Trending: vintage photographs

One of my prized possessions is a 30’s-era photo album, which I found nearly intact at Old Sau’s Resale and Antique Shop on Lincoln Avenue just after I first moved to Chicago in 1997. Its black and white photos chronicle the friendship of two young couples who travel, picnic and celebrate the holidays together. A large, gray-haired woman wearing a long house dress and round wire glasses appears from time-to-time sporting a stern, almost scowling expression, but I love her anyway. I like to imagine that tough is her schtick and the whole family loves her, but she was probably just mean. As I flip through the embossed album’s black pages, summer turns to winter, babies show up and everybody starts to fill out and look older. I wonder what happened to them. And what about the missing photos? Did they just fall out over the years? Were they snatched up by family and friends? Or did they get scooped up by somebody like my friend Albert Tanquero, a vintage photography dealer?

The Vintage Bazaar co-founder Libby Alexander created this wall collage in her and boyfriend Ryan’s West Andersonville apartment. Click here for their Open House.

Vintage photos are still widely available in thrift stores*, but good ones are getting harder and harder to find. Dealers like Albert are selling them for top dollar on Ebay and collectors are squirreling them away into their private collections. While it’s still possible to find a box with $1 photos, Tanquero says most are priced between $8 (“Eight dollars it the new $5,” says Albert) to hundreds of dollars for highly sought after subjects like African Americans, gay interest and military (particularly WWII). But people collect subjects that appeal to them. Regional photography is hot with some locales, like Atlantic City, more valued than others. A small black and white photo of two piglets sitting on a velvet Victorian sitting chair priced at $175 was much admired at an Allentown, Pennsylvania photo show Albert recently attended. “Everybody was raving about the piglets,” says Albert. “I should have bought it.”

Photograph: Nathan Kirkman for Chicago Home + Garden

But how do I display them in my own home?

In a recent Chicago Home + Garden article (Still Life, July – August 2010) vintage photos are pinned thick to the walls, different eras overlapping each other. It’s visually striking, but if that look’s too chaotic for you, the decorative possibilities are endless. Imagine a grid of vintage photos spaced an inch or two apart as an accent wall. Or the same look on all four walls with a writing desk in the middle of the room. Or framed. Or scattered on a table as a part of a vignette. That one’s easy. I tried it. (top photo and below). This trend’s not here yet, but I think it’s coming. What do you think? Do you use vintage photos in your decor?

For more information about vintage photography, Albert recommends the following blogs:

Square America


House of Mirth Photo blog

Swapatorium2 on Flickr


Please also check out Albert’s engrossing Flickrstream Albert’s EYE and his Ebay store. Albert and his partner, Jim York, also use photography and ephemera in their stationary company The Found. Their latest line of photo booth cards are really beautiful. It’s not often that a greeting card strikes the appropriate romantic note (heartfelt but not too sweet nor too sappy), but these are perfect.

Photo booth cards from The Found.

My own vintage photography decor experiment. Also top photo.

Design Rules: Family gets framed, and strangers get scattered on the table.

* In Chicago, try Brownstone Antiques, Broadway Antique Market and Edgewater Antique Mall.

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6 Responses to “Trending: vintage photographs”

  1. I always scour through the bins and boxes of photos whenever Isee them. I was just in DC and visited Miss Pixie’s anitques and saw a bunch of ncie ones in the bin there – now I’m thinking I should have bought them! Doh!

  2. I really enjoyed this article, as a selller of vintage photographs I’m always interested to see what buyers and collectors are doing with these small bits of history!

  3. Brownstone Antiques always has a bin of photos. I got most of my collection from there. Except that large photo on the right is my grandfather as a teen. Handsome!

  4. I always think people should work harder to keep and preserve the photos of their own family, although go back more than 2 generations and nobody can name who anyone is. So in a way random people are all kind of our history anyway.

  5. Please visit our sales gallery of original African American cultural artifacts, lovingly rescued from estate sales and auctions around the country.

    We offer several artifactual genres.

    Our antique image offerings range predominately from the 1800s to the 1940s. There are photos of African American families, church groups, children, couples. There is professional portraiture; there are many vernacular and “found” photographs. There are cabinet card photos, RPPCs, cartes de visite, and tintypes. African Americans, from myriad locales, rural and urban, are always the focal point.