bobby Jones and four rare jelly prints by Lucy Barnes Brown, the winner of the American Women’s Amateurs in 1895.
Curator and established art photography dealer who created multiple collections outside the realm of sport, Schickler gave the same value to aesthetic beauty and historical relevance. He refused many photos that did not contain both elements during his long and rigorous search for vintage photographs, prints made at the time of the negative.
“I wasn’t interested in subsequent prints or reproductions. I really had to get as close as possible to the original moment, “says Schickler.
Highlights of the collection
There are 75 photos in the Schickler collection documenting the 1911 USA Amateur at the Apawamis Club, which was won by Harold Hilton, the first man to claim the American and British amateurs in the same year.
“It was an accident. I was at an exhibition in Las Vegas set up by the United States Golf Collector Society and one of the retailers said “would you care?” When I saw them, they tore my socks off, “says Schickler.
“It was the first time ever that I saw a really large and complete collection of vintage photographs of an important tournament. It is unheard of. All these beautiful photographs have been pasted on the album pages. I never do any restoration of these photographs, I like them in their raw state but this was an exception. I sent this collection to my conservator in New York and it took about a year, but it ended with great diligence and he carefully extracted the photographs from the pages without damage. “
The collection also includes 49 large format photos taken by the USGA photographer George Pietzcker whose work rarely comes on the market and is much sought after by collectors.
“In my opinion, George Pietzcker was the best golf photographer of the 1920sth century. He has published a series of photographs called the National Golf Champions. Many of the major clubs in the United States have exhibited a large-format exhibition of this framed work with beautifully executed photographs, “explains Schickler.
“Pietzker crossed that border from golf memorabilia to art photography and by far the quality of his images and prints was far superior to anyone else who did business in the period. He has also traveled for everyone, if not especially, for major tournaments. He was very diligent in producing a body of work that has stood the test of time totally. “
The highest paid by Schickler for a single golf photograph in his collection was five digits, but he believes the golf photograph is currently underestimated. Last year a photograph of Ty Cobb’s Charles Conlon stealing third base raised $ 250,000.
“Golf is such a specialized course that values haven’t even started to accelerate to baseball,” says Scheckler.
“I can’t tell you when, it could be three years and it could be 30, but I have been involved in the photographic collection market for over 40 years and I have seen the trends. I was buying photographs of Ansel Adams of Yosemite for $ 150 and now they sell from $ 30,000 to $ 50,000, so it only takes time. You must have a lot of patience and also an eye for quality. “