Graphics Inventory Project Update

By Jim DaMico, Graphics Project Archivist

The Graphics Inventory Project has surpassed the creation of 7,000 basic catalog records and has surveyed 207,526 individual items. Seventy five percent of the total number of items inventoried thus far is photographic material ranging from glass plate negatives to Polaroid photographs. The portion of the Rhode Island Historical Society’s Graphics Collection that has been surveyed is approximately 739 linear feet or put another way, approximately 2.5 football fields long.

Counting the number of items held in the Graphics Collection isn’t the only task that the Archivist is undertaking. A thorough preservation assessment is being conducted in order to determine whether or not an item or collection is stable enough to be handled by researchers. We are also collecting data on the quantity of archival supplies needed to properly re-house collection items. Thus far we need 3,425 new folders, 106,984 polyester sleeves, 723 archival boxes, and 22,647 specialized storage containers. For example, glass plate negatives, for optimal protection, require suspension boxes and four flap enclosures. The cost to properly house (50) 8” x 10” glass plate negatives is $50 per suspension box and $67 for (50) four flap enclosures. As one can see, just the material cost alone to preserve Rhode Island history is an expensive yet worthwhile endeavor.

There is also a need to stabilize, through professional conservation techniques, rolled maps and architectural drawings.

© Rhode Island Historical Society

Over 10,000 architectural drawings have been discovered during the Survey and include pencil on linen, pen on linen, blueprints, Photostats and pen on tracing paper. Conservation techniques such as the use of a humidification chamber to relax rolled drawings is one of many tools that are needed in order to make the wonderful collection of architectural drawings that have been found during this Survey available to researchers.

Media Migration
The Graphics Collection also holds over 300 2” Quadruplex videotape reels that document local businesses and political campaign commercials. Two inch Quadruplex video, the first commercially available videotape format was first introduced in 1956 and was used in television studios across America until the 1980’s[a]. This is one of the most endangered video formats due to obsolescence of playback equipment, chemical and physical decay and the shrinking number of experts that know how to properly transferthe media.

© Rhode Island Historical Society

Organizations such as Texas Commission on the Arts recommend in their Video Conservation Guide “Immediate re-mastering through a vendor with proven experience with this format.”[b]

If you would like to learn how to help the Rhode Island Historical Society preserve and stabilize it’s important collection of 19th and 20th century graphics material such as architectural drawings, maps, photographs and audiovisual material, please contact Karen Eberhart, Special Collections Curator at

[a.] Quad Videotape Group-Quad History-Page Index (accessed 2010_09_09)
[b.] Texas Commission on the Arts: Video Conservation Guide (accessed 2010_09_09)


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