Treasure Among the Snaps

            I would like to speak to you all seriously about a very important topic.

            Unfortunately, I can’t think of one.  So instead, we’re going to consider those old family pictures you don’t know how to handle.

            I have–coincidentally, I’m sure—received two collections of family pictures this year.  They weren’t huge, but each involved a dozen or more photographs.  One was fairly concentrated in the 1920s and 1930s; the other clearly covered about sixty years.

            This happens accidentally all the time, of course: people stick their pictures in books and forget about them.  In one case, I had a family which never invested in a photo album at all, but simply stuck pictures into whatever book was handy.  I found myself with over 200 photographs that time: grandpa’s baseball team in 1913, somebody’s dog in 1947, and so on.  I called up the family and asked, and got a cry of, “Oh no!  We thought we pulled all those out!  Keep ‘em!”  I wonder how many there were to begin with.

            But these donors knew they were handing pictures over.  What they did NOT know was why they had them in the first place.  “Can’t be MY family: they look too Presbyterian!” said one.  In the other case, the pictures were of people who were an entirely different color.  Both people theorized that it was a matter of neighbors sharing graduation pictures and such but then moving away.  After a few decades the identity of the people in the pictures–of course unlabeled–has been lost.

            Y’know, there are almost certainly caches of these things all over the Greater Chicago Area.  So I thought I might pass along some guidelines about which pictures might be worth money in the online market, either so you can feel less guilty about sending them to me, or sell them INSTEAD of sending them to me.  Watch for pictures of:

            Vehicles: I once sold two massive scrapbooks on eBay simply on the strength of one photo of the owner’s brother with his 1939 Harley.  If the car or bike or boat shows up really well, someone out there wants it.

            Halloween Costumes: There is an army of collectors for mementoes of what parents do to their children when they’re being ingenious.  Sorry-looking toddlers in droopy bunny ears, little boys in pinafores, and anything else that would leave serious psychological damage is highly collectible.

            Cute Puppies and Kitties: These are perennial.  If you have to ask, you’re in the wrong blog.

            Decade-Specific Clothes: Not just those jeans you never changed throughout the 60s.  I mean something so solidly of its age you can’t mistake it: the four-inch platform shoes, the bell-bottoms that flare eight inches from the ankle, the ruffled blouse…and if you had a mustache too, that’s perfect.

            Mistakes: There is a market out there for photographic mistakes.  You’ve seen the picture where everybody’s head moved just as the shutter clicked, the one the photographer took before anyone had time to smile, the wedding picture where the dove flew right in front of the bride’s face….  Back in the pre-digital age, you couldn’t delete these groaners, and that’s what makes them special today.

            I could go on, but maybe you get the idea.  Anything that lends a bit of unusual interest—be it a hat, a banjo, or a calico kitten—can sell an unidentified photograph.  Young Presbyterian-looking men holding diplomas, college-bound coeds standing next to a suitcase, middle-aged couples pointing at their motel just outside of Zap, South Dakota, on the other hand, are worth selling only if you can PROVE they killed somebody.

            It’s the way of the world.

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