Old high school yearbooks, yellowing in attics all over America, may be a trove of nostalgia to the aging teenagers pictured within, but they are virtually meaningless to everyone else. Unless, of course, some of those old grads went on to certain fame. There’s no telling who might be interested in an essay on “the highlights and lowlights of 1942 and 1943” written by Johnny Carson. Or a picture of Richard Nixon with an arrow aimed at his head. Or the revelation that Janis Joplin belonged to the Slide Rule Club. Or that Mickey Mantle was Most Popular Boy.
In Fairfield, Iowa, freelance writer Walter A. Day Jr., 38, deals in celebrity yearbooks as a sideline. He has collected dozens by first identifying a celeb’s alma mater, then tracking down classmates willing to part—for a price—with their copies. His most expensive purchase: a $1,000 Elvis Presley (1953 Humes High, Memphis). Day usually sells his books to collectors and dealers for $350 to $950 apiece, though he has refused $5,000 for a JFK (1935 Choate School). On June 25 he will auction a batch including one with a photo of Oliver “Larry” North with the quote, borrowed from Shakespeare, “I am not only witty in myself but the cause that wit is in other men.”