Archivist’s News: Preserving the Del Bland Collection (Winter 2007)

by Joseph Ciccone

In October 2006, the ANS acquired through purchase at auction the personal papers of the renowned U.S. large cent authority Del Bland. By December 2006, archival staff had begun the time-consuming process of arranging and preserving the collection. As advertised by the auction house, the collection contains more than two thousand letters Bland received from circa 1970 through 2005. When this collection is fully processed, it will encompass about nine cubic feet in length—the equivalent of nine standard storage boxes.

For those unfamiliar with Bland, he is one of the foremost authorities on U.S. large cents and has been collecting specimens in this area since the 1950s. In the early 1970s (when the correspondence in the collection begins in earnest) Bland began working as a coin dealer. As such, Bland was in a key position to communicate with the leading collectors and organizations in this area of interest. As evidenced from the collection, Bland was in near-constant communication with them during the past thirty-five years regarding everything from sales and purchases to pedigrees and policy. (The policy is contained in Bland’s correspondence with leaders of the Early American Coppers on grading standards and other issues.)

Of particular significance for the ANS—and one of the main reasons the Society acquired this collection—is the correspondence regarding the Society’s Clapp collection of large cents. Readers will recall that in the early 1990s the ANS announced publicly that 129 specimens from its collection of large cents had been replaced with lesser-grade coins. It was through Bland’s research that the ANS was able to confirm that the coins had been switched and, after the theft was disclosed, Bland subsequently played a vital role in the Society’s efforts to recover the lost coins. Throughout this period Bland maintained a steady stream of correspondence with ANS staff and others. None of this correspondence has been previously available to the ANS and it provides us with fascinating details of this important episode in the Society’s history.

One of the things that is so surprising about the collection is that the ANS-related content is so much greater than we had previously thought. While it is true that there is a lot of terrific material related to the Society’s large cent collection, there are also numerous letters about other aspects of the Society’s activities, including the creation of the COAC in the early 1980s and the Society’s changing attitude toward American numismatics. Altogether the letters paint an interesting picture of the ANS in the latter part of the twentieth century.

Arrangement and Preservation

The materials in the collection arrived from the auction house disorganized in four large boxes. Since its receipt, archival staff have been arranging and preserving the collection according to standards established by the U.S. National Archives and Library of Congress. Initially, we divided all correspondence by year. Then, within each year, we further subdivided the letters by correspondent, placing all of the letters from an individual correspondent in a single file. Thus, for instance, all letters Bland received from Roy E. “Ted” Naftzger in 1985 would be in one file folder, followed by all letters he received from Eric Newman in 1985 in the subsequent folder. The logic of this organizational schema is that it allows researchers to search easily all letters in a given year or to follow Bland’s correspondence with a single individual over the course of several years. Of course, both the file folders and storage boxes are acid free, in accordance with National Archives’ standards.

So far, we have arranged all correspondence based on the above schema. Because Bland conscientiously saved almost all of the original envelopes the letters came in, this has been a relatively straightforward process. A small percentage of the letters, however, are either without signatures or have signatures that are illegible. To help rectify this problem, Bland himself has been of great assistance. In fact, Bland visited the ANS in early May, in part to review the progress we have made so far, and spent an afternoon helping us correctly identify letters that were either unsigned or lacked legible signatures.

Del Bland discusses the contents of his collection with ANS Archivist Joe Ciccone

Future Plans

We anticipate completing the arrangement of the rest of Bland’s correspondence by the end of 2006. When this is done, the next step would be to develop a series of indexes to the collection. These indexes would then be included in a finding aid and placed online. Initially, the finding aid would include indexes to correspondents and some subject matter, although there has been discussion about the viability of developing a subject index that would track coins referenced in the letters. That index, however, would come after the main finding aid is available to researchers.