One Question Quiz
Lot 7: Barbara Anderson, 1989 (Photo: Fairfax Archives)
Lot 7: Barbara Anderson, 1989 (Photo: Fairfax Archives)

BooksFebruary 2, 2023

Literary Aotearoa is going up for auction

Lot 7: Barbara Anderson, 1989 (Photo: Fairfax Archives)
Lot 7: Barbara Anderson, 1989 (Photo: Fairfax Archives)

Between midnight February 3 and 8pm on February 10, rare photographs of New Zealand writers will be up for auction on the Fairfax Archives website. Books editor Claire Mabey explains.

So, what is this auction?

As of midnight on February 3 you can bid on pieces of literary history. The Fairfax Archives’ online auction called “Poets, essayists and novelists (Part 1)” has over 200 vintage photos of Aotearoa writers, taken by Fairfax Media and originally published in one of six regional newspapers between 1840 and 2005. 

There are 229 lots in this auction and scrolling through, one might be forgiven for getting actually really quite emotional. There are images of Keri Hulme, Maurice Gee, Sam Hunt, Barbara Anderson, Fleur Adcock, Sylvia Ashton-Warner, Joy Cowley, Allen Curnow, Lauris Edmond and Lynley Dodd, among many more. 

Of the collection, managing director of the Fairfax Archives and owner of the Duncan Miller Gallery, Daniel Miller says, “This collection is only one of many that were rescued last fall when an irreplaceable visual archive of the country’s 19th and 20th century history was placed on the open market after almost a decade under foreign ownership.” 

What are the Fairfax Archives?

In short, they’re the stash of original photographs created by Fairfax Media for use in Fairfax Publications. The archives were in danger of being destroyed but were bought by a US gallery owner just in the nick of time.

Fairfax Publications operated in New Zealand between 1841 – 2018 (Fairfax New Zealand Limited was renamed Stuff Limited in 2018, and sold to Sinead Boucher for a buck in 2020). Over that time Fairfax Media amassed over 1 million images. In 2013, Fairfax Media sent those to the US to be digitised. In a crazy turn of events the business to which the images were sent was linked to sports memorabilia fraud and came under investigation by the FBI. The Fairfax images were seized as collateral against a US$14million dollar fraud, and got stuck there.

The images were at risk of being destroyed until Daniel Miller’s Los Angeles gallery interceded: “We purchased the original prints on the assumption that an institution in each country would repatriate its national collection in its entirety. While some images have been returned to relevant organizations, there are still millions of photographs now available for purchase by the public.

You can read the full explainer at The Spinoff, here

So how do I bid? And how much? 

Most estimates shown on the photos are between $200 – $400, with some $300 – $500 (like the pic of Keri Hulme below). 

To bid, you first have to register to bid by creating an account with Once you’ve registered and been approved to bid, go to the Lot number you’re after and click “bid” to put in the next highest offer. You can also put in a maximum bid (absentee bid).

You can read the full details (and notes about being liable to pay the full price if you do win) here. And you can scroll through all 229 photos in the lit auction, here.

Are the photos one-of-a-kind? 

Mostly. Miller explains, “The negatives for many of these photographs have been lost or degraded over time, and these photographs offered are often the only copy available outside public institution collections.”

Can you give us some examples of pics so I don’t have to scroll around?

With pleasure. Here are a collection of a few faves that stood out to this broke non-buyer. Send me a photo of the photo you won, if you win, please.

Keri Hulme (Photo: Fairfax Archives)

Lot 197, Keri Hulme, 1984

I love this image of the author of one of the greatest novels ever written (the bone people). The iconic pipe, the half-pint, the pinky ring and that beautiful hat. The smoke captured unfurling upwards like thoughts. 

Kate Camp (Photo: Fairfax Archives)

Lot 70, Kate Camp, 2000

I love this! Kate Camp of the mermaid hair and the radiant smile by the sea. Kate’s brilliant book You Probably Think This Song Is About Me was just longlisted in this year’s Ockham New Zealand Book Awards

Kate de Goldi (Photo: Fairfax Archives)

Lot 105, Kate De Goldi, 1999

Helllooo Kate. Love this pic. Straight down the barrel of the lens, amazing hair, windblown. 90s legend.

Robin Hyde (Photo: Fairfax Archives)

Lot 220, Robin Hyde, 1961

Absolutely beautiful image of a literary heroine. If you haven’t heard the Backlisted Podcast episode on Robin Hyde’s The Godwit’s Fly (featuring Paula Morris) then please treat yourself to an hour of fascinating conversation about an astonishing person and writer.

Witi Ihimaera (Photo: Fairfax Archives)

Lot 223, Witi Ihimaera, 1985

A gorgeous picture of one of our most beloved writers, who is celebrating 50 years of being a published author this year. Love that floral mug, the copy of Wahine Toa by Patricia Grace with the Robyn Kahukiwa painting on the cover, of Hinetitama. The typewriter and the casio! The fringed lamp and the rugby jersey.

Keep going!