I love old photos and old Civil War photos are some of my favorites, beautiful ambrotypes and tintypes, the haunting faces, the human drama, and mystery unknown persons. People are known to spend their lives acquiring prized collections, sometimes paying thousands of dollars for nice images. I would be prone to do the same, but thankfully my teacher salary prevents this thought from entering my head. Sometimes, I've seen sales on eBay and I've thought it sad that the image may be going into some closeted collection. I tend to have the Indiana Jones mentality - "That belongs in a museum!"
One avid collector is a jeweler from McLean, Virginia. Tom Liljenquist has spent the past 15 years traveling across the United States and scouring the Internet, amassing one of the largest collections of ordinary people from the Civil War era. He selected people with faces that he thought were compelling. He collected a total of 693 images, paying as much as $19,200 for one.
(Brandon Liljenquist with the family collection)
Then he did something remarkable. He donated his collection to the Library of Congress! The Library said that over the last 50 years, they have acquired only three dozen images of ordinary people from that time period.
(Unknown girl in mourning dress, holding a photo of her dead father)
The Library of Congress plans on putting the whole collection on display next year, just in time for the sesquicentennial of the war. In the meantime, a Flickr site has been set up where you can view the collection (see it HERE).
Three cheers for the Liljenquist family! Your generosity is a national treasure.