Entrepreneur's magazine collection illustrates the past
Longtime nostalgia buff and lifelong entrepreneur Fran DiBacco wants to sell more vintage magazines. So he's created an exhibit of front covers from the first half of the 20th century - an era sometimes called illustration's Golden Age - to interest prospective buyers.
Longtime nostalgia buff and lifelong entrepreneur Fran DiBacco wants to sell more vintage magazines.
So he's created an exhibit of front covers from the first half of the 20th century - an era sometimes called illustration's Golden Age - to interest prospective buyers.
"All these incredible artists," DiBacco, 77, says, preparing to usher me into the Vintage Magazine Shoppe at his West Deptford company.
A financial consultant who helps corporations reduce their banking fees, DiBacco became interested in old magazines 30 years ago.
"I turned a hobby into a business," he says, estimating that his 100,000-piece inventory is worth perhaps $500,000; the top price he has ever received for a magazine was $200.
DiBacco hopes to open the retail outlet/gallery to visitors and potential customers, by appointment only, after Labor Day. The project has been underway since last August and is about "95 percent" complete, the West Deptford resident says.
"My problem is, I can't stop," DiBacco adds. "The project keeps evolving, evolving, and evolving. It's become a combination of nostalgia, patriotism, the arts, and sports."
With the help of his friend Kamal Kishore, DiBacco has built something of a shrine to an American popular culture that mass-circulation magazines such as Life, Newsweek, and the Saturday Evening Post helped define and sustain.
The visual punch of the covers and advertisements is augmented by movie posters, sheet music, book jackets, promotional materials, photographs, and life-size cutouts of movie stars and other entertainers.
Many of the materials are illustrations, hand-drawn and colored in evocative hues.
"They're treasures," DiBacco says.
He and Kishore have installed an exuberant, floor-to-ceiling array of memorabilia, cleverly camouflaging and utilizing stacks of milk-crate storage units that hold thousands of magazines.
They include enduring titles such as People, as well as largely forgotten, once mighty publications such as McClure's, and quaint curiosities like the Farmer's Wife.
"Magazines are the greatest time capsules," says DiBacco, a father of three and grandfather of seven. "They give you a flavor of what life was like."
He also has selected advertisements, artfully arranging these sometimes beautiful, occasionally quirky images on tabletop panels in chronological order.
One section, labeled "Politically incorrect," features ads in which purportedly famous doctors sport white coats and endorse smoking, and women are clueless, decorative, or worse. (The Mad Men boys were health nuts and militant feminists compared with the fellows who came up with some of these come-ons.)
"I cut these ads from magazines [published] between 1900 and the 1970s," says DiBacco, cuing up "Blue Moon" and other oldies for my listening/viewing pleasure.
Indeed, taking in his displays is like taking a historical tour of American commerce; I get glimpses of a parade of products, from cars to kitchen appliances, many with vanished brand names that jolt the memory.
"This is gorgeous stuff," says Kishore, 37, who lives in Deptford and owns the Route 45 Car Wash in Woodbury. "It's amazing. People who come and see it can learn from the past."
DiBacco struck up a friendship with Kishore at the car wash; about eight months ago, he asked the younger man for help with the construction work in the shop. They've been collaborating on the shop ever since.
"I can't put a nail in a wall," DiBacco says. "Everything you see in this room, he built."
Kishore, who read American magazines growing up in India, said he enjoys carpentry. "And I like history," he explains.
DiBacco especially appreciates the artistry, draftsmanship, and craftsmanship necessary to produce - and reproduce - the cover images and advertising illustrations.
While Norman Rockwell remains a household name, other renowned illustrators, such J.C. Leyendecker, have faded from popular culture.
But long before Rockwell, and before the word iconic became, well, iconic, Leyendecker's glowing, chiseled images came to represent not only an American brand (Arrow Shirts) but an American ideal.
Says DiBacco, "I want people to enjoy these great illustrations again."