Sometime after I had finished up a meandering, overlong undergraduate career, I was running an art gallery. During my time at the gallery, we had a somewhat interesting show from a regional photographer who was known for taking portraits of individuals in their homes. It wasn’t riveting or revolutionary work, and - to my recollection, at least - it didn’t sell well.
A bit later on, I was behind the desk one day and a guy came in. We struck up a conversation about used goods and collecting, and he mentioned that he was America’s premier collector of vintage and antique snapshots. I was pretty sure he was full of it when he told me that he just had a show at the National Gallery in D.C. of his collection - but he’d left me with a business card, so I looked him up after he left. He wasn’t messing with me after all, it seems. He’d had numerous gallery shows, published books and has a killer Instagram. His name is Robert E. Jackson, and the dude’s collection is legit. I highly recommend you kill a few hours browsing his Instagram.
After our initial meeting, I also started snatching up those forgotten family photos from thrift shops, estate sales and auctions for resale. For those of you who are looking to get started on your own collection of OPP (Other People’s Photos), a good rule of thumb is that with vintage snapshots, the more interesting the photo, the better the resale value (duh). It’s what’s in the photo that sells: pets, sports, military, cars and so on - these will all up the resale value on vintage photos. Military photos with names, locations or specific campaigns attached also draw in high resale values, so be sure to snatch those up if you see them.
Selling these random images as art takes a more developed eye for composition and subject matter that would be appealing to galleries and collectors - so if you want to start collecting these one-of-a-kind images, the bar for entry is generally pretty low. In-person and online auctions are generally your best place to start. Additionally, if you want some inspiration for beginning a collection of your own, be sure to check out the books about Jackson and his collection or his Instagram.