Vernacular Goofs: Vintage Snapshot Errors, Misprints & Mistakes of Judgment

An excellent rule of thumb in any business is to listen: Listen to your competitors, your vendors, your business associates and most importantly, your customers. I am not of the school that the “customer is always right.” There are a few customers who could take you to an early grave, along with their remaining relatives. However, the “customer ALWAYS knows what he or she wants” is perhaps the greater truism. Just listen. They’ll tell you exactly what they want– repeatedly.

So when young photo collectors started asking for Vintage Vernacular Snapshot Errors, my ears shot up like a dog hearing a can opener.

To many, collecting “mistakes” sounds like an oxymoron or at least a platform for political office. However, it makes perfect sense to collect the imperfect, especially in the area of photography.

For the most part “film” as we once knew it– that thing we needed to make our own Kodak moments– is dead. The digital world swallowed it whole and never spit it back.

Do I hear the sound of one hand clapping for a new collectible market? Smile for the camera!

People have been fascinated with photography since the French inventor Nicephore Niepce printed the first image on pewter in 1826. But it was Fox Talbot’s commercial process of 1840 which started an early collector’s market

Flashbulb into the future: Collecting photography, from tintypes, CDVs, cabinet cards and more recently snapshots is a 19th & 20th century phenomenon. More significantly however, collecting snapshot errors came into it’s own with the advent of eBay. Suddenly this image-based utility would bring together every oddball request that was legally, though not always tastefully, permissible.

Too much eggnog & tinsel blurred out those Christmas memories…

So, are we looking for bad photographs or just bad photographers? The answer to both is YES. Are we looking for bad photo printing? Um, yes. Bad taste? Yes. Ghosts in the camera? Well, no, but at least in the film or in the process of developing the film.

And what do collectors want? Like any collecting category, they want the rare, the scarce, the unusual. Of course, floating heads and embarrassing images still command top interest. (Just look at TMZ!)

In future blogs I will discuss other new areas of photography collecting, but the lesson here is this: When these images were originally printed, the errors, goofs and the mistakenly blurry were simply tossed, making these particular images all the harder to find.

And will a collector pay $5, $10 or even $20 for something that survived the trash bin? If it’s weird, scary or disturbing enough– once again, the focused answer is YES.

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