Auction – A Private Collection of Vintage Photography

Exhibition Dates: 15 February – 5 March, 2019

Online Auction Dates: 10am 27 February – 8pm 4 March 2019


Webb’s is proud to present a large, historic collection of 19th and 20th century vintage photography from New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific, South East Asia, Japan, Africa and the Americas. Dating from the 1860s to the 1930s, these rare photographs were assembled by a private collector over almost twenty years from sources in North America, Europe and NZ. Inspired by a love of Anthropology and New Zealand and Pacific history, the collector was particularly captivated by the people and wide range of cultures that inhabit this unique part of the globe. This auction will be the first time this fascinating collection of 243 Cartes de Visite, postcards, Lantern slides and large format photographs will be on display and available to the public.

For New Zealand, the introduction of mainstream photography during the 19th century enabled new Pākehā settlers such as the Burton Brothers (Dunedin), the Foy Brothers (Thames) and the Pulmans (Auckland) to document their new country. They captured the landscapes of Aotearoa, significant and distinguished Māori rangitira, recorded major events and documented the progress of their new colony. This ‘progress’ greatly affected Māori and the collection details transitions in dress, important moments surrounding the New Zealand Wars andportraits of Treaty of Waitangi signatories; significant for this time of year in New Zealand having just celebrated the signing of the treaty. Some notable portraits in the collection were used by celebrated New Zealand Painters. The Foy Brothers Portrait of Ana Rupene and child and Benjamin Peyman’s Mrs Pikirakau/Bloody Queen Merewere used by painter Gottfried Lindauer. Hartley Webster’s photograph of Patara Raukatauri, Ngati Mahuta of Tainui chief and disciple of Pai Marire, became the subject of a C. F. Goldie painting.


Cartes de Visite of Māori were popular both in New Zealand and abroad, becoming an important part of New Zealand’s burgeoning tourism industry. The traditional dress of Māori fascinated Europeans, and the contrast between Māori dress and adornments and Victorian fashion can be seen throughout the collection in images of glamorous Māori women in Victorian silks with gold jewellery and occasional Huia feathers in their hair. Many photographs however were heavily staged scenes and do not depict Māori as they were but instead emphased their ‘otherness’ for tourists’ interest.

The collection also includes significant international imagery. Photographs of indigenous people from Australia, the Pacific, South East Asia, Japan, Africa and the Americas also present European ideas of the ‘other’. In comparison to the images of Māori, the results of colonisation in other arenas show a harsher depiction of indigenous people in both staged and candid photographs. Pacific women were very often presented as exotic bare-breasted beauties; similarly, P. T. Barnum’s ‘human curiosities’ present indigenous people as circus entertainment and objects of scientific fascination.

This portion of the collection also demonstrates the collectors’ interest in anthropological studies. We see a survey of Native North American domestic scenes, staged battle scenes with Zulus, a Peruvian Amazonian warrior, and a warrior from the Gilbert Islands with an unusual-looking porcupine fish helmet and armour. A small collection of early Aboriginal portraits depicts leaders such as Truganini, the ‘last native Queen’ alongside remote tribespeople with nose bones, sacred threads and chest lines. A unique photo shows the Negrito hunters who were the original settlers of the Philippine islands 40,000 years ago. To complete the collection are a series of beautiful hand coloured images depicting Irezumi (Japanese tattoos) – an art which dates back earlier than 3000BC.

This collection provides an uncommon opportunity to view colonial and foreign histories. The collector recognises the fascinating stories of the individuals in these photographs and it was always their wish to repatriate the collection back to New Zealand where many descendants of the Māori, Pakeha and Pacific photographic subjects live today: “My hope is that a person living today will be able to recognise a family relative or family friend from that period in history, and even better if the photograph was not known to have previously existed.” Webb’s has researched many of the Māori portraits but a number remain unidentified – we would be glad to hear from you if you recognise anyone and can help name these kaumatua.

The chance to view this collection is an exciting and rare opportunity for New Zealanders, particularly those of Pacific and Māori descent, to discover pieces of their past that have been brought home from all over the world.