The original photographs of Sir Edmund Hillary's ascent of Mt Everest are to be exhibited and auctioned for the first time.

The 77 largely black and white photographic prints from that first successful summit on May 29, 1953, were taken by the late British-born photographer Alfred Gregory.

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Gregory, who died in 2010, captured the history-making moments of Sir Ed's famous climb together with Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and their British mountaineering expedition.

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The prints were released by Gregory's wife, Sue Gregory of Australia, to Auckland auction house Webb's to mark what would have been Sir Ed's 100th birthday in July.

Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary just back from the summit of Mt Everest after the first successful climb of the world's highest mountain in May, 1953. Photo / Webb's
Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary just back from the summit of Mt Everest after the first successful climb of the world's highest mountain in May, 1953. Photo / Webb's

Webb's head of art Charles Ninow said there had been "absolutely incredible" demand already, just one day after the auction and exhibition was announced on Thursday.

"They are amazing. We've had calls from all over the place, mainly from Australia and New Zealand. We haven't even hung the exhibition and people are coming into the room and taking snaps of things on their phones."

The auction opens today and runs online for two weeks enabling anybody to bid from anywhere.

A bidder will automatically be alerted if they have been outbid throughout the auction.

Starting prices begin around $300 and go up to several thousand dollars per print but Ninow expects collectors, photographers, historians, mountaineers and just plain Sir Ed admirers will be keen to own a slice of proud Kiwi history.

Sir Edmund Hillary's first cup of tea after descending Mt Everest in May, 1953. The print features in The Journey Captured exhibition at Webb's auction house. Photo / Webb's
Sir Edmund Hillary's first cup of tea after descending Mt Everest in May, 1953. The print features in The Journey Captured exhibition at Webb's auction house. Photo / Webb's

"It's anyone's guess how high the prices will go."

The proceeds will go back to Sue Gregory, now in her 70s.

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Ninow said it was not unusual for the owner of historic artwork or photographs to come forward with the treasure years after their family member's death.

"If you are the sibling or the wife or child of a photographer or an artist, one of the things you get left with is their work and while it might seem incredible to the public that people might have these things squirrelled away for so long, it's a pretty common occurrence.

"This year the timing was right being the centenary of his [Sir Ed's] birth, and I guess she just wanted to get the images out there into the world."

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay at 27,000 feet during their summit of Mt Everest in 1953, as photographed by the late Alfred Gregory. Photo / Webb's
Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay at 27,000 feet during their summit of Mt Everest in 1953, as photographed by the late Alfred Gregory. Photo / Webb's

The auction closes on October 14 and during that time buyers can visit the exhibition at Webb's in Mt Eden, Auckland, to view the framed prints.

Next Saturday Webb's will host Alexa Johnston, curator of the exhibition Sir Edmund Hillary: Everest and Beyond for Auckland War Memorial Museum, for a talk in collaboration with Art Week.

That session starts at 11am.