Friday, July 11, 2008

July 11 ~ Friday From The Collectors

~ because every life has a story ~

Every day I look at dozens, if not hundreds, of photos trying to find the next “jewel” to showcase in my store. What catches my eye might be the slight turn of a head, or a look in the eyes, or even a hint of comedy that sets these photos apart from the rest. These will be the ones that will be auctioned and brought to my wonderful customers who have the same passion for old images that I do. But how did this love for old photos begin?

I think the first memory I have of being amazed at these treasures was when my grandmother and I sat on her big old couch in her living room. She pulled out her photo album and as we turned the pages, she began to tell me stories of each one. There were her parents: “Pa & Ma.” and her pioneer grandparents who had traveled across the Great Plains by wagon train before settling their land. As we gazed at the photos of weathered expressionless faces, she was full of their stories. She told of Indians, the prairie, and the old homestead. Today, they would be considered common portrait tintypes, cdvs and cabinet cards, but in my childhood, they were the faces of the most exciting people I had ever seen.

This snapshot is of Pa and his mother
who was one of the pioneers

When I became a teenager, I began to go to antique stores. I never had enough money for any of the bigger items, so I would head to the back of the store and hunt through the box that stored all the old photos. This is when I began collecting. I always wanted to write a book so I would buy photos of people that had a lot of character in their face. I would look up old names at cemeteries and name these “characters.” One of my favorites was a very sly looking man and he was my villain. As I showed off my collection, I found the most common question was: “ Are they your relatives?” Somehow collecting pictures of strangers didn’t make sense to most people.

My sly villain: Arphaxed Loomis

Not knowing quite what to do with my old photographs, I began other collections including crazy quilts, vintage clothing, and love letters. But all of these collections had one thing in common, each one was precious to the people they once belonged to and each one told a story.

Then in 2001, my father died. I found that I wanted to be surrounded by family memories and began to hunt through all our old family pictures. I went to TJMaxx and bought dozens of frames. There was a woman behind me in line that said: “Did someone in your family just die?” Surprised, I said, “Yes, my father, how did you know?” She replied: “I did the same thing a year ago with my mother.”

Realizing that this must be therapeutic, I began to decorate my home entirely in photos. But I didn’t stop with the photos of my family, soon my collections of old photos came out as well, and each room had it’s share of relatives both ours and someone else’s. That Christmas I made ornaments with these old faces, place cards, Christmas cards, and even the garlands that hung around the home held photos trimming them out.

My father and his siblings
Christmas 1920s

I began to look at my collection a bit differently and realized that these beautiful old photos were actually pieces of art. That same year, I was consigned to decorate a coffee shop. For the tables in the restaurant, I used my old photos along with old letters and postcards to adorn the tops. These tables became the talk of the small town; as people would love to sit and just look at and read what was on each table.

At this point I was already an eBay seller, but I was not yet selling photos, not until a few years later when I stumbled on an estate sale that had lots of Vintage wedding photos. I bought them all, and it was that grouping that was the official beginning of becoming a photo seller on eBay. Knowing all about styles of weddings and eras of photos, I quickly found that there were indeed many people who wanted these! So, I opened an eBay store and began to specialize in Wedding photos.

This is a sample of a wedding photo
that has been in my store

Being a good eBay seller means that you always have to have a good stock of merchandise, so the hunt began, I was looking for old wedding photos everywhere. Climbing through attics, heading to flea markets, hitting every garage sale, and meeting sweet old people who loved to tell their stories, it is a hunt anywhere and everywhere to find these treasures.

Soon, I found so many wonderful old images that the business naturally began to expand to include all subjects and eras. Today, in my eBay store I sell photos that span 1860 - 1960s. From Cabinet photos to snapshots, with mid century modern images in the store as well. But I guess that no matter how many different items I might carry, my heart can still be moved with a beautiful portrait.To me they are the true art, God’s very own handiwork, rare images of people that will never be seen again.

A beautiful gaze

A wonderful portrait

A tiny dancer

An RPPC photo of a play

A snapshots that sold recently
One of my all time favorites

I have several thousand photos waiting to go in stock for my store. As for my personal collection, I recently acquired a large estate of twin dancers by the name of Velma & Selma. They had no family and I have become the caretaker of their treasures. The photos in this collection are my favorites and they are not for sale. They currently hang in all the corners of our home. Maybe one day that book will be written after all!

Velma & Selma with another dancer

Velma & Selma with another dancer

You're all invited to visit Cathi's blog and eBay store Chatham Ho Treasures.

Article & Photographs
Copyright © 2008 Cathi Basler


Blogger Thomas MacEntee said...


What a great post! I am actually a buyer of old photos on Ebay and also do crazy things like make Christmas ornaments out of them!

Here's a post on what I did with some old cabinet photos for my 2007 Christmas tree:

When I buy the photos, I always scan them first before I alter them - and try to post them on sites like Dead Fred in case anyone can identify them.


July 11, 2008 at 3:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

GREAT POST!!! I just love the images. Thank you so much for such an in depth narrative as to why you collect photos. Your heart really shows through what you do. Thanks for taking the time to appreciate these relics of the past and share them, so that they are preserved for the future!

July 11, 2008 at 9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read this first at work (shhh - don't tell anyone) without the photos - our network blocks them - and was fascinated by the story. Later, when I saw the photos, I was totally blown away.

Cathi, I'm delighted to meet you and will be visiting your eBay shop very soon. fM, another Fabulous Friday at Shades!

July 12, 2008 at 3:45 PM  
Blogger Cathi said...

Thank you so much for the nice comments..I cant tell you what a nice thing it is to find people who love photos..
Thank you Thomas for the neat ideas! and anonymous..thank you for your kind words...
and moultrie creek..thank you soo much for your kind word...

happy hunting to all of you!!

July 12, 2008 at 10:18 PM  
Blogger Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

Beautiful photographs, Cathi. They each tell such an amazing story...even without words.

Thanks for sharing about how you developed your interest in old photographs. I love your idea for the coffee shop decorations!

Small-leaved Shamrock
A light that shines again
100 Years in America

August 26, 2008 at 3:58 AM  

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