Saturday, September 5, 2009

Vintage Love

I began collecting vintage photographs about 25 years ago while shopping at auctions and flea markets with my mother, who is an antiques dealer.  Often, if we lasted to the bitter end of an auction, we'd be rewarded with odds and ends and box lots of items that no one else wanted, but that often housed magical treasures.  I bought many an old medicine cabinet or handmade set of vintage paper dolls or artist's paint boxes this way.  I also began scooping up old family photo albums for, quite literally, pennies.  Something about seeing old photographs of long gone days made my heart ache, especially since no one wanted them, but it wasn't just a sentimental pull; I loved the images, the clothing, the houses, and the subjects, whether posed in a studio by a professional photographer or taken by family and friends.  I was hooked by these sepia images of individuals, most of whom were no longer living, but whose lives spoke to me from those crumbling albums and shoe boxes.
Today, I have many boxes and albums of my own, most dating from somewhere between 1900 and 1935.  I can no longer buy as many photos as I used to.  The market for vintage photos is quite hot now, so a single photo can go for anywhere from $2 to $20 or $30 or sometimes even more, depending on the subject, age, and quality.  I used to buy whole albums for less than $5.  Those days are pretty much over.  Now, I limit myself to really special single photos or albums that are handmade.  
While I was in London in August, I discovered one such album at Spitalfields.  It's made of heavy watercolor paper, completely hand stitched and hand glued together by someone who took great care.  The cover is decorated with watercolor roses, and all the photo slots inside--dozens and dozens of them--are hand cut.  I wish I knew the name of the dealer who sold it to me.  He had marvelous photos, and he knew that this album was special, but he gave me a reasonable price. 
The photos inside date from 1900 to 1905.  Their caption dates are all written in French.  The earliest ones are of a group of young women in various classes at school, but as time passes, more and more young men are included in the pictures and the groupings become more social occasions and outings.  I wanted to share just a few of these with you because I know so many of you love photography and collecting just as much as I do.

These last two are of Martha Lust.  I adore her expression in this final photo.  I wish I'd known her.  I often use vintage photos as inspiration for my writing.  Martha would make a wonderful fictional character.
I will admit that collecting vintage photos is a bit of an addiction for me.  I am that woman you see at flea markets hunched over the paper dealer's table, rifling through boxes and piles of photos, culling out just a few to add to her favorites.  These days I look for photos of beautiful interiors, images that feature friendships, pictures of children with animals, and pictures of women in occupations other than teaching (quite rare).  I also love farm pictures or pictures where people are laughing.  Of course, pictures in which people are wearing beautiful clothing are always special, too.  Sometimes I also find interesting photos of factories or other more industrial subjects; these are often fascinating.  
So, now you know one of my collecting addictions.  How about you, my friends?  Anyone share a similar passion?  If so, what do you collect and why?


  1. Gigi,

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful images so evocative of another time.

    Happy weekend!


  2. Lovely,
    I adore old photographs, enjoy looking at the fashion & the sepia tone especially...I wonder sometimes about their life & so on...I like her name very much, Martha Lust! ~Have a lovely weekend Gigi & enjoy your family visit!


  3. I treasure the old photo's from the family. I have some really fantastic ones. My nana told me that her mother used to have a few albums, but she never knew what became of them.

  4. Such a fantastic collection, Gigi... these photos are so beautiful, really a step back in time. Collections--do my stack of fabric, yarn, ribbons, beads and baubles count as collecting? ;o) I also am a great lover of books, hubby & I are surrounded by books and music mostly. I used to collect a lot of tea set, tea pots, anything tea time related. I had to downsize the china collection when we moved, but still have favorite pieces I use all the time. I don't collect the china as much now for lack of space to display and store, but I don't mind. My favorite bits get used and loved. :o) Happy weekend, my friend ((HUGS))

  5. I love these pictures. The ladies, how exquisite. It makes me think of long gone days and the lives these women would have lived. What was it really like for them?
    Collections: masks from Venice, because the handmade ones are so beautiful.
    Beautiful glass perfume bottles from Turkey, just because they are so romantic looking.
    Beautiful paper for scrapbooking and fingering, just because it makes me feel good.

  6. I used to collect vintage photos as well, on and off. No particular themes, but the images were usually of women, and I think chosen because of a certain expression on their faces that spoke to me...

  7. and "Lust" is an amazing last name!

  8. How wonderful, and in such great shape. I've been through various collections over the years, but I finally gave it up and sold much of what I had collected. My taste went a bit more contemporary, and I was overwhelmed with stuff. I'm still drawn to antique dishes and I'm fighting the urge to start collecting kitchen towels and aprons. I'm fascinated by the patterns and colors.

  9. I'm so glad you collect these old images Gigi...I wish I started collecting them long ago because I've often felt so sad looking at them thrown in some shop...or in some box at a flea one wanting one remembering who they are...It is nice to know they have found a home...a family.

    I have reached a certain age now where I am thinking of divesting rather than collecting...I never thought I would say that!

  10. Great collection of photos, it is sad that the family did not appreciate their story enough to hold onto them but nice that they have a chance to shine in a new light.

  11. Gigi, this is such a fascinating collection of old photos. These wonderful old images raise so many questions - who were these people, what were their lives like, what happened to them, how did the photos end up for sale in a market? Sadly no answers, but I guess you can make up your own! Leigh

  12. is it possible we were separated at birth? i have almost been in tears at auctions or yard sales where there is a box of old photos ... real precious, cherished photos that no one seems to care about at all ... i can barely stand to pass by those faces ... and yes, i do have some displayed in our home ~ not a clue who they are, but they have a home now ...
    and yes, i have spent lots of time musing about the setting, their clothes, expressions ... and i laughed when you spoke about loving the pics of folks laughing, cuz they all seemed pretty solemn back 'in the day'!
    some souls are happy that we care for them ...
    i get the same feeling driving around the countryside and looking at old fallen down farm yards ...
    you are such a wonderful soul, gigi ~
    prairiegirl xo

  13. oh! i just had a thought ... i wonder if some day ... when i am long gone and family members are going through boxes of old pictures, if they will try and relate these 'strangers' to our family!
    and that got me to thinking about when our oldest son and his cousin went golfing when they were about 12 at a golf course near my brother-in-law's summer cottage ... they were waiting for this overly large group to start golfing when someone yelled for everyone to gather for a group picture. not knowing what was really happening our boys got in the group ... had their picture taken ... and it was a little later that they realized that they were actually in a family reunion picture and no one seemed to know they weren't part of the family! we laugh big tears every time we recall that story ... that family will always be trying to 'place' these two boys in their family photo!
    i couldn't resist sharing that one with you ...
    giggling all the way,
    prairiegirl xo

  14. Oh, what a treasure. Thank you so much for sharing it. Now I will be waiting eagerly for the story of Martha Lust. What a terrific name.

    As to what I collect... books. Books, books, and more books.

  15. I have been working on a "family wall" for when the Root Cellar (yes, pun intended) Pub at Oak Hill is done. I do have some wonderful old photos of my grandparents generation but it is sad how quickly there is no one around who can positively identify the people in the pictures. A lesson to be learned for sure! I also love to collect the "Yard Photos" of regiments, classes or whatever group. Such fun to see people who have walked this planet before us and imagine the struggles and joys their lives brought to them.


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