By Maddie Orton
In the back of a non-descript office in Paulsboro, stands the Vintage Magazine Shoppe’s door to the past.
Three rooms with stacks of magazines are the product of decades of collecting. It all started when history buff Fran DiBacco began reading old Life magazines at a library on his lunch break. He decided to buy one.
“Once I bought the magazine of my birthday, I was fascinated [and] I wanted to get more magazines. And then I noticed some Saturday Evening Post, and Collier’s, and Look,” explains Vintage Magazine Shoppe owner Fran DiBacco. “So I was obsessed, so to speak.”
So much so, that when he had to move in the early 90s, DiBacco realized he owned over 100,000. What do 100,000 magazines look like? “26 tons,” he says.
He’s sold Life magazines for people’s birthdays through several catalogs, but ultimately had to put the passion project aside for his financial consulting work. However, when DiBacco moved his office to an industrial park four years ago, he made sure to get lots of extra space for his milk crates upon milk crates of magazines.
“I do want people to see it,” says DiBacco. “I do want high school kids to come see it, I want vets to come here and see it.”
DiBacco says part of what makes these vintage magazines so mesmerizing is their cover art. Works created during the Golden Age of Illustration by Norman Rockwell, J.C. Leyendecker and so many others. This room was created to show off their art.
“Then I started to stretch it a little bit and figured, well, musicians are artists, so why don’t I get album covers and song sheets, and also actors, they’re artists, so why don’t I buy standup posters, movie posters. And of course, I love baseball,” says DiBacco.
The result is an eclectic collection of ephemera with an eye towards amazing art. And, as any Mad Men fan will tell you, that includes advertisements of the time. DiBacco has those organized too with categories like automobiles, cigarettes, and the politically incorrect. One such Midol ad reads: “Be the you he likes. Good to be around any day of the month. Midol helps.”
But beyond the fun these periodicals provide, DiBacco wants to preserve them for educational purposes and for personal ones.
“People call in, there are some great stories that make you cry,” he says. “One lady called and said, ‘Do you have May 29th, 1943?’ And they all always start off this way. She says, ‘Open up to page 39.’ So I open it up and she says, ‘What do you see?’ I say, ‘I see what looks like a German concentration camp.’ She said, ‘See the man’s name? That’s my father.’”
DiBacco fields many calls from people looking to find a piece of their past. So he works hard to make sure those stories, like the artwork, ads, and headlines that accompany them, are preserved for posterity.
DiBacco says his Vintage Magazine Shoppe is officially open by appointment. And buyers and browsers alike are invited to check out his incredible collection.