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Auctions

Fake fairy photos that even fooled the creator of Sherlock Holmes fetch 10 times their estimated value at UK auction

Images were taken in 1917 by Elsie Wright, 16, and her nine-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths by using Wright’s father’s camera, coloured paper cut-outs, and hat pins

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 October, 2018, 8:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2018, 9:29pm

The Cottingley Fairies photographs, widely considered to be one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century, have sold at auction for more than 10 times their estimated value.

The photographs of the fake fairies were expected to fetch between £700 (US$913) and £1,000 (US$1,300) at Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, but ended up going for more than £20,000 (US$26,100).

They were taken in 1917 by Elsie Wright, 16, and her nine-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths, in the village of Cottingley, near Bingley in West Yorkshire. The two girls used Wright’s father’s camera, coloured paper cut-outs, and hat pins to stage the photos.

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The two photos fooled eminent figures of the 1920s such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, who championed them as genuine. Wright’s mother showed the pictures to members of the Theosophical Society in Bradford, during a lecture on fairy life. Edward Gardner, a leading society member, sold prints of the photographs at his theosophical lectures in 1920.

Conan Doyle, a committed and leading spiritualist, wanted to use the pictures with an article on fairies he had been commissioned to write for the Strand Magazine. Doyle and Gardner met the Wrights and tried to persuade the girls to try to capture more fairy photographs.

Conan Doyle’s article sparked a public debate on the authenticity of the photographs but it was not until the 1980s that the two girls admitted the photos had been faked. Chris Albury, an auctioneer and photography specialist, said the two pictures were sold to UK-based buyers. He said: “We had so much interest and a bank of about eight phone lines but it was the internet that carried both away without any of the phone bidders getting their hands in the air.

“I thought if things went wild we might get to £10,000 for the pair, but these prices are absolutely staggering.”