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Old 01-25-2019, 08:31 AM
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Default The PSA Type System: Should it follow the photography market?

PSA’s photo type system was meant to replace the system that has long been used in the larger photography market, where people buy and sell works by the likes of Walker Evans, Edward Weston, and Cindy Sherman. The photography market has shown no signs of taking it up, and that is because the photography market’s methodology is more flexible and superior, as the following two examples will reveal.

The first thing a visitor to Nat Fein’s house saw was a 16x20 print of the image he called Three Bows Out. He considered it his ur-print, the representative example by which he wanted you to know his work. But that very print that was displayed by Fein’s front door will never be designated Type 1 by PSA because of the limitations of the Type system.

There is a 16x20 print that was probably printed around 1948—at the very least, we know it was unlikely to have been printed after around 1954 because there are no chemical brighteners in the paper, which would cause it to fluoresce. In the photography market, the print would be considered a vintage print, which is defined as one made at roughly the same time as the negative by the photographer himself or by a person or procedure satisfactory to the photographer. Occasionally, you will see a time limit of five years placed on what may be considered a vintage print, but the looser “at roughly the same time” is more common. That is because specific dates for exhibition or fine art prints are rarely known; unlike news photographs, they are not stamped with dates.

Let’s consider the 16x20 print from 1948-1954. Is it really worth less than one printed in 1950 if printed by Fein on the same paper and with the same methods? PSA believes the possibility of a 1954 dating makes it worth less than the 1950 print, though there is no possible explanation why.

PSA will never be able to “Type” an exhibition print like the one Fein had by his front door at all, because exhibition prints, lacking time stamps, can only be dated imprecisely. So a 16x20 vintage print from 1948-1954 will sell for one-third of an 8x10 from 1950 certified by PSA. That certainly seems like an opportunity to me.

Charles Conlon never printed for exhibition, but we do know that his house at 189 Alden Place in Englewood, NJ, where he lived during the 1920s and 1930s, was outfitted with darkroom sinks and that Conlon printed there. The Alden Place prints are the highest quality Conlon prints that exist. I own many. The paper was specifically made for contact prints from glass negatives. They greatly surpass the prints Conlon had made by third parties—including presumably the photo department at The Evening Telegram—which vary greatly in quality.

The problem for PSA is that Conlon printed some of his earlier negatives—Ed Walsh’s spitter from 1913, for example—while at Alden Place. So, under the PSA system, a print by Conlon himself from the early 1920s, on the same paper specifically made for contact prints that he would have used in 1913, is not a vintage print; it is a Type 2. Meanwhile, a print made in 1915 by someone in The Evening Telegram’s photo department, printed without detail or any aesthetic consideration because it was for halftone reproduction, is a vintage, or Type 1, print. I believe that the Alden Place prints, because they are by Conlon himself and are of the same type of paper he would have used in 1913 are vintage prints.

As a net buyer, I welcome these anomalies, but the same anomalies also frustrate me as an occasional seller. PSA should adopt the larger photography market’s methodology.

Last edited by sphere and ash; 01-25-2019 at 09:57 AM.
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Old 01-25-2019, 12:18 PM
prewarsports prewarsports is offline
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Conlon used different paper sizes and types throughout his career and as far as I know, those are not used in dating. I have also seen his earlier stamps re-used on later paper making a definitive dating even more difficult. I tried for a few years to make a catalog of these for more accurate dating, but he made it pretty difficult!
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Last edited by prewarsports; 01-25-2019 at 12:18 PM.
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Old 01-25-2019, 02:12 PM
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As someone with a highly educated opinion, I would like to draw you out on the question at hand: does the PSA Type 1 definition improve or impair the definition used in the larger photography market?

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Originally Posted by prewarsports View Post
Conlon used different paper sizes and types throughout his career and as far as I know, those are not used in dating.
I think the use of various papers is consistent with Conlon frequently not doing his own printing. Also, when a third party is printing for halftone reproduction, the choice of paper barely matters. Whatever is there will suffice.

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I have also seen his earlier stamps re-used on later paper making a definitive dating even more difficult. I tried for a few years to make a catalog of these for more accurate dating, but he made it pretty difficult!
Are you saying that Conlon would use a stamp for 111th St. while living at, say, 118th St.? If so, I would love to see an example.
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Old 01-25-2019, 05:30 PM
prewarsports prewarsports is offline
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I have not seen address changed used after he moved, but I have seen earlier Evening Telegram and Spalding stamps used on later productions. This might have something to do with who actually made the prints and what stamps/ink was available at that office at the time.

