A photograph of the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish pencil factory superintendent, in Marietta, Georgia, was sold for $3,125 at an auction.
The warm-toned photograph on postcard stock includes a pencilled caption on the back by an unidentified hand with the words: “Hanging of Leo Frank.” It sold at Sotheby’s on October 3.
The seller of the postcard, a private New York collector, said he bought the postcard years ago. After realizing that he was never going to display the photo in his house (“too gruesome,” he said) and that there probably wasn’t much of a venue for showcasing it, he decided to put it on the block.
He approached all the major auction houses, but they declined the offer. “The subject matter was too controversial,” he said.
Finally, Sotheby’s agreed to auction it. Dan Abernethy, of Sotheby’s press office, said that it isn’t unusual for Sotheby’s to include famous images of important, yet disturbing historical events, such as the present work. This was not the only photograph related to Jewish history in last week’s sale, and it wasn’t the highest priced, either. A work by Roman Vishniac taken in Warsaw circa 1933-38 was also included, which sold for $5,000.
Calls made by Sotheby’s to the buyer of the lynching photo, regarding his or her identity, or the reason for the purchase, were not returned.