Previously lost photos of historic All Blacks teams could return to New Zealand

Rare photos of historic All Blacks teams, believed to have been lost forever, could soon return to New Zealand.

The photographs are currently owned by an American, but are being auctioned in Auckland.

Two hundred and fifteen photos, ranging from 1920-45, include one of the 1924 'Invincibles' team being welcomed in England by the Prince of Wales. 

There are also the 1924 team doing the haka at Twickenham and the first test of the 1937 South Africa team tour in Wellington.

"A 1937 photo of South Africa playing the All Blacks in New Zealand," says former All Black Shane Howarth said. "I mean, it's just far out." 

More photos include the post-war rugby team walking through a bombed London in 1945, the New Zealand Army team outside Buckingham Palace in 1946 and candid photos of the first superstar All Black, George Nepia.

"You look at these [photos] and you go 'wow', and he's about to probably go blitz everybody," Haworth says.

"I mean, they're just iconic photos, they really are… it's amazing, it's just amazing."

Especially because they were almost all lost.

The photos were the property of newspaper giant Fairfax Media, which owned The Dominion Post and The Christchurch Press, among others, and gave its entire archive to an American company in 2013 to digitise the images.

But the digitising company went broke and the archive ended up in the hands of a US bank. 

"That's when the vendor of the photographs stepped in and purchased the entire archive… with the goal of repatriating them back to New Zealand," says Webb's Auction House head of art Charles Ninow.

Webb's auction house got involved and Ninow made two trips to the United States to organise the sale.

He hopes one Kiwi will buy the whole collection.

"And to have them displayed publicly in a museum or something like that, that would be fantastic," says Ninow.

Buying the entire collection would cost about $100,000.

Currently, the best bid is from an overseas buyer, but they're also for sale individually.

The auction closes on Tuesday night.