By Christina VanGinkel
A fan of photography for as long as I can remember, I never game much thought to collecting older, vintage photographs until I happened upon a box of vintage ephemera including postcards and a few old magazines at an estate sale. I glanced through a few of the postcards and thrilled with what I saw, paid for my find, and headed home happy as could be. Arriving home, I carried my box of treasure inside, a box that to some surely looked like nothing more than a box of old paper garbage, and carefully began sorting through my find. Tucked at the very bottom of the box was what at first appeared to be just one more magazine, but was actually just the cover of one. Inside laid stacked an assortment of vintage photos. Military picture, wedding snapshots, pictures of cars and snow banks, cows, and tress, some that appeared to be of historical aspects of buildings, (a stunning shot of a figural tin ceiling) and quite a few portraits of people in various costume and dress, including typical studio shots and those taken in more relaxed settings outdoors.
To say that I was instantly hooked on collecting vintage photos would be accurate. Maybe it was the writer in me, drawn to these glimpses of lives and times long gone. Many of the photos were obviously local, such as the picture of the inside of a business that showed the tin ceiling. Even though it was taken long before my time, I recognized it as the inside of a building from the main street of my hometown, a street that had burned to the ground save for one building. My family had owned a business in one of the now non-existing buildings, and I grew up admiring the same patterned ceiling from when I was just barely a toddler. The picture I held though showed a store from the turn of the last century, with a big glass counter and showcase, and goods stacked up on shelves and floors. It was instantly one of my favorites. When I find myself stuck on a project, I love to look at that photo and imagine what transpired in that store on any given day.
If you are interested in collecting vintage photos, begin by picking up a copy of a good book such as the Collector's Guide to Early Photographs by O. Henry Mace. It holds a wealth of information on this hobby, including details on types of photos including Calotypes, Wet Plate, and Albumen Prints, along with Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes and Tintypes, and more. Another good book for beginners interested in learning more on the subject of collecting old and vintage photographs is Conservation of Photographs, by George Eaton for Kodak Publications. This book delves into the subject of restoration of vintage pictures, and it is a wealth of general information on the subject too. Somewhat aimed at the more experienced in the field, it is well worth having if you plan to make collecting vintage photos a lifelong hobby.
Once you have gathered a few books on the subject, read up on the various types of photographs, along with the diverse photographers of days past. While coming across a photographic subject by a famous photographer is not my goal, much preferring the more mundane photos taken by the average person, reading up on many of these photographers has helped me learn to discern the differences in types of photos, thus making my collecting of vintage photos that much more interesting a hobby.
Beginning a collection and adding on to it is not that difficult if you take the time to find photographs that really interest you. You can build your collection through outlets such as eBay, antique stores both brick and mortar style and online, estate and rummage sales, and auctions. Do not overlook your own family's closets and attics. Ask your parents or grandparents if they have any old photos they no longer want. Be careful with those you find. Take the time to categorize them and preserve them in a fashion so that future generations can also enjoy them. If you display them, keep them out of direct sunlight, and be sure that they are not stored where moisture or condensation could be a concern.