An original photo of Sandon taken in 1900 or earlier sold last week on eBay for $348 US. But a local historical society is concerned it came from their collection.
The photo’s reverse bears the stamp “West Kootenay Historical Society Catalogue No. 711,” historian Elsie G. Turnbull’s signature, and the notation “done by archives.”
The West Kootenay Historical Society was the forerunner to the Trail Historical Society, founded in the 1950s. Turnbull, a prolific writer and author of several books on local history, was a key member.
Present historical society president Jamie Forbes says this photo was one of many she collected.
“It is her handwriting on the back and she accessioned it, giving it the number,” he says. “We have the accession register with her hand-written entry. I don’t know how it was removed from the collection.”
It’s not clear either which archives the note on the back refers to. The BC Archives collection has this photo, but their source wasn’t this copy, judging from creases visible in an on-line scan.
The society asked the seller to end the auction and return the photo to them.
However, the reply didn’t come until after bidding closed. The seller, from Aldergrove, said he found the photo at a flea market.
Forbes says they will leave it at that. “However, I am disappointed he did not try to find out who the photo actually belonged to,” he says. “I think this is a true example of how online auction houses have had a negative impact on local archives and museums.”
Forbes says while they are “very diligent” in scrutinizing such auctions, “unfortunately we must use our precious dollars to compete with the private sector.”
He adds he would have been more upset if the photo had been one of Trail. The same seller did list two vintage Trail photos at the same time, but Forbes doesn’t think they came from the society’s collection, and in any case they have other copies.
One, taken by pioneer photographer E.C. Hendee, showing the early Columbia River steamer SS Lytton, sold for $102.50 US, while the other of a holiday crowd in front of the Crown Point Hotel went for $51 US.
The high price the Sandon photo generated isn’t surprising given both the image and the photographer.
Richard H. Trueman (1856-1911) had studios in Sandon, Kaslo, Revelstoke, Grand Forks, and Vancouver, and took some of the most stunning photos of early mining days in West Kootenay.
He is perhaps best known for his portrait of a train stopped on Payne Bluff along the Kaslo and Slocan Railway, with several passengers and crew perched precariously nearby.
The photo in question was taken before the great fire of May 4, 1900 that wiped out Reco Avenue, Sandon’s narrow main street.
This story will appear in the West Kootenay Advertiser on July 12.