Item #2546 Signed Photograph. NIKOLA TESLA.
Signed Photograph
Signed Photograph

Signed Photograph


Albumen print, signed and inscribed by Tesla on the original gray mount: "To my friend E. E. Bartlett, New York, June 9, 1896, Nikola Tesla." The photograph shows Tesla in profile seated before the spiral coil of his high-voltage transformer at his East Houston St., New York, laboratory.

The photograph, in addition to being arguably the most famous and dramatic portrait of Tesla, is scientifically significant, for it served as a demonstration of the power of his new technique of providing illumination with vacuum tubes.

A reproduction of the photograph appeared in the May 20, 1896 issue of Electrical Review, alongside an article where a reporter interviewed Tesla about the novel circumstances of the creation of this photo:

“As to his continuous efforts to improve his system of lighting by vacuum tubes, with which he has been identified during a number of years, Tesla said that he has been more successful than he had ever dared to hope. His methods of conversion from ordinary to high-frequency currents are rendered simple in the extreme, the devices are thoroughly reliable and require no attention. Last, but most important of all, he has succeeded in increasing the candle-power of the tubes to practically any intensity desired.

“A remarkable and most telling result of the advances he has made in the last direction is a portrait, which he has reluctantly allowed us to use, and which was obtained by two seconds’ exposure to the light of a single vacuum tube of small dimensions. Tesla stated further that photographs obtained by the light of such powerful tubes show an amount of detail which no picture taken by the sun or flash light is capable of disclosing. This feature is only faintly shown in the reproduction on this page. The photograph was made by Tonnelé & Company, artists’ photographers, who aided Mr. Tesla in his attempts to photograph by the light of phosphorescent tubes about two years ago.

“When asked, Mr. Tesla said, in explanation of the picture, speaking with deep feeling, that the volume he was reading was one of the ‘Scientific Papers,’ of Maxwell, given to him as a token of friendship by Professor Dewar; the chair a gift of his warmest friend, Mr. E. D. Adams; and as to the queer coil to his left, Mr. Tesla hesitatingly remarked that it was the object ‘dearest of all in his laboratory,’ having been a most valuable instrument in his many-sided investigations.

“Mr. Tesla added, good humoredly, that, had it not been for the extraordinary manner in which the photograph was taken, he would not have given this explanation even to such an important personage as the representative of the ELECTRICAL REVIEW.”

Tesla was correct in insisting that the lighting from the vacuum tubes produced a high-level of detail in the photograph; the intricacies of the coil, in particular, appear remarkably sharp. Overall, the photograph has an orange tint, almost certainly the result of his novel lighting technique.

Although this is the only signed example of this photograph we are aware of, it has been reproduced in recent years many times, including serving as the cover image for Marc J. Seifer’s groundbreaking biography of Tesla, Wizard.

Provenance: The recipient, Edward Everett Bartlett (1863-1942) was a celebrated New Yorker (both he and Tesla were featured in Moses King’s Notable New Yorkers, 1896-1899), who founded Bartlett & Co., (later Bartlett Orr Press) on lower Broadway, in 1888. Variously described as an artist, illustrator, printer, and engraver, Bartlett was internationally known as “an expert on newspaper type, and he was credited with the development of much of the linotype type used in newspaper offices throughout the country"; additionally he published several works on the art of the book. (New York Times, Obituary, 1942).

Size: Image, 7 3/4 x 9 1/2 inches; with mount, 8.5 x 11 inches. Archival matting and framed with UV-protecting museum glass to an overall size of 16.5 x 19 inches. Small closed tear in extreme blank bottom margin (matted out). Fine condition.


Price: $290,000 .