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Prescott Valley Tribune | Prescott Valley, Arizona

home : features : people & places October 3, 2015

12/11/2013 10:49:00 AM
Prescott Valley Santa does double duty as photo sleuth
Bob King looks through a lost family album and spends much of his free time in his office matching old photos to their original owners.
Trib Photo/Briana Lonas
Bob King looks through a lost family album and spends much of his free time in his office matching old photos to their original owners.
Trib Photo/Briana Lonas
Trib Photo/Cheryl Hartz
Trib Photo/Cheryl Hartz

Briana Lonas

Santa Claus stopped by the Prescott Valley Civic Center last week during the annual Festival of Lights event, but this jolly elf does more than deliver presents.

All year round Bob King, aka Santa, plays matchmaker between lost photographs and their ancestral owners.

In his travels, King has obtained many photographs, tintypes, glass negatives, daguerreotypes and family albums by visiting antique stores with the goal of purchasing only those attached with a name, date or place.

The match process begins when King sits down at his computer and begins researching the roots attached to the photo.

"I look at antiques differently than most," King said, and explained that he likes to imagine what the original owners were like and how they lived.

Once the research begins moving along, King sometimes will call a person who may actually be a match to a photo. Initially, he said, people seem reluctant to talk to him about their historical connection. Therefore, King created his Web site as a way for people to find photos that they might belong to; the site contains an alphabetical listing of surnames. He charges a small fee for his services and is definitely not pursuing his hobby for the profit.

"It's just wonderful, very satisfying," he said, adding his prices are low because of his own experience. King recalled locating an old family photograph from a collector, but the man refused to sell it to him. Since then, King has been determined to help others reunite with their keepsakes.

"Family photo albums used to be the center of attention, before television and radio," King said.

Photography really gained in popularity during and after the 1860s, and as many sepia images reveal, the subjects weren't too sure about facing down a camera, much less smiling into it. King said you could almost see their soul in their eyes because the people were not posed or fake.

Many of King's displayed photographs do portray a keen honesty without benefit of lighting techniques and artful poses. And King knows a thing or two about posing. He's been smiling in front of the camera as jolly Saint Nick for several years now. His tall, imposing stature suits up perfectly with his red, furry outfit and even his hair plays the part to perfection.

"I used to have dark hair," King said. He said it turned shock white after a serious scare when his daughter stopped breathing shortly after birth. Doctors told King and his wife that they should hold her "one last time" before she passed away. The baby did stop breathing, but was resuscitated and fought for six weeks before she could breathe on her own.

"She pulled through and fooled everyone," King said.

That's when his hair, including his beard began turning prematurely white.

He shares this story because, like his hobby of matching lost photos to their families, blessings and good tidings really do happen every day.

Visit King's Web site at

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