Old Singapore photos on auction

Old Singapore photos on auction
This photo taken outside Tong Cheong Tailor is part of a collection of 75 photographs of Singapore taken from the 1860s to 1870s.

SINGAPORE - One hundred and sixty photographs of Singapore, mostly taken between 1860 and the 1880s, will be going under the hammer at Sotheby's auction house later this month.

The collection will be sold as nine individual lots in London at Sotheby's sale of Travel, Atlases, Maps & History on April 30.

The international auction house says it is the largest in more than two decades to be put under the hammer.

Some images depict snippets of daily life, such as dock workers and tailors going about their work, while others are almost unrecognisable sweeping panoramas of areas such as Fort Canning and Boat Quay.

They are expected to fetch between £110,00 (S$221,220) and £163,000 in total, with the five large panoramas of Fort Canning from 1880 alone estimated at £7,000 to £12,000. The estimates for the pictures were derived from sales at previous auctions.

The majority of the photographs come from the two largest photography businesses operating in Singapore at that time, G.R. Lambert & Co. and Sachtler & Co.

Mr Richard Fattorini, director of printed books, manuscripts and topographical photographs at Sotheby's, says the collection, which was put up for sale by a private European collector, is the biggest he has seen in his two decades at the auction house.

"The collector has focused on quality and condition as well. He has very carefully selected interesting views to get the best possible prints, and the Lamberts, almost without exception, are in very good or excellent condition.

"There are good dark tones in them, and some of those which aren't in good condition are just the best available."

Mr Fattorini forsees strong demand for the images. "The market for photography in general is very strong, especially for photographs of places where few people went to with cameras, such as China, South-east Asia, Australasia and Latin America."

While Singapore's National Heritage Board declined to comment on the photographs, citing "potential impact on the upcoming auction", the sale has been welcomed by historians and heritage enthusiasts here.

Heritage blogger and naval architect Jerome Lim says of G.R. Lambert's pictures: "As one of the first photographers in Singapore, his work provides a visual record of much of Singapore, its people and gives a glimpse of life in those days."

However, he adds that while the original prints are hard to come by, the images themselves are not unusual.

"While good quality prints are rare, many of the photographs had been reproduced by the photographer as pictorial postcards and some are quite common from that perspective," he explains.

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