Man finds Ansel Adams negatives, worth $200 million, at garage sale

A garage sale enthusiast from Fresno, California scored big time when he bought two small boxes of glass plate negatives for $45 a decade ago. He has just confirmed that these belonged to the famous Yosemite photographer Ansel Adams, and are worth $200 million.


  1. Actually, from the CNN story, it sounds like he thought they were Ansel Adams from the start.

    “Norsigian, who has spent the last decade trying to prove the worth of his discovery, is now ready to cash in — by selling original prints of the photographs to museums and collectors.”

    Which makes his haggling the price down to $45 from $70 kind of a dick move.

    1. Joe, the story says that it was two years after the purchase when he first started to suspect that it was Adams’ work.

  2. Yeah, agreed with @1. Judging from that line, he’s been trying to get them recognized and officially authenticated for a while.

    1. Are you serious? He’s only one of THE most famous scenic photographers of the past century. Look him up, you’ve probably seen his work everywhere & just didn’t know it.

  3. BS detector alert.

    “I have estimated that his $45 investment could easily be worth up to $200 million.”

    Sorry, but 200 million is a LONG way up from what these are actually worth. Looking at this page: Ansel Adams original productions sell for up to 50k. So, assuming that every single negative produces a 50k production:

    $50k * 65 = $3.25M

    Even if we quadruple that because they’re negatives, we’re still a long way from 200 mil.

  4. And, don’t forget, he originally paid $45.00, so even if the $200 million figure were correct, the actual net would be far less–$200,000,000 – $45.00 = $199,999,955.

    Reporters and their damn unquestioning hyperbole.

  5. He doesn’t actually need to sell them for 50k each. Just sell them to a few hundred museums and collectors. Oops. Added collectors there. Few thousand then. Now take your figure and multiply by 1000. There are a lotta people out there that wouldn’t mind having an original creation.

    Negatives. The gift that keeps on giving.

  6. Hmm. Not to mention a possible certain cachet to owning an Ansel Adams with a made-for-TV origin story?

    I presume owning the negatives also mean owning rights to all reproductions? E.g. cheaper prints, postcards, etc.?

  7. My dad never liked Adams or his photography. I’m not sure if it was a personal encounter or not. My dad being an avid photographer would mumble and curse every time I would bring up Adams.

    Nice find. It does sound like the guy knew what he had found at the garage sale. So the guy who sold them have had them since the 40’s. You think maybe the guy might revisit the site of the garage sale and kick down the guy a few bills, a bottle of champagne, something. “Hey guess what? You know that box of crap I bought from you? Yea turns out they were Ansel Adams. Yea. Hey here’s a set of free prints. I need to hop in my Rolls. Have a good one!”

    Somehow I doubt it since he haggled the guy down on the price.

    Finders keepers, losers weepers I guess. Sometimes your posts just depress the hell out of me. Thanks.

  8. @3 – you are on the Internet, like, right now. If you don’t know who Ansel Adams is (no shame in that, by the way), LOOK IT UP. Like, on the Internet, which has just oodles of information about approximately everything. Posting on an Internet forum the fact that you don’t know something is like putting a post-it on a dictionary saying “What does irony mean?”

      1. For the record, I did see your reference (although as this is the internet, I wasn’t one hundred percent). I loved that doc!

      2. @16 – Well drat, I didn’t catch that reference, and just thought you were being tiresome. Turns out, that was me. Sorry about that.

  9. Just owning the negatives doesn’t necessarily transfer copyright and the copyright for these images has likely not expired so if he made and sold prints, he may be violating a copyright held by the Adams Estate? The garage sale guy? someone else? Who knows? Maybe it’s the lawyers who they are worth $200M to…

  10. An original print fetches $50k, negatives with processing errors and compositional miss ques that Ansel didn’t like enough to make prints from aren’t worth nearly that much.

    1. Or they could be worth just as much–similar to finding notes from Kubrick on a scene he cut, or the Samuel Clemens unpublished papers–they reveal even more about the person now that a lifetime has gone by studying what was published.

      This is definitely a case where artistic value begins to effect overall intrinsic value.

  11. In the late/mid seventies, a small gallery on Sherbrooke street in Montreal had an exhibition of Ansel Adams prints (yes, printed by Ansel Adams himself). At the urging of my photography teachers, I went to see them, all the way downtown to see them, as I was told, looking at the reproductions in books “wasn’t the same”.

    Man! I didn’t think it was possible to get tones like that on photographs, indeed on any medium. Yes, reproductions in books do not, can not do them justice – not by a long shot.

    A hand-bound book-edition of the photographs was available at the gallery for, if memory serves, $1,200 (at the time, six weeks’ of my lab technician salary).

    If you ever have a chance to see original Ansel Adams prints, don’t pass it up.

  12. Heard most of a nice piece on NPR yesterday about this. +1 on the prints being worth (anything at all) much more when done by Mr. Adams.

    While listening to the guest describe the differences in the prints made from a single negative over the years, due to intentional and artistic changes in the developing process, I was left musing: “Where is that artistry in today’s digital photography?”

    And then it suddenly hit me, Photoshop is the modern darkroom. Obvious, I know.

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