Few have heard of Henry Peter Bosse, but his 19th-century photographs have earned a home in a federal vault—and a single album is worth $4.5 million. Sotheby's recently appraised the album, which illustrates the changing Mississippi River in the 1880s, and its value had quadrupled over 20 years. But the album's history isn't so illustrious: It spent more than 50 years on a dredge vessel where it appears to have been barely noticed, the Star Tribune reports.
Bosse was born in Prussia in 1844 and moved to North America a few decades later. Schooled in engineering and art, he mapped the Mississippi for the US Army Corps of Engineers, and he brought a camera with him. "He set things up like a painting and captured the first major transformation from the natural to the commercial river," says a historian who tracked down the album after it had sat on the dredge from 1937 to 1989. Though the images are currently in the Army Corps' vault, officials are planning to send them to the Minnesota Historical Society. Click through to see a Star Tribune video with the images.