NYTs: From That Instant Thrill, Enduring Art, Now for Sale

Published: February 10, 2010

In the 1960s about half of all American households owned a Polaroid camera, according to the company’s own estimates. And while the instant thrill of having a tangible record of first birthdays, prom nights, vacations and Christmas dinners was the driving force behind the company’s success, its revolutionary product also changed forever the way many artists worked. Ansel Adams captured some fabled images of Yosemite National Park using a Polaroid; Andy Warhol and Chuck Close took Polaroid portraits — of themselves, friends and celebrities — and William Wegman used a Polaroid to shoot his beloved Weimaraners.

Now some of those works, as well as conventional prints that Polaroid’s founder, Edwin H. Land, brought together in one of the most storied collections in photography — a visual diary of 20th-century culture — are going on the auction block.

The sale is the result of a different history, that of Polaroid. The company that Mr. Land started in 1937 became a victim of the digital age, going bust first in 2001 and again in 2008. The second time, after it was bought by Petters Group Worldwide, Polaroid was caught up in a $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme run by the company’s founder, a Minnesota businessman named Tom Petters, who was convicted in December of fraud and money laundering, among other charges.

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