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Johnson Publishing Photo and Media Archive



Hilco Streambank served as the agent for Miriam R. Stein, chapter 7 trustee of the estate of Johnson Publishing Company, in connection with the sale process for the company’s historic photography and media archive. The photographs and related materials found in the archive, once owned by Johnson Publishing, the former publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, are the singular collection chronicling the African American experience in the latter half of the 20th century. They represent more than 4 million images and thousands of hours of video and music footage, dating back to 1948. The archive featured photographs of famous people such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr. and Muhammad Ali and iconic moments in history such as the Emmitt Till murder and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral, as well as images of everyday life of African Americans.

The Process

Hilco Streambank reached out to more than 650 potential buyers directly and utilized creative distribution methods to spread the word about the opportunity, including creating an Instagram account featuring some of the most iconic images. We worked closely with the company’s archivist to provide detailed information regarding the contents of the archive and facilitated viewing opportunities for interested parties and media outlets.


Hilco Streambank conducted an auction for the archive assets that opened with a bid of $7.5 million. Following an auction that spanned 3 days, the archive was sold for $30 million to a consortium of foundations, comprised of The J. Paul Getty Trust, The Ford Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The foundation consortium will donate the archive to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Getty Research Institute, and other leading cultural institutions for the public benefit to ensure the broadest access for the general public and use by scholars, researchers, journalists, and other interested parties.

Ms. Stein, the chapter 7 trustee, stated “Hilco Streambank did an incredible job of marketing this unique asset to a wide range of potential buyers in a very compressed timeframe. These efforts generated a very robust set of highly qualified bidders to the auction. The final purchase price was an outstanding result for the estate and the process that the Hilco Streambank team ran exceeded our expectations in terms of finding an ideal buyer that would be a great steward for this historic asset.

The sale was covered extensively in the media. See here for selected coverage.


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