Cabinet card photograph of four men getting into a rowboat mockup in a studio with a painted backdrop. By J.A. Sweet, North Baltimore, Ohio. 1880’s.
When I think of David, I have fond memories of Orchids (he used to grow them), and fencing class, horse riding fast, free and wild, and the RISD nature lab. Here in this magical place filled with bones, and artifacts and thousands of specimens of natural history, we would spend hours drawing. I often mix up friends from high school and undergrad, they are a creative lot and both schools are deeply seated in the arts. David is one of those friends who isn’t mixed. We attended a high school in Detroit and then went on to study in Providence, Rhode Island. I majored in Architecture and David, in Illustration. Some twenty plus years later, we both find ourselves enamored with Photography. David is an antiques dealer specializing in vintage photography, daguerreotypes and salt prints, polaroids and snapshots of our childhoods, and vintage ephemera. Here is a story about an ephemera collector and a few examples from his collection.
“I really only became a dealer because I was a collector. It certainly wasn’t a get rich quick scheme. And didn’t have a mentor to inspire me. It was really just so I could spend more time looking at photography. When gas was cheap, I used to drive 50-60,000 miles a year. I was going to antiques shows in the eastern half of the US. I would often drive 3 hours just to go to one auction, because they listed photography for sale. This was long before the internet, so things seemed less common back then, and the hunt was more of an adventure. I’ve seen a lot of small towns in America, and have met a lot of people. I haven’t been on a pure vacation in over 20 years. Ever since I began collecting, no matter where I went, I would look in shops and flea markets looking for things to buy. Whether it was a family vacation to the United Kingdom or China, I couldn’t stay away from the hunt entirely.”
Gelatin silver print circa 1910’s. Dedham, MA
LL: When did you start collecting?
DC: I started collecting photography while I was studying Illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. It all started when I was looking around an antiques shop on the west side of Providence, looking for inspiration for a project. There was a box full of snapshots, priced at 25 cents each. Sifting thru the box I found that they were all documenting one woman’s life. Arranging them in order by age, I realized I could make a narrative about her life. It was the story of a largely lonely life, with only one girlfriend and her husband as her companions. They traveled together, and spent some time together. But ultimately it was a solitary life of a spinster with no family. My initial idea was to make a collage with them telling the story of this woman. But when I got home I felt guilty about the idea of cutting up her photos, so I kept them intact in some box. This was the beginning of my collection. 25 years later, they are only worth what I paid for them. They are completely ordinary snapshots, without any historic or artistic merit. But assembled together, they tell a poignant story of some unknown woman lost in time. So I found photography interesting for it’s story telling potential.
I think I’ve sold a postcard for around $400. I’ve bid on postcards in auctions that eventually went for $2,000-$4,000, far beyond what I bid. I’m not sure, but I think postcards have gone for $5-6,000. The most I ever bid on a postcard was back when I first started buying Real Photo Post Cards around 1996. It was in a catalog auction, with bidding closing once there are no more phone calls for like ten minutes. I think I left a bid up to $1,350, then went to bed, only to wake up having lost it. At the time I thought it was an insane bid and no one would bid higher. It depicted a group of naked men bathing themselves in the middle of a forest. I’d sold a lot of photography to gay customers, and it would’ve been one of the best images I had to offer them. Frankly, that was probably way beyond what most of my customers would’ve paid. But I didn’t care, because it was one of those images that converted me to RPPC’s. It actually would’ve fit really well in my trees collection.