I think the PSA system has helped draw attention to the photo industry and helped bring in a bigger audience for sure. I dont have anything negative to say about them and they do a good job at sticking to the parameters they have set. As someone who also deals in autographs and cards I can say I have never seen anything nefarious looking authenticated by PSA that made me think anything shady was going on in their photo authentication. I think it was a melding of the photo industry and the baseball card market and trying to bring them together to create a bigger audience. For that, it has absolutely worked!
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Old 01-25-2019, 10:22 PM
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drcy drcy is offline
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It could be argued that the PSA system is a cataloging system for identification purposes, and valuation is a second question. I'm not a great fan of the system, and agree that the 2 year rule is arbitrary, but I don't believe anywhere does PSA say collectors and dealers have to value a photo strictly by how it fits in the system.

If you say a 1950 image printed in 1954 should worth the same as one printed in 1952, PSA no where says you shouldn't. It's just that it won't be cataloged as "Type 1" in their system.

Though I agree that it is a problem if collectors value and judge a photo just by how it fits in the PSA system-- and I'm sure many do.

My one big personal gripe with the systesm is calling an original photo "Type 1" is dumb. The word original is, and always was, self-explanatory and plain language, and it was pointless to change it to a number, color code of Egyptian hieroglyph. To me, the number system was like color coding animals, when the words 'cat,' 'dog' and 'eagle; were perfectly good and understood. Photography is my area of expertise and I have to look up what type II, III and IV signifies-- and I have no intention of memorizing it. Of course, that's just my personal sentiment, and if a Net54 says he likes the numbers, I won't say he's wrong-- but I will still think the hobby saying "Type 1" instead of original is dumb.

Last edited by drcy; 01-25-2019 at 10:53 PM.
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Old 01-26-2019, 08:26 AM
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sphere and ash sphere and ash is offline
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Originally Posted by drcy View Post
It could be argued that the PSA system is a cataloging system for identification purposes
I would argue it is a cataloging system for news photographs only, and not for exhibition prints.

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Though I agree that it is a problem if collectors value and judge a photo just by how it fits in the PSA system-- and I'm sure many do.
Isn’t it inevitable? You’ll struggle in vain to find one auction result not in accord with the classification system. As a net buyer, I have to keep reminding myself that this works to my benefit.

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My one big personal gripe with the systesm is calling an original photo "Type 1" is dumb. The word original is, and always was, self-explanatory and plain language, and it was pointless to change it to a number, color code of Egyptian hieroglyph. To me, the number system was like color coding animals, when the words 'cat,' 'dog' and 'eagle; were perfectly good and understood. Photography is my area of expertise and I have to look up what type II, III and IV signifies-- and I have no intention of memorizing it. Of course, that's just my personal sentiment, and if a Net54 says he likes the numbers, I won't say he's wrong-- but I will still think the hobby saying "Type 1" instead of original is dumb.
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Old 01-26-2019, 12:58 PM
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Originally Posted by sphere and ash View Post
I would argue it is a cataloging system for news photographs only, and not for exhibition prints.
In the fine art photography world, with the famous artists, high quality later made and limited edition photos are valued and can catch high prices. They are appreciated differently, and the later made ones by Ansel Adams or David Baily will often be of highest quality, processes, etc.

I authenticated and cataloged for an auction house a collection of Civil War photos, and, amongst the other vintage and original CDVs and cabinet cards, the Abraham Lincoln photo that sold the most was from the 1890s. The key was it was a very large display photo made from the original negative and using the highest quality process (platinum) and the image was more than crystal clear. Plus, it was signed and dated on the back by the photographer who made it. And, of course, the 1890s means it was still a 19th century photo. It actually sold for more than an original Mathew Brady cabinet card of Lincoln. And, even as an 'age purist,' I knew that photo was special and worthy of the price.

However, in the historical artifacts areas, which most baseball collectors are involved in, age itself is an essential quality. If you're a Civil War or WWII collector, clearly you most desire items from that period. If you're a collector of Pre-history American Indian artifacts, a modern reproduction won't hack it except for as a cheap display piece on coffee table.

