“Old photos are not worth anything”

Apr 26, 2019

Missy Mwac

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

“Old photos are not worth anything”

Apr 26, 2019

Missy Mwac

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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Dear writer of the Forbes Magazine article, “Your Top 10 Objects Your Kids Don’t Want,”

I just read your article. In it, you outline the objects in your home that you feel one’s children will not want passed on to them. You state the list was inspired by conversations with your 30-year old son and boomer clients and their millennial heirs. I must admit, I was a little dubious going in, as I know that millennials, for all their love of tiny homes and Marie Kondo lifestyles, are also responsible for the resurgence of vinyl records and shooting with film cameras. Pretty sure Leica gives a beanie away with every camera purchase. If they don’t, they should.

But, on to your list.

The list of objects you say our children do not want includes things like steamer trunks, sewing machines, porcelain figurines, silver-plated objects, “heavy dark antique furniture,” Persian rugs, linens, sterling silver flatware, crystal wine services and fine porcelain dinnerware. Some of these items made sense; some didn’t. And I was okay, until I read this object:

Paper Ephemera: family snapshots, old greeting cards and postcards.

I admit it, I had to Google “ephemera.” The name sounds like the love child of “pheromones” and “enemas” and I knew that couldn’t be right. Turns out, it isn’t:

plural noun: ephemera; noun: ephemerum
things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time.
items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity.

You then go on to inform your readers that, and I quote: “Old photos are not worth anything unless the sitter is a celebrity or linked with an important historical event or the subject is extremely macabre, like a death memorial image.”

Upon reading that last sentence, I left my computer in search of a couple Advil and some vodka. I knew I wouldn’t make it through without their help. I was already feeling a pain behind my left eye. And, having consumed both, I thought I could walk away from the article, but alas, the words you wrote kept rattling around in my head:


The sentiment made me sad. Not that it’s true, mind you, but that you think it; that you can hold in your hands family photographs, YOUR HISTORY, and feel it not worth anything. It’s so incredibly sad that even the thought is enough to kill a kitten. And certainly if YOU feel that strongly about their lack of worth, no wonder your grown son doesn’t care. I mean, hello? McFly?

So, dear writer, allow me to enlighten you. You might want to sit down and grab a sandwich. I’m not known for brevity and this is one of my favorite topics, so it could take awhile.

Old photos aren’t worth anything if you have no interest in preserving your family’s history. That’s a fact, Jack. (I actually don’t know your name, dear writer, but it would be so great if it actually was Jack.)

If you don’t care about passing down your family history to your children, then odds are really great, Jack, that your children aren’t going to care, either. They will view their family history much the same way they view a sewing machine. Namely, who gives a rat’s ass? Unless, of course, you have a celebrity in your family, in which case, you suggest we hold on to the photographs. Got a famous person in the family album? Grandma tied one on with Gertrude Stein? Uncle Amos is actually Famous Amos? Then, according to you, THOSE photos are worth something. But an average, ordinary family? They aren’t worth anything, unless they are memento mori images: photographs of people asleep in death.

What the what?

Basically, Jack, what you’re saying is Kim Kardashian’s family photos are worth something, but the countless old photos showing men going to or returning from war, grandparents on their wedding day, great grandparents plowing their fields, parents as they ran about on toddlers’ legs, aren’t worth anything.

Well, unless they were photographed after death.

Is that what you’re saying, Jack?

Jack, I’m now officially worried about you.

I urge you, Jack, to think about all the history that has been passed down through photographs; all the things we know because we can SEE them in an old photograph. All the wonderful, ordinary, every day events in the lives or our family that we get to witness in that time machine called a PRINTED PHOTOGRAPH. When we discard old family photographs, we discard a piece of us; we throw away our history. We say it doesn’t matter. What’s more, we tell future generations that it doesn’t matter.

Now, to be fair to you, Jack, you did offer the remedy of taking all of one’s family snapshots and having them made into digital files. You also offered the solution of selling them to greeting card publishers.

To the first suggestion, I say yes, absolutely, back up those prints with a digital copy, but that doesn’t mean discard the photograph. It’s lasted a lot longer than your children and, if cared for properly, will outlive that digital file…that was placed somewhere…on a drive…that you can’t open 10 years from now…or can’t find.

To the second suggestion, I say, what is wrong with you?

Listen, I understand about living simply and paring down the items we own to only those we truly love. But really, Jack, shouldn’t one of the items we truly love be our family photographs because they are directly linked to the history of who we are? Answer carefully–a kitten’s life is on the line.

(And to MY children: I know you value our family’s old photographs. I love that you love them. I adore you both and treasure how you respect your family. But so help me God, if you EVER sell my photos to a greeting card company, I will haunt you so bad it will make the movie Poltergeist look like Casper the Friendly Ghost.)

About the Author

Missy Mwac is a photographer/eater of bacon/drinker of vodka and a guide through the murky waters of professional photography. You can follow her social media links here: FacebookTumblr. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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6 responses to ““Old photos are not worth anything””

  1. Andy Dench Avatar
    Andy Dench

    Old photos of loved ones are priceless

  2. Tiffany Felan Avatar
    Tiffany Felan

    Old photos are valuable to those that it means something too. I like looking at old photos just because. Just looking at the clothes they wore is interesting.

  3. Don Barnard Avatar
    Don Barnard

    ask any fireman… there’s three things people will run back into a burning house to save…

    1) other family members
    2) pets
    3) photo albums and other irriplaceable valuable heirlooms.

  4. Daniel Bksz Avatar
    Daniel Bksz

    Yep, forbes might be right. In case if the children brought up to be assholes when grown ups. Which is the case with majority.

  5. Coralie Binder Avatar
    Coralie Binder

    After reading this. I feel less alone.
    Thank you!

    I’m 27 and as – I guess – a millennial, I feel like I am the only one to want to keep all the pictures of the family forever even if it is such a bore to have this box when moving out.

  6. WillMondy Avatar

    When my girlfriend and I started dating, after a few months we ended up digging out photo albums of ourselves and flicking through the past, and it was great.

    We didn’t go through pictures of other older family members unless we were also in the photo, or if we happened across an unusual photo. Even so, I’m sure we will look through them more another time.

    I think the idea of digitising is a good one, and is a good use of that old digital camera that still works, as an 8 or 10 megapixel shot of a 6×4 print is fine, and 40+ megapixels is overkill.

    With modern face recognition, you can help catalogue and preserve your family tree and make it easier to pass on family history,