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Sometimes vintage yearbooks serve best as upcycling project fodder

Last year, during a local estate auction, my husband and I spied a box lot of assorted old college yearbooks. Always on the lookout for new old Knapstein Brewery memorabilia to add to our collection, we looked through the lot, spying a couple booklets that, indeed, held brewery advertisements.

(I realize I've just given away one of my collecting secrets: Be open to finding items relevant to your collection in unexpected places. You're welcome!)

Although there were a few other interested bidders, the box lot did not go for a princely sum. However, we did end up with a large stack of unwanted Fox Valley, Wis.-area high school and college yearbooks from the 1940s and 1950s. I did look through each one to make sure there were no additional Knapstein Brewery advertisements. (Breweries sometimes advertised in college and even high school yearbooks.)

Here it is, a year later, and the yearbooks are still standing on a pile in my library. I decided to do a little investigating to see how much collector appeal there is for vintage yearbooks. Until this point, my only experience with yearbooks were my own wishfully forgotten (never satisfactory) yearbook appearances from decades ago. What I found in searching current eBay listings is there there are thousands — indeed tens of thousands — of yearbooks available on any given day. Switching over to the advance search and comparing "Completed Listings" to "Sold Listings," it appears that of the yearbooks listed, fewer than 20 percent actually sell ... some for as little as 99 cents.

To my knowledge, there are no famous (or infamous) local celebrities in the books. They are of no significant historical value. Hundreds - if not thousands - of them were produced and, by their nature, are saved.

Sooo ... what do I do with a stack of books filled with anonymous faces? Go through the time and effort of photographing and writing descriptions of little-wanted vintage yearbooks as they are? Or upcycle the pages and perhaps cover otherwise-plain picture frames? Or maybe drill the stack and turn them into a one-of-a-kind lamp, or other upcycling project as recommended by some upcycling craftspeople? Or turn them over to my creative child and tell her, "Have at it!"?

What would you do with a stack of anonymous (to you) vintage yearbooks?

Learn more about the value of upcycling, and see a variety of upcycling examples, in the August 7, 2013, edition of Antique Trader, which is available as a digital download from


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