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10,000+ 1940's-1950's Military Portraits 5x7 negatives

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Hello contributors,  I have a close friend that I'm helping with an interesting collection of historic negatives. The negatives came from the 3 major military portrait studios in San Diego CA. during the 1940's-1950's era. These studios located on Broadway in San Diego did a thriving business in this military town, producing very high quality portraits of young sailors and soldiers on liberty. The collection has been archived and stored safely, the negatives from every sitting include the name address and sitting number in its own envelope. The sitting book/ledger from each studio is included. Times changed and the studios closed thier doors and one man purchased all the negatives from all three studios and they disappeared for decades. Recently the negatives surfaced after much research and a bit of luck. My friend has a long history in the old style photography business and we both are trying to understand the digitizing process of older historic negatives and the marketing of Historic Stock Photography. I believe we are leaning towards trying to estimate the true value of this collection and finding a buyer or possibly putting the collection up for auction. I was hoping we could get some honest input and direction from contributors that would help point us in making good decisions. We are all ears, please tell us what our options are and how well would these images be for generating income online if we decided to possibly team up with someone to digitize and manage this collection if this is the best choice. These photographers really knew thier craft and this collection is of amazing quality and the B/W negatives are well preserved and organized. Thanks to everyone that gives thier opinion and views on how to handle this collection. I will post post image examples as soon as I can figure out how to turn an image into a URL? Or you can send me an Email address if your interested and I will send you images from this collection, Thanks



Robert G. Hill

San Diego , CA.




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If I were you I would donate them to an archive. Firstly, these are probably still within copyright, which will depend on the law and any agreements in place when they were taken. Do you know who the photographers were? And when they died? Copyright usually lasts 70 years from the death of the artist. Alternatively there may have been an agreement (or customary assumption) with the military or individual customers to transfer copyright to them. So while the negatives are yours, the images are not, and you are unlikely to be able to monetise them legally. Secondly, the only people who could feasibly want to have scans of these images are descendants of those depicted, or perhaps historians interested in tracing images of particular people. Not likely to be a lucrative market, and much better looked after by an institution with the facilities to catalogue the names. So I would look for a suitable institution (e.g. a military museum) with a publicly accessible archive collection and offer to donate them, or offer them for sale with a very low price to cover basic costs of transport etc.

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19 minutes ago, Robert said:

 Copyright usually lasts 70 years from the death of the artist.

They're no longer in copyright, if they ever were. Even if they bore a copyright notice, without which they never would have been protected, the term was only 28 years until the US acceded to the Berne Convention in 1988, 102 years after most of the rest of the world. So any potential copyright is long expired.

So there's no problem with licensing them.


Edited by spacecadet
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Before you start scanning negatives you might start by creating a database of who is in the collection.  You may be able to get that included in a website like Ancestry.com. and other genealogy websites.  Scanning that many negatives is a monumental job, but if you could do it on demand it would give you an idea of what kind of market is out there without investing a lot of resources.  You should create a simple website with some samples and contact information.

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