One Man's Vintage Valentine Collection

Views of Valentine's Days past through the camera lens

Image courtesy of Thom Hindle

Thom Hindle is a collector of photographica —which is anything and everything related to photography — and he’s been collecting it for more than 40 years.

A professional photographer himself (you might have seen him roaming the streets of Dover with a camera in each hand) and photo historian (he has an extensive collection of original glass plate negatives), Hindle over the years has built an impressive collection of valentines, mostly vintage, that have a camera pictured on them.

Because of his passion for photographica, people would send him birthday cards showing a camera, and one day he was given a vintage valentine with a camera. That started a whole new venture for him — collecting “camera valentines.” Now he has more than 150 of them.

But Hindle says it’s getting harder to find early valentines in good condition: “They haven’t survived. Some of the early turn-of-the-century cards are very ornate and delicate, designed to fold open or pop up. Some are mechanical, allowing parts to move, like arms or eyes.”

For a serious collector like Hindle, the challenge is finding a valentine that’s truly unique and different. “Unfortunately, those early cards can be quite valuable,” he says. Some of the early ones in his collection would cost more than $100 to replace. But, for him, the value isn’t what’s important. “We don't do it so much for the value; it’s the fun of collecting and finding one that you haven’t seen before,” he says.

Of all the different types of valentines he has, Hindle says, “It’s really hard to pick a favorite. There are so many that are just really unique.”

In addition to his collecting, Hindle is past president of Dover's historical society and the curator of the Woodman Institute Museum. He has also published a collection of stark images from the past in his hometown of Dover.

Preserving History

Valentines aren't Thom Hindle's only passion. He also has a collection of more than 100 thousand original glass plate negatives that photographers produced from the mid-1800s to around the turn of the century. They represent the work of 35 New England photographers, many of them from New Hampshire.

His collecting began in the late 1960s when he was offered some that had been stored in a Dover attic. He says, "I didn't know what I was going to do with them, but I didn't want to see them destroyed."

What he did was create his Images of the Past Gallery in Dover, where he offers  framed prints of historic photographs, either hand-colored or sepia-toned, reproduced from his extensive collection of glass plate negatives.

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