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Musings on Showcasing

I dedicated my last two columns to the importance of interpretation and preservation, two of the guiding principles in our motto: Showcase. Interpret. Preserve. These words are a credo for collectors who look after these images before passing them along to the next caretaker. Those who follow the credo do so for the betterment of the collecting community and for history.

Now, I want to dig into the remaining principle—Showcase. In context to collecting, it is the display or exhibition of an image. This seemingly simple act culminates the journey of acquisition, which is a story in itself. You might have happened upon the image during a visit to a dealer’s website in the wee hours of the night. Maybe you counted down the days remaining in an auction listing with great anticipation. Perhaps you drove a long way to a Civil War show and were among the first in line when the doors opened. You may have carefully cultivated friendships and built networks that resulted in the acquisition of an image that became a cornerstone of your collection. Or perhaps you were in the right place at the right time when an image popped up for sale on social media or a “Buy It Now” option on eBay.

No matter how you built your collection, you have invested uncounted hours and treasure, motivated by a passion only a collector can know. One of my favorite quotes comes from contributor Denis Grasska, who captured the spirit of collecting in this way: “I wanted to be able to hold a moment of history in my hand while enjoying the experience of being the temporary caretaker of an image I thought was special.”

Once you’ve showcased an image, whether online, at a physical show or meetup, in a book or MI, there are important benefits for you and the community.

  • Learning more about what you have: Every military image in your collection is unique. The face. The varied uniforms and accouterments. The presence of long and small arms or edged weapons. And last but not least, backdrops and backgrounds. Most of you will research these items to better understand the content of the image. Sharing taps into the community of collectors who may have already traveled through the same research rabbit holes, and can offer new and exciting perspectives that expand your knowledge base. 
  • Identifying faces. Unless you narrowly focus on acquiring identified images, chances are you own portraits of soldiers and sailors separated from their names. Sharing these photos on any platform, including uploads to Civil War Photo Sleuth, can result in reconnecting names to faces and open new opportunities for research and storytelling. 
  • Spreading the word about your wants and needs. Searching for images from a specific regiment, state, branch of the military or other classification? Sharing examples from your collection is a de facto public service announcement to the community about the types of images important to you. As a result, you may connect with like-minded individuals and attract the attention of those wishing to sell or trade with you. 
  • Raising awareness. Civil War image collectors understand the value of these photographs and their importance to documenting American history. Each image has its own story to tell. When you make the effort to share an image from your collection, you have added another chapter to that story—and perhaps an entry point for a student, genealogist, researcher, historian or future collector.

These benefits far outweigh any risks, the most common of which is having your image republished without your permission. When you’re ready to share, your fellow collectors and others are ready to receive.

Ronald S. Coddington, Editor & Publisher

LEARN MORE about the other two words in MI‘s motto, Interpret and Preserve.

SPREAD THE WORD: We encourage you to share this story on social media and elsewhere to educate and raise awareness. If you wish to use any image on this page for another purpose, please request permission.

LEARN MORE about Military Images, America’s only magazine dedicated to showcasing, interpreting and preserving Civil War portrait photography.

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