COLLECTING ANTIQUE PHOTOGRAPHS

by Joelle Steele

Are you one of those people who gets teary-eyed at the sight of old photographs sitting in bins and boxes in dusty antique shops and second hand stores? Have you always wanted to own some of these wonderful images? Well, if you love antique photos and have the disposable income – even a very small budget – you can invest in and collect them. All it takes is time, a little money, and some knowledge of what you're buying.

How much do antique photos cost? It depends on what you like and what is available. For those with deep pockets, almost anything is within your reach, providing it is not already firmly ensconced in a museum or someone’s private collection. If you’re pinching pennies, there are still many affordable photographs looking for a home. A friend of mine collects photos and rarely spends more than $50 on each. He often brags of ones he has purchased for a mere $5.

The important thing to remember when buying old photos is that how much you pay for a photo is not as important as how well you like it and how it fits in with the rest of your collection, or the collection you want to build. Like the guidelines for collecting art, buy only the photos you love. Also, take the time to learn about antique photographic processes and how to identify the type of photo you are purchasing.

Where do you go to buy antique photos? There are great buys to be made at garage sales, antique malls, junk stores, auction houses, eBay, etc. Once you decide to collect, you'll probably start to see opportunities everywhere to invest in antique photographs. But, no matter who you buy from, beware. Make sure that you are buying the real thing. Never rely only on what the seller says. Do your homework, finding out everything you can about a photo and even the seller. This is especially important when you're investing more than $100 on a photo.

What should you buy? Most of my friends, acquaintances, and clients specialize in some way. A wedding planner collects only antique wedding photos; a librarian collects old Victorian-era photos of children; a teacher collects photos of politicians; an artist collects only Daguerreotypes; another artist collects only portraits; a writer collects antique photos of cars and other street vehicles; and a son of an architect collects photos of old houses. It's all about what you like, what you find interesting. You may be a generalist at first and then find yourself becoming more specialized with time.

Be sure that you take good care of your collection. Learn how to handle and store your photos. Don't expose them to direct sunlight, dampness, or excessive heat. That sounds a little like a museum, but you should be able to achieve a suitable environment in your own house with just a little forethought and planning. Some of the oldest kinds of photos will probably need to be stored in more carefully controlled environments.

Good luck in your search for that first treasure in your photo collection. When you find it, it will be a moment you never forget!

This article last updated: 03/06/2015.