A collector of LIFE unveils a mountain of memorabilia in a Burnet warehouse
While perusing the shelves in Whitt and Whimsy Vintage Store, 107 E. Jackson St. in Burnet, you will likely stumble upon racks full of LIFE Magazines. Each wrapped in plastic with an index card outlining its contents, the magazines are part of Burnet resident John Paul Hudson’s extensive collection. He sells some of his finds at the shop.
“You have to be a little bit of a history buff (to like the magazines),” said the 74-year-old. “The day-to-day news never really appealed to me, but what happened 10 years ago or 50 years ago or a hundred years ago did. That’s what hooked me.”
Hudson began collecting the publication after the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He has continued to pick up copies from garage sales, flea markets, and wherever else he sees them ever since.
LIFE was published weekly across the country from 1936 to 1972 and on a less frequent basis until 2007, when it closed its doors. In its prime, the magazine was famous for covers featuring celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe.
“If you pick up a LIFE magazine, (it can) show you all the cars, all the new products, all the fashions of the day,” Hudson said. “That’s how you kept up with what was going on in the world, your community, and everywhere else.”
Determining each magazine’s resale price takes Hudson close to a half-hour. He scans each page for tears, writing, and other flaws, paying extra attention to the advertisements, which, depending on the content, offer added value.
The most sought-after editions, he said, are those with photos taken during the Vietnam War or of the U.S. space program.
“There’s one particular magazine that has a list of the soldiers that died (in Vietnam), and that’s very popular because everybody knows someone in there,” Hudson explained.
Magazines are just the tip of the iceberg for Hudson, who began collecting items of all kinds in 1953. The first objects that caught his interest were beer bottles that his father, who franchised all of the Austin-area 7-11 gas stations, brought home after work. Since then, his collection has grown to include everything from neon signs to Texas license plates, his specialty.
His respect for objects of the past is likely a genetic trait. Every family member on his mother’s side owned a secondhand furniture or antique shop, a tradition he and his wife, Diana, continued in the 1970s by opening their own shop, Southern Select, in Pflugerville.
Collecting and dealing antiques even led Hudson into show business. He’s leased props and set decorations for the films “October Sky,” “Lone Star,” and the remakes of “True Grit” and “Secondhand Lions.”
The couple has also worked as interior decorators for local restaurants, using their collections to bring charm and character into places such as Threadgill’s, an Austin institution that closed in 2020.
Now retired, the couple keeps their many treasures in a warehouse. To this day, Hudson remembers the backstory to each of the thousands of collected objects.
Although the Hudsons are beginning to thin out their stockpile by auctioning off pieces, objects that hold immense sentimental value will stay with them until the end. That includes a LIFE magazine signed by Cassius Clay, the championship boxer who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
“I can’t get rid of memories, and I can’t let other people get rid of memories either,” Hudson said.