This may be the world’s oldest photograph. It was scheduled for auction at Sotheby’s but was withdrawn when the provenance was called into question.
It has received quite a lot of media attention since the (non)auction. From the NY Times:
An Image Is a Mystery for Photo Detectives
By RANDY KENNEDY
The phone call was routine, the kind often made before big auctions. Sotheby’s was preparing to sell a striking rust-brown image of a leaf on paper, long thought to have been made by William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the inventors of photography. So the auction house contacted a Baltimore historian considered to be the world’s leading Talbot expert and asked if he could grace the sale’s catalog with any interesting scholarly details about the print — known as a photogenic drawing, a crude precursor to the photograph.
“I got back to them and said, ‘Well, the first thing I would say is that this was not made by Talbot,’ ” the historian, Larry J. Schaaf, recalled in a recent interview.
“That was not what they were expecting to hear, to say the least.”
In the weeks since Dr. Schaaf’s surprising pronouncement was made public, “The Leaf,” originally thought to have been made around 1839 or later, has become the talk of the photo-historical world. The speculation about its origins became so intense that Sotheby’s and the print’s owners decided earlier this month to postpone its auction, so that researchers could begin delving into whether the image may be, in fact, one of the oldest photographic images in existence, dating to the 1790s.
article continues on NYTimes website
A good description of the print is on Tim Atherton’s blog
The following is from the Sotheby’s description (which has been withdrawn):
“This is one of six photogenic drawings that were in an album belonging to Henry Bright, titled in manuscript on a paper label on the cover “Knoll Lodge, 1869.” By the time these were sold by Sotheby’s London in 1984 , the photographs had been extracted from the album, which originally contained numerous watercolors and prints as well. Their fate is unknown. …… In the end, what is certain is perhaps the only factor that really matters in a work of art. This image of a leaf is extraordinary. It arrests our attention as much today as it has done for at least a century and a half, and just possibly more than two centuries.”