As a vintage collector, of baseball cards and historical items, the age has always been an essential quality. It's built into my collecting psychology. You know, if you want a Ty Cobb postcard, you naturally want one from his playing days not one from 1970. If you want a piece of Joe DiMaggio memorabilia, you most desire one from his playing days not retirement. So I've always been interested in the originals, with the later made ones not having the 'intrinsic' appeal to me. But, as I said, there are people in art circles, where the later made photos have appeal and are not considered lesser-- and we're talking here where the later photos were made by the photographer, made to be highest quality and limited edition.

Similarly, there are collecting areas where restoration is much more accepted than in baseball cards and memorabilia. Different collecting areas, different sentiments.

And of course there are cases where a buyer spends a lot on a baseball photo because it is original, rare and old, but doesn't take into consideration that the image is ugly. Aesthetics should always be an integral part of valuation-- and that may help explain why art people spend so much on the latter made ones. A major focus of theirs is on the physical quality and appearance. N172 Old Judge collectors often comment that PSA gives a technical grade that often doesn't take into consideration the eye appeal (or lack thereof) of what are literally little photographs. An N172 can get a high grade even if the image is underdeveloped, and an N172 can get a low grade for technical reasons (back damage) when the image is sharp. That shows that a condition grade is a technical condition grade and does not cover everything about the card. I'm not saying that's a fault of PSA as they spell out the parameters and specifics of what they are grading, but the person who would financially vale the card strictly by the grade. I don't have to tell anyone here that one PSA 7 1958 Topps Willie Mays can have better eye appeal than another PSA 7 1958 Topps Willia Mays, and the collector should price accordingly.

As I said, while they should be and will be valued substantially less than the originals, I can understand why a collector would buy the later made UPI photos of Cobb, Ruth and DiMaggio-- the images are often Grade A and made from the original negatives. Certainly, if you want to have photos to frame for your office or 'man cave' (hate that term) wall, UPI photos would be a great way to go. And they are official news photos, so have inherent value as collectibles and baseball/news artifacts.

Last edited by drcy; 01-26-2019 at 02:16 PM.
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Old 01-26-2019, 02:35 PM
lumberjack lumberjack is offline
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Default photo classification

Wouldn't it be to the benefit of everyone if the auction houses, big and small, told us everything they could muster about a photograph. For example, "Conlon photo of Eddie Murphy, White Sox, likely printed in 1926 as Conlon has written 'Pittsburgh NL' below Murphy's name." Or, "Nat Stein photo of Ruth's farewell, probably printed after 1953 as the photograph paper failed the ultra violet light test."

If they can't do this, basic homework, they shouldn't be in business.

I'd rather not hear that the auction houses don't have the time or space. Consider the typical flowery bs from the glossy catalog guys...."Poignant last image of the Big Fella as he stands tall and faces baseball's Valhalla with courage and grace...." Blah, blah, blah. The Chicago people, who went to prison, by the way, were great at this kind of deception.

How many times have any of you waded through a four paragraph description of an item and still didn't know anything about the lot that was for sale? Are these guys selling swamp land to a bunch of farmers with too much money?
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Old 01-26-2019, 02:41 PM
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sphere and ash sphere and ash is offline
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Wouldn't it be to the benefit of everyone if the auction houses, big and small, told us everything they could muster about a photograph. For example, "Conlon photo of Eddie Murphy, White Sox, likely printed in 1926 as Conlon has written 'Pittsburgh NL' below Murphy's name." Or, "Nat Fein photo of Ruth's farewell, probably printed after 1953 as the photograph paper failed the ultra violet light test."
I agree wholeheartedly.

Last edited by sphere and ash; 01-26-2019 at 03:00 PM.
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Old 01-27-2019, 12:01 PM
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I agree wholeheartedly.
That's the way I've always done it-- in plain words.

The PSA type system is a cataloging system, and, from what I've seen, PSA does an accurate job in authenticating photos. So I'm not coming hard down on them or their authentication abilities.

But collectors shouldn't treat the label as the be all and end all, and know that photographs are nuanced, and can't simply be defined by a type system. For example, the Lincoln photo I mentioned wasn't a Type 1 but had great financial value. And, of course, N172 Old Judge, Gypsy Queens and Four Base Hits aren't Type I photos.

And my additional addition that I often add is that PSA and other photo authenticators should never ever install a condition grading system. If that happened, ever other photo would be trimmed to get a better grade.

Last edited by drcy; 01-27-2019 at 12:19 PM.
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