An intriguing auction, consisting of two lots and 13 photos, with “Weegee” stamps, occurred on February 15, 2018, at Swann auction gallery.
(Screenshot from Swanngallieries.com on Feb. 10, 2016)
Lot 271, from the auction house website:
“WEEGEE [ARTHUR FELLIG] (1899-1968) (attributed to) [added after we made the above screenshot.]
A group of 9 crime-scene photographs from the early part of Weegee’s career, including gruesome depictions of murder victims.
Silver prints, the images measuring 2 1/8×3 to 4 1/2×6 1/4 inches (11.4×15.9 cm.), and some the reverse, the sheets slightly larger, each with Weegee’s Photo-Representatives hand stamp, sometimes twice, and his 47th Street hand stamp, on verso. Circa 1930. Estimate $4,000 – 6,000.”
(They can be seen here.)
When one looks at these photos it’s hard not to think something like, “Weegee did not make these photos.” Everything about them says “Weegee did not make these photos” – the images, content, size, paper, etc. But it’s a compelling narrative, they are small, most are sepia and silverish; maybe these are “from the early part of Weegee’s career.” And they all have “Weegee” stamps on their backs.
Let’s look closely at these stamps. Two stamps are used: “Please Credit Weegee from Photo-Representatives” and “WEEGEE, 451 W. 47 Street, New York, N.Y. 10036, 212-265-1955,” (the address in the later stamp is often not visible). Weegee used the Photo-Representatives stamp from approximately 1955-59 and the W. 47 Street was used from approximately 1964-68 (maybe?). For small photos they have plenty of stamps, four photos are stamped three times and five photos are stamped two times, all with black ink. They resemble “real” or “authentic” stamps, but don’t match exactly. In the “Please Credit Weegee from Photo-Representatives” stamp the “Please Credit Weegee” is slightly thicker or more bold on real or authentic stamps. “From” is a different typeface entirely, it’s slightly serif-ed in real and authentic stamps, and non-serif in Lot 271 stamps. And “Photo-Representatives” is more condensed in real and authentic stamps. When seen together they are obviously not the same stamp:
(Cropped JPEG of the verso of a Weegee photo, 19970.1993.)
The “Weegee” in the “WEEGEE, 451 W. 47 Street, New York, N.Y. 10036, 212-265-1955” stamp is less condensed on the backs of photos in Lots 270 and 271.
(Verso of Weegee photo, 257.1996. One stamp is centered and straight.)
(Verso of Weegee photo, 14896.1993. One stamp is centered and straight.)
It’s easy and tempting to provide narratives of how “crime-scene photographs from the early part of Weegee’s career” wound up stamped with similar stamps to the stamps that Weegee used. And why they were stamped twenty and thirty years after the photos were allegedly made… Maybe Weegee’s assistant, Hypo the chimpanzee, had a Photo-Representatives stamp made late in the 1950s and then ten years later ordered a W. 47 Street stamp, and then used them both to stamp these nine photos that do not resemble in any way, known Weegee photos.
ICP has about 250 photos with a “WEEGEE, 451 W. 47 Street, New York, N.Y. 10036, 212-265-1955,” stamp. These photos are unambiguously Weegee photos. The prints were obviously made late in Weegee’s life, presumably from 1964-68, (possibly even posthumously). Almost all have one stamp, in black ink, and are stamped in the center of the paper, they are relatively straight. There are no photos with both “WEEGEE, 451 W. 47 Street, New York, N.Y. 10036, 212-265-1955” and “Please Credit Weegee from Photo-Representatives” stamps.
ICP has about 5,000 photos with a “Please Credit Weegee from Photo-Representatives” stamp. The same stamp is used, there are no variations of font and typeface. Black ink is common. Most of these stamps are more-or-less in the center of the paper and relatively straight. None are stamped eccentrically, like the photos in Lot 271.
Our opinion: these nine photos were made by three or four different photographers, none of whom were Weegee. The stamps are not the stamps Weegee used. They are not “Weegee’s hand stamps.” The stamps were made posthumously. The photos were stamped (the ink doesn’t look fifty and sixty years old) “recently,” posthumously, and not by Weegeee…