Lost World War II-era Photo Album Returned After 64 Years

A lost World War II-era photo album has finally made its way home thanks to some sleuthing by collector and archivist Christoph Traugott Coulter. The album contains photos of then Captain Clarence V. Ward during his time in occupied Japan after World War II.

Ward served in the US Army in Japan from 1947-1949 and the photo album was originally made by his wife as a keepsake for her mother. But the album was sold at auction in Peoria, IL after her mother passed away and spent many years in storage, and then getting bought and sold and passed along by various collectors until it ended up at a vintage store in East Peoria, IL, which is where Coulter found it.

“I sniff out and go to every vintage store in a 100-mile radius, and all the vendors know me,” Coulter told Shutterbug. “While out on my normal Sunday run at a place called Pleasant Hill Antique Mall in East Peoria, Illinois, an epic huge warehouse place, I randomly found this photo album from a vendor who normally doesn't deal in photographs, rather an old books reseller. It was tucked in a rack behind collectible Monkee Tiger Beats (magazines), and I assume with the death of Peter Tork, someone bought them, and the photo album was revealed behind it.”

Coulter then posted images of the photo album on a Facebook group called Peoria Memories to see if he could locate the family and, sure enough, a friend of the family put him in touch with Ward’s son so he could return the album.

“Clarence Ward was a pretty prominent ophthalmologist, lived in one place with a large family, so I stood a good chance,” Coulter explained.

He received permission from the family to digitize the album, which is titled Capt. Clarence V Ward, Occupied Japan, 1947-49, and you can see it on this Facebook page.

Coulter noted that his photo album digitization technique is “more than just scanning and fixing, it’s making it look cool.”

“The border white-space and photo mounts add nothing, and the single photos are almost never aligned properly on the whole page itself,” he said. “Sometimes a judgment call, but in my opinion, the photo mounts and the decades-old half-crumbling, fingerprint-heavy black construction paper in the background, are mostly just distractions. I realize some are nostalgically romantic about the whole 'photo corners' concept, but I much prefer the picture over the 'framing' and the white and wasted dead spaces.”