Archivist’s News (Summer 2005)

by Joseph Ciccone

In addition to the usual activities of the Archives, three issues of particular significance have arisen since the last issue of the ANS Magazine: the publication of an erroneous rumor about the Society’s archival negatives; the initiation of the Archives’ oral history program; and the awarding of our first conservation grant. I will provide additional information on each in this column.


Our Schwartz Fellow Rachel Towers working on the ANS Photo Files.

Negative Collection Preserved

Recently, an unfounded rumor began circulating on the Internet that staff at the ANS had permitted the wholesale destruction of our collection of historic negatives.

Nothing could be further from the truth

The collection in question dates from the late 1940s, when the Society established its first Photography Department. Since that time, staff photographers maintained a growing collection of negatives of the objects, people, and events they photographed including the images of objects used in publications. In addition to these departmental negatives, the Archives also maintains negatives and photographs which pre-date the Photography Department. These older negatives and photographs include images used in publications since the launch of the Numismatic Notes and Monographs series in the early 1920s. They also include even older images of the Society’s Audubon Terrace headquarters and distinguished members.

The departmental images, in combination with the older images, number in the thousands. Since our move to Fulton Street, the images have been placed in a dry, secure location. In addition, we have begun re-housing them into archivally sound, acid-free sleeves. We also have digitized more than a hundred images and plan on seeking grant funding to preserve and make accessible all the existing images. So it is safe to say that reports of the demise of the collection have been misleading. In fact, the collection is probably in better shape than it has been in many years.

Oral History Project Progress

On a more pleasant topic, we have begun interviews as part of the oral history project announced in the last issue of the ANS Magazine. To date, we have conducted interviews with six individuals, including former curators and Councilors.

Each interview has lasted from one to three hours, with interviewees questioned about people they knew and events they witnessed during their associations with the ANS. We expect to begin conducting a second round of interviews shortly. As anticipated, these interviews are proving to be an invaluable source of information on the history of the ANS and will be a significant aid as we write the history of the Society for our 150th anniversary in 2008.

Anyone having suggestions for candidates for the project, should email me at: ciccone@amnumsoc.org.

Conservation Assessment Grant Awarded

On another pleasant topic, since the last issue of the ANS Magazine, the ANS has received funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to fund two assessments through its Conservation Assessment Program (CAP). The first would be an assessment by a trained conservator of our numismatic, library, and archival collections. In this assessment, the conservator would make recommendations on improving our care and preservation of these collections. Because of the age of our building, we also received funding for a second assessment — this one is a conditions assessment through which an architectural firm would make recommendations on improving the structure of the facility. We expect the grant funds to cover the costs of both assessments. These types of assessments are necessary prerequisites for obtaining larger conservation funding grants from the IMLS and other agencies. Such grants are critical to preserving the records—and photographic negatives—in the Archives, many of which have deteriorated substantially from years in a damp sub-basement room at Audubon Terrace.