How much is my Lindbergh photo worth?
Some Lindys are luckier than others.
When business instructor Jeff Clark hung his family heirloom photo of Charles Lindbergh in his classroom at Davis Applied Technology College in Kaysville, Utah, it inspired questions over how much it was worth. Clark inherited the photo, which dates to 1927, from his late grandfather.
He plans on hanging a 40-inch wingspan scale model of the Spirit of St. Louis from the ceiling in front of the picture. "It would be nice to know if the photo has any value beyond my own love for it," Clark says.
Armed with a JPG image of the 19- by 15-inch photo, which displays a lanky Lindy standing upright under the Spirit of St. Louis' wing, I contacted Allan Janus, an archivist at the National Air & Space Museum, who recognized the image immediately.
"It's a well known Lindbergh photo," Janus says. "But I don't think any vintage Lindbergh photo could be described as common nowadays."
He suggested contacting an appraiser, but said a general idea can be gleaned by investigating the market. "On estimating the value of vintage photographs, I usually recommend keeping an eye on online auction sites like eBay," Janus says. "Rare photographs are also auctioned by Swann, Christies's and Sotheby's—watching their catalogues can be very instructive."
But catalogue pricing can be tricky; sellers place estimate values on memorabilia that may not reflect the actual amount someone will pay. It's always better to look at the actual amount people paid for items over a period of time rather than their listed values, says Allan Stypeck, owner of Second Story Books in Rockville, Maryland and a senior appraiser for the American Society of Appraisers. The ASA—there really is an organization for everything—puts people in touch with a qualified appraiser in their area.
Stypeck, who has been at the appraisal game for more than 30 years, says the first thing to check in valuing photo memorabilia is to confirm if the photo is an original or a valueless reproduction. Assuming Clark's photo is an original, the next criteria is size, with larger photos commanding more money. An 8- by 11-inch original photo of Lindy and his airplane can run between $200 and $300, while a 14- by 24-inch print can be worth $500 to $700. So Clark likely is hanging several hundred dollars' worth of aviation history on his walll.
Alas, there is no signature on Clark's photo. A signed original can be valued between $2,000 and $6,000, depending on the size and condition of the market. (Selling it during a spike in interest, such as an anniversary, major movie launch on the topic, and so on, can increase prices. Just ask vendors of Titanic memorabilia.)
There are plenty of places to get support in researching memorabilia. Collectors' sites often have forums to get advice. For Lindbergh materials, specifically, Janus recommends a website site devoted to Lindbergh ephemera run by Pat Ranfranz, of Shoreview, Minnesota. For space memorabilia Janus recommends Collectspace, run out of Houston, Texas by Robert Pearlman.