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A magnificent obsession

The Vintage Magazine Shoppe brings the twentieth century to life

Created date

May 19th, 2017
Fran DiBacco in his Vintage Magazine Shoppe.

Fran DiBacco in his Vintage Magazine Shoppe.


Fran DiBacco remembers the moment as if it were yesterday. It was June 1942; he was four and a half years old, standing by his mother’s side when she read the telegram.

His older brother Vince was dead—killed during the Battle of Midway. “I can still see my mother grabbing her head with both hands and falling over like a tree,” he says.

He didn’t know it yet, but this indelible instant was a motivating factor behind a labor of love that would encompass more than a quarter of his life. 

DiBacco had a natural fascination with history, a personal fixation on the past. He had never gotten to know his brother and struggled with this fact throughout his youth.

Connecting through magazines

As he saw it, there was one solution: Travel back in time to better understand who his brother was, to understand the Depression-era culture of the ‘30s in which Vince came of age. And he would do it through the portal of magazines.

“I’d long had a love affair with magazines, especially old ones,” he recalls. “Growing up, I didn’t have vivid memories of my brother, so I tried to get to know him by reading magazines that depicted the times in which he lived.”

In the mid ‘60s, while working for a bank in Philadelphia, DiBacco went to Drexel University’s library each day during his lunch break. There, he started reading bound copies of Life

He began with the journal’s first installment, November 23, 1936, and, for the next several years, read every issue all the way up to 1972, when it ceased as a weekly publication. 

DiBacco was mesmerized.

“There’s no better way for a person to immerse himself in the past than to read a weekly magazine,” he says. “I was obsessed with all aspects—the current events, the advertisements for everyday products that people used and the prices they paid for them. 

“These magazines transported me to another era.”

They so captivated DiBacco that he wanted to own them. In the late ‘70s, he decided to buy up issues little by little.

Soon, he had amassed a sizeable collection, parts of which he eventually sold through catalogs from Bloomingdale’s and Barnes and Noble. By the end of the ‘80s, DiBacco had earned a stunning $500,000 through this enterprise, due mainly to customers purchasing specifically dated magazines as anniversary and birthday gifts. 

And what did he do with his veritable fortune? He bought more magazines, sometimes in lots as big as 17,000.

100,000-plus issues

To be sure, DiBacco had built quite a collection. In the ‘90s, he embarked on the tedious process of moving the massive cache to a building that could house it—a 3,000-square-foot industrial facility in Southern New Jersey. 

After the mammoth task of counting the magazines and sorting them by week, month, year, and title, he determined that his collection was in excess of 100,000 issues. This included 55,000 copies of Life and 20,000 of Time; 10,000 issues of the Saturday Evening Post; 5,000 examples of Scientific American; plus sundry Harper’s, Leslie’s, Collier’s, Liberty, Look, McCall’s, and McClure’s.

In order to ship the collection to its new home, DiBacco purchased 1,600 milk crates and packed the magazines into two 48-foot tractor trailers.

“I had to move 25 tons of magazines,” he recalls with a chuckle. “If I piled my full milk crates seven high, in a single-file line, it literally would be as long as a football field.”

DiBacco is making good use of so much history. Located just across the river from Philadelphia, his Vintage Magazine Shoppe essentially serves as a museum where guests can purchase the exhibits. 

Meticulously arranged, this venue is tantamount to a chronological trip through the twentieth century, going back to the first decade of the 1900s and tracing the golden age of magazine publication. The works of the great illustrators—from Howard Chandler Christy to Norman Rockwell—adorn the walls and fill the stacks of milk crates.

“At present, I generally schedule appointments for anyone who wants to come through and look at the collection or search for a certain magazine issue,” says DiBacco. 

But his concluding goal is to see organized visits become a regular occurrence.

“This is a trip down memory lane for older generations,” he says, adding that he also wants to show young people that there’s more to life than Twitter, Facebook, and the Kardashians. “Magazines can introduce them to what things were like before they came along.”

It’s a giant, yet perfectly reasonable, feat. After all, magazines helped DiBacco get to know the brother he never truly met.

Organized visits welcome

The Vintage Magazine Shoppe

1460 Grandview Avenue

Suite 3A

Paulsboro, NJ  08066


If you visited The Vintage Magazine Shoppe, what would be the first magazine you'd want to see? Tell us in comments below.