Gibson shipwreck photo archive brings $195,500 to Sotheby's

The largest and most important archive of shipwreck photographs, taken by four generations of the Gibson family, has sold at Sotheby's.  

Gibson shipwreck photographs
The Gibson family struggled against the elements to document the shipwrecks, acting as local correspondents

The collection was acquired by the National Maritime Museum for £122,500 ($195,253) at the London auction on on November 12.

Lord Sterling of Plaistow, chairman of Royal Museums Greenwich, commented: "The acquisition of this remarkable archive will enable us to create a series of exhibitions that will travel across the country, starting with the South West.

"I am very pleased that the National Maritime Museum has been able to secure this wonderful collection for the nation and I known that the Gibson family are delighted that their family archive will remain and be displayed in this country."

Gibson family shipwreck photographer
The Gibson family of Scilly

The archive includes 1,360 photographs amassed over 125 years by the family. The hobby started with seaman John Gibson, a resident of the Scilly Isles, who began photographing shipwrecks with his two sons in 1869.

The waters between Cornwall and the Scilly Isles are notoriously dangerous, ensuring no shortage of work for the Gibsons, who eventually became the island's news correspondents.

Yet photojournalism in the 1800s was a hazardous profession, with the family forced to carry their heavy equipment and portable dark room over treacherous cliff tops to reach the wrecks.

The top bids of the sale were seen by a French language edition of the first pilot guide of the Mediterranean with printed charts, which was published by Willem Barentsz in 1607. Having set the standard for all future pilot guides, the book sold for £134,500 ($214,810).

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