Archive News February 2019

In the summer of 2018 the BMIHT Archive was successful in its application for a grant to help make the Sales & Press Collection accessible to the general public through The Art of Selling project. This grant was part of 'Archives Revealed', a scheme sponsored by the National Archives and The Pilgrim Trust, which focuses on opening up important collections through cataloguing projects. Katie Finn, the author of this blog, was hired as Project Archivist and two volunteers, Lyn and Les, were recruited and trained thanks to the funding.

If you are a regular follower of Archive News, Document of the Month or any of the British Motor Museum's social media activities on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or Instagram, you will already be familiar with our Art of Selling Project. Previous blog posts have highlighted the range of documents that are held in the Sales & Press Collection including the Morris Marina scrapbook, the Ford Fab 1 press pack, and the Archive Department's favourites, the Maxi and Marina sashes. These, and many other interesting items, were uncovered during the first organisational phase of the project.

Katie faced a mass of unsorted material in unsuitable boxes when she started the project. She soon began to sort through the many items such as these press cuttings  and get them into the right packaging, as can be seen on the shelves behind.

Where do I begin?

I began working on this project at the end of October 2018 and became quickly aware of not only how vast the collection is, but how important it is to make this material available to the public. I was greeted with multiple rows of boxes, some of which were sorted and described and many that were not, and quickly set about looking through them to get a basic understanding of what was actually in the collection. This basic overview helped me form a plan for the next stage: organising and reboxing. The categories for the collection were established and after lots of research and looking at timelines of British Leyland I set about sorting the documents into their relevant categories.

Organising the collection

The first phase of the project has two important strands. The first is reboxing and repackaging the collection, and the second is a rough sort of the documents.

Our Conservator, Cath, tackles the big job of conserving a scrap book full of cuttings about the Morris Marina.

One of the most important roles of an Archive is to ensure that documents are in the best condition to preserve them for future use. To do this the documents are transferred to archival quality boxes and enclosures. These protect the documents from dust and dirt as well as making them easier to move. In addition to reboxing the documents, the condition of the documents is evaluated and in some cases given to Cath the Conservator to repair. The range of issues that I have come across include minor tears, the loose covers of pamphlets and the use of cellotape to hold things together. There are some items that need a lot more work, including the Morris Marina scrapbook highlighted by Cath in last month's Archive News.

During the repackaging of documents, the volunteers and I were also able to carry out basic conservation by removing rusty staples, paperclips and plastic sleeves. These were replaced by brass paper clips and melinex envelopes (archival quality plastic) to prevent further deterioration. Overall 250 cardboard boxes were repackaged into archive boxes. For an Archivist the finished uniform shelves are one of the best sights to see.

Some items, such as these Japanese publications about the Mini, were more puzzling than others due to language difficulties!

In tandem to reboxing the collection, it is sorted into the categories for cataloguing. This was a learning curve as I became familiar with the types of documents in the collection. Price Lists, Salesman's Guides and Press Releases were easily identified, however, other documents were less clear. The other issue that quickly became apparent while sorting is the prevalence of pamphlets published by British Leyland that superficially look the same but actually have a different publication number. It is important to identify each document's publication run to ensure that different runs are not assumed to be copies of each other. As a result, the Archive is full of documents that look like they are the same but have subtle differences that make them a separate item.

Archive Assistant Mollie Horne gets to grips with our massive sales brochure collection.

Luckily, I am not alone in working with this large collection. The project also has two dedicated volunteers, Les and Lyn. Les is actually working on his own donation of material from his time as a Marketing Executive in Rover Group. This has included items such as story boards, advertising proofs, and documents relating to the planning of marketing campaigns. Having Les work on his own materials has provided additional context to his donation that archivists do not normally have. Lyn is currently sorting the price lists and integrating those that have been donated since they were originally arranged. This was quite a long process as there were many duplicates and updated price lists were regularly released. Our Assistant Archivists, Mollie and Sarah Jane have also been working to integrate recently donated sales brochures into the collection and update the catalogue to reflect these changes.

On to Phase 2

The first phase is now coming to an end and we will soon be moving on to phase 2; cataloguing. The aim of this stage will be to produce a catalogue which will be uploaded onto The National Archives' Discovery website. This will be searchable to make it easier for people to find the information they are looking for. Additionally, it will benefit the Archive itself as there will be a complete record of what is in the collection and its location. We have a lot of work to do before this happens though. It is now time to start describing the collection. There will be a second sort to arrange the items in each category into models and then ordered by date. The item will then be catalogued into a spreadsheet which includes a reference number, title, description, date and extent. In preparation for this, the volunteers and I attended a training session on the use of Excel in an archive setting. This gave Les and Lyn some practice before undertaking this task.

As you can see we have a lot of work to do to get the catalogue finished before the end of the project but we will keep you updated throughout. Keep an eye on the BMIHT Flickr page as well as the British Motor Museum's other social media sites to discover more about our interesting finds.

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