FRESNO, Calif. – A trove of old glass negatives bought by a Fresno painter for $45 at a garage sale a decade ago has been authenticated as the work of iconic photographer Ansel Adams and is worth at least $200 million, a lawyer said Tuesday.

Attorney Arnold Peter said a team of experts has concluded the 65 negatives are from the early work of Adams, one of the world’s foremost nature photographers. It was believed the work had been destroyed in a fire in 1937.

Rick Norsigian, a 64-year-old painter for the Fresno Unified School District and an avid antiques collector, said that after he bought the negatives, he noticed they resembled Adams’ photographs of Yosemite National Park. He spent years consulting experts in an attempt to prove they were authentic despite repeated claims from Adams’ family that they were not the work of the famed photographer.

Eventually, Norsigian hired Peter to assemble a team of experts, who announced the findings of their final report at a news conference Tuesday morning at a Beverly Hills art gallery.

“These photographs are really the missing link,” Peter said Tuesday. “They really fill the void in Ansel Adams’ early career.”

Adams is best known for his striking black-and-white photographs, mainly landscapes, of the American West. He died in 1984 at age 82.

Art appraiser David W. Streets said he conservatively estimated the negatives’ value at $200 million, based on current sales of Adams’ prints and the potential for selling reproductions.

“When I heard that $200 million (figure), I got a little weak,” Norsigian said at the news conference.

“This has been such a long journey. I thought I’d never get to the end,” he said.

An exhibition of 17 of the photographs is planned for October at California State University, Fresno, and a documentary is planned on the negatives’ sale and authentication, Peter said. A website for selling prints also has been established, he said.

Norsigian has had trouble figuring out how the negatives wound up in Fresno. He said the person who sold the glass plates to him at the garage sale told him they had been stored in an abandoned Los Angeles warehouse. Norsigian has lost contact with that person, however, and he said he hasn’t had any success trying to figure out how the box of negatives got to the warehouse.

One theory is that they were stored there in the early 1940s while Adams taught in Los Angeles.