Cottingley Fairies hoax photos could fetch £2,000 at auction

Photographs depicting the Cottingley Fairies, widely considered one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century, are expected to sell for £2,000 at auction.

The two images of the apparently mythical beings were taken in July and September 1917 by 16-year-old Elsie Wright and her nine-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths, in Cottingley, a small village near Bingley in Yorkshire.

One photo shows Frances with four dancing fairies and the other shows Elsie seated with a one-foot tall dancing gnome.

The youngsters believed in fairies and were determined to prove their existence to the world.

They succeeded in their mission, fooling the Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Experts expect the photos to fetch £2,000 when they are sold at Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Cirencester, Gloucestershire on 4 October.

The girls later admitted to faking the photos using coloured paper cut outs and hat pins

Using Elsie’s father’s Midg quarter-plate camera, coloured paper cut-outs and hat pins, the young girls set up their fairy scenes near the stream at the end of Elsie’s garden.

The photos first came to popular attention when Elsie’s mother, Polly, who also believed in fairies, took them in 1919 to show members of the Theosophical Society in Bradford where they were giving a lecture on fairy life.

They impressed the group so much that leading society member Edward Gardner enlisted photography expert Harold Snelling to produce photographic prints of them to be sold at Gardner’s theosophical lectures in 1920.

About the same time, the photos caught the attention of Sir Arthur, a leading spiritualist believer, who wanted to use them to accompany a magazine article he was writing about fairies.

Sherlock Holmes novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to use the photos to accompany his magazine article on fairies
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to use the photos to accompany his magazine article on fairies

Gardner later met the girls and organised a camera and plates for them to capture more pictures of fairies.

The youngsters managed to “capture” three more images of themselves with fairies, in the summer of 1920.

The publication of Sir Arthur’s article provoked a public controversy with leading scientist and writers debating the veracity of the photographs.

The bizarre events inspired the 1997 films FairyTale: A True Story and Photographing Fairies.

Auctioneer and photography specialist Chris Albury said: “These photographs are surprisingly rare and much sought after.

“While there was a lot of scepticism in the authenticity of the photographs at the time, the story never went away and Elsie and Frances only confessed that the photographs had been faked in 1983, Frances even then maintaining the fifth photograph was genuine and that she believed in fairies.”

In 1998, five photographs of the so-called fairies, other items belonging to Frances and Sir Arthur’s book, The Coming of the Fairies, were sold at auction at Sotheby’s for £21,620.

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Cottingley Fairies hoax photos could fetch £2,000 at auction

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