Before Selfies

YorkTrailerphotoTake a look at the above photo. Likely taken in the mid-1930s, it shows people checking out travel trailers, which had recently gone from almost non-existent to red-hot, nearly overnight. Companies all over the United States began producing the things, and Americans were buying them—maybe these folks were among those new owners.

An historic image? Perhaps, if you define historic as anything that happened more than a year or two ago. It is at least an intriguing photo, especially for classic car collectors and fans of old travel trailers. But is it a type 1 or a type 2? Or is it a 2nd generation photo?

I didn’t know what these terms meant until just recently, when I got to talking about old photos with Matt Peedin, a friend who has developed a passion for the things. He showed me a photo he had recently purchased, taken in the early 1960s, of Martin Luther King, Jr. being arrested. Matt said that he was so struck by King’s expression and demeanor in the photo that he had to have it: Despite an aggressive-looking man (a police officer, I guess) yelling at him from just a few feet away, the civil rights leader looked calm and serene, the very model of grace under pressure.

Matt explained that the photo was a type 1, a designation used by authentication service PSA to indicate that a photo is a 1st generation photo, developed from the original negative, during the period (within approximately two years of when the picture was taken). Types 2 through 4 denote photos developed later and/or developed from a duplicate negative or wire transmission.

Because of their vintage and originality, collectors consider type 1s to be the most desirable and valuable of the four types.

Matt, who works as a realtor to support his habit, got started with old photos as a result of collecting autographs of ballplayers who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He found himself bidding in an online auction, on a photo of Detroit Tigers baseball legend Ty Cobb sliding into a base. He told me, “The bidding got really serious and went up past what I would pay, so I didn’t get that photo, but I was hooked. These things let you see the past in a cool way…what’s really fascinating, I think, is really old photography…19th century images. You can look at a person who’s been dead for many, many years, and wonder who they were and what their life was like.”

PSA’s site,, lays out the various types of photos, along with an explanation of the photo authentication process. Matt also tells me that those interested in vintage sports photography should get to know the name Henry Yee (, who is a major player in the category. If you’re a fan of the game’s history, Yee’s early images of iconic ballplayers will knock you out.

This is an incredibly cool area of antiques and collectibles and I’m learning as I go. My picture of the travel trailers is probably not a type 1 (or 2 or 3, for that matter), but learning from Matt is hugely fun and I have to admit, I’m kind of getting hooked.

Douglas R. Kelly owns a 1961 Topps card of Detroit shortstop Coot Veal. Seriously.


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