Aside form the collective dream to (individually) win the lottery, the next best thing for some might be finding a secret stash of antiques in the attic. While it’s an old trope, the scenario lingers in popular culture because it does occur – probably more than you’d guess. This is what happened for one New York state man named David Whitcomb recently happened upon a trove of rare photographs and now these items are headed to auction.

Susan B. Anthony photo
One of these rare prints is held in the Library of Congress. Via: J.E. Hale/Library of Congress

Whitcomb bought the property in Geneva, New York, without knowing what exactly was inside. According to Antique Trader, Whitcomb purchased the building during the pandemic not knowing that there was a hoard of photos and equipment in the attic space that once belonged to photographer, J.E. Hale, who used the space as his studio.

Hale is remembered for a photo he took of well known women’s rights activist and suffragette, Susan B. Anthony. Hale’s photo of her was taken only a few months before she died and the copyright to the image was later gifted to the Susan B. Anthony Memorial Association and became their signature image of her. A newspaper clipping of the event read, “J.E. Hale has been signally honored by having a photograph which he took of the late Susan B. Anthony accepted as the official photograph of the distinguished woman suffragist…It was taken by Mr. Hale on the occasion of one of the visits of Miss Anthony to the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Smith Miller.” The article also notes that Hale had already received a goodly number of orders for prints of the photo from the public.

newspaper clipping about Susan B. Anthony photo by J.E. Hale
Via: Library of Congress

Hale was in full support of women suffragists, taking many portraits of influential women of the day (including future First Lady Francis Folsom), as well as holding an exhibit of photos of notable women at the New York State Woman Suffrage Association in Geneva in 1907.

Previously only 4 prints of this photograph were known to exist in the world, but with this find there are now several more. The largest of these, set in a gold frame, will be the centerpiece of the upcoming auction, Significant Photography Skylight Studio of J.E. Hale Attic Find auction, held by One Source Auctions. The opening bid for this one item is $5,000, though some smaller and damaged versions of the photo will start out at lower prices.

Susan B. Anthony photo
Via: One Source Auctions/Invaluable

Other items in the auction include many photos, frames, negatives, photo equipment, pottery, and glass. There is also a small collection of antique furniture that Hale used for posing his clients on for their photos. When Whitcomb saw the glittering gilt of the antique picture frames he was overcome and said, “I think we just found the Goonies treasure.” Whitcomb has been personally involved in the cleaning and identification of the objects ahead of the sale.

Whitcomb went on to state that, “Everyone hopes to find treasure someday, and we actually did. That is incredible to think about.” More than 1,000 objects of value were found in the attic. In total the collection is expected to fetch between $150,000 and $200,000. The auction is set to take place on September 18th, 2021.