Preserving Old Photographs

Antique photographs are perhaps my favorite historical tool; over the years I’ve collected literally hundreds, often from elderly people who say “No one else in my family cares anything about this stuff anymore.”

I’ve also bought quite a few from antique shops and flea markets, but one of the worst common characteristics is that their former owners usually failed to provide any kind of adequate identifying information.

That’s marginally OK as long as the album remains in Great Aunt Chloe’s hope chest, but without any written identification and separated from its context a photo could be anywhere, of anybody.

So it was a good thing in 1996 when the Courier-Tribune developed its own special project to preserve historic photographs of Randolph County. This resulted in the 1996 publication “Timepieces Randolph County … A Pictorial Review,” published by D-Line Publishing, Inc. of Marceline, Missouri. That publication includes a surprisingly large number of photographs which had never been published or even recorded before. An example, from page 27, is the above photograph of Sheriff Claude M. Hayworth (on the left) and a deputy exhibiting the fruits of a raid on a still in Grant Township, probably about 1920. Page 104 has two other photos of 1950s Sheriff Coble Maness chopping up another still, so the three together provide an interesting look at what was for about 200 years Randolph County’s most lucrative and secretive profession- bootlegging. There’s an interesting story to be written about the manufacture and sale of local white lightning one of these days- when the passage of time has loosened the tongues of some of the participants. The preservation of photographs such as these opens a window into a hidden world of shadowy activity, and will one day be invaluable to future historians.

Unfortunately, while all of the pictures were provided by Randolph County residents, no names or source information was provided for anything published in “Timepieces.” It’s not even clear if negatives were made and preserved of any of the photographs, and the bright glossy paper the book is printed on makes contemporary scanning or digital re-photographing difficult if not impossible. If only the originals or copy negatives had been kept available in the public library’s Randolph Room!

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