When David Whitcomb bought a property in Geneva, New York, he had no idea there were more than 1,000 antique treasures — possibly worth hundreds of thousands of dollars — hidden inside.
Those treasures, including several rare photos of women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony, are going up for auction on September 18 at One Source Auctions and estimated to fetch between $150,000 and $200,000.
The star lot of the J.E. Hale Skylight Studio auction is a rare photo of Anthony taken by Geneva, New York, photographer James “J.E.” Hale in November 1905, a few months before she died on March 13, 1906. Hale gave the copyright to the photo to the Susan B. Anthony Memorial Association, which selected it as her official photograph. The framed 20-inch by 16-inch photograph is one of four known to exist, including one in the US Library of Congress, the listing said. Opening bid is $5,000.
A few weeks after Whitcomb, an attorney, bought the building for his law firm in late 2020, he discovered the photograph, along with more of Hale’s photography, in a hidden studio that had been abandoned for decades.
Whitcomb told CNN in February that the studio area had been sealed off by a drop ceiling that had been installed decades earlier when the building’s third floor was turned into an apartment. He said that the first thing he saw when he made the discovery was a bunch of turn-of-the-century photographs in gold and gilded frames. The studio was also full of more than 1,000 antiques.
“These frames are gorgeous, they’re the turn-of-the-century, they’re gold, gilded, and they shone really bright and I was like ‘Oh my God,'” he said in February. “I lowered myself and said ‘I think we just found the Goonies treasure.'”
Born in 1850, Hale had photographed President Grover Cleveland’s fiancé Francis Folsom in 1885, as well as many other early suffragists, displaying their portraits at the 1907 New York State Woman Suffrage Association in Geneva.
Whitcomb also discovered cameras and other gear, furniture, decor, and portraits of other 20th-century faces. He said he has spent months working on cleaning, identifying, and restoring the collection alongside One Source Auctions. In the lead-up to the auction, he has also been sharing updates about the collection on a dedicated Facebook page.
“Everyone hopes to find treasure someday, and we actually did,” Whitcomb said of his discovery. “That is incredible to think about.”
The 350-lot auction will start at 3 p.m. EST on Saturday, September 18, and will be live at the auction house at 177 S Main St, Canandaigua, NY 14424 and online at Invaluable.com. For more information, visit One Source Auctions.