The two photos were stuffed into a bucket under a table at a Brighton antique market. Charlotte Sibtain wiped them off – and fell in love.
The pictures, which were probably taken in the 1950s, show two couples on their wedding day, the brides with bouquets in hand, the grooms by their side.
“I think what really attracted me to them was the sadness that they were thrown away or lost,” says Sibtain, now 33 and a London based. “Getting married is a very special day, so it became a kind of rescue mission.”
This first spontaneous purchase led to a fascination with vintage wedding photos that is still strong nine years later. Sibtain now has a collection of more than 400 images, taken from the late 19th century through the mid 1960s, and purchased at charity shops, antique markets and on Ebay.
Dozens of the photos hang on the walls of the house she shares with her own husband, but Sibtain’s passion is tracking down the people in the snapshots and then reuniting families with those precious pieces of history.
The first wedding photo Charlotte bought
She successfully tracked down her first family after buying “the most beautiful wedding album” on Ebay. It belonged to a couple named John and Irene, who married in 1957 and had the name of the church they were married in handy on the front page.
Sibtain contacted the Church who could locate John’s and Irene’s families. And although the couple sadly died, their daughter and granddaughter still lived in the area. She met with the couple and presented the album, which even included receipts from John’s and Irene’s honeymoon, as well as a horseshoe that Irene luckily gave.
A photo from the wedding album of John and Irene
“It was wonderful. The daughter was absolutely stunned, I think they both were,” says Sibtain. “They both thought it was lost forever and had no thought that it would ever come back.”
The story of John and Irene turned out to be very undramatic: “They were just an ordinary couple with ordinary jobs who fell in love and had a few children.” But that is exactly what Sibtain loves about these photos: “They are just ordinary people.”
It’s unclear how John and Irene’s album were lost, but Sibtain says house moves are often to blame. The first emotional reunion inspired her to uncover the stories behind more of her collection.
Since then, she has reunited six families with lost photos and hopes to find many more – but it’s not always easy. Only 20% of the photos she buys are tagged with important information like the couple’s name and location.
Charlotte Sibtain at home, with part of her collection.
She begins her detective work by finding marriage certificates on genealogy websites using whatever information she has. The certificates will then include full names and ages, and the wedding date and location, making it easier to find surviving family members.
Next, she turns to newspaper obituaries and social media tributes posted after a loved one dies. “I love getting stuck in a rabbit hole looking for information or clues,” she says.
Has she ever run into a divorced or estranged family who purposely dumped their album?
“No, I haven’t had that yet,” she laughs. “I’m waiting for it because I have a feeling that this is likely to happen at some point. You assume everyone is going to be excited, but there are probably some people out there who don’t want these back. ”
Sibtain has always loved history and was intrigued by her parents’ antique collection that filled her childhood home in Southampton. Her favorite in her own collection is a picture believed to have been taken in Darlington in the 1920s.
“It comes from an upper middle class family. It’s very 1920s, a very crisp and beautiful recording, ”she says. “The groom wears gaiters and a beautiful tuxedo. The bride has this beautiful large bouquet. They just look so glamorous. “
A photo of an unknown couple believed to have been taken in Darlington in the 1920s.
Just under a second is a group shot on the street that Sibtain cherished between 1910 and 1920. The picture is outstanding because it has “so many characters!” – from the two children at the front, who look bored enough, to the adults behind, who are not much more enthusiastic.
The picture is among those she proudly shows in her house, where she has three walls covered with other people’s wedding photos. Her husband Joplin is grateful on board. “He thought it was a bit strange at first,” she laughs.
“He’s a fan now, I converted him.”
An unidentified group believed to have been photographed between 1910 and 1920.
Sibtain prefers no period over another and instead loves how her collection moves through history and reflects the society of the time.
“For example, during World War II there was obviously rationing, not much material, and not much to do. There was a whole kind of make-up and touch-up and you can see that in the pictures from that time, ”she says.
Vintage wedding photos can go online for £ 40- £ 50 if they have any historical significance, but Sibtain has never spent more than £ 25. Most of their collection costs no more than £ 2 each.
“I’m trying to buy up the whole wedding, though,” she says. “Sometimes sellers split them up and try to sell them one by one, which kills me every time.”
One of three photo exhibitions in Charlotte Sibtain’s house.
Despite her own expense, Sibtain never asks the families to reimburse her for the photos. She’s a researcher by profession, but that’s a hobby. She shares her collection on Instagram so that others can share in the joy of vintage photos (or even discover long-lost relatives).
Your greatest hope is that others will see the beauty in these snapshots of history.
“There are a lot of people out there who would sell things pretty quickly,” she says. “If the project can inspire and encourage people to take care of their family photos and to appreciate them, frame them and really make the most of them, that would be great.”