Dick Johnson submitted this report on his latest research trip. -Editor I researched one day this week with associate Mark Schlepphorst in the Gorham Company archives at Brown University. We were both vitally interested in the medallic works of Victor David Brenner. Specifically, we wanted documentation of whether or not Gorham cast Brenner's 1907 plaque of Abraham Lincoln, and if so, when and how many.
Gaining entry to any archives requires advance application - contact with a director or staff member, providing a list of credentials, a statement of purpose and a little of your previous experience. I have boiled this all down to about five paragraphs, and even with that I only state some of the highpoints. For example, I have researched in dozens of libraries, archives and company records, but only listed four in my initial contact. I end with a boilerplate stock ending of my numismatic activity and recent accomplishments.
Even with that I bring with me a card wallet of membership cards and such in numismatic organizations, photocopy debit cards from some of the top research institutions (Library of Congress, U.S. Patent Office., others) The oldest card is from 1954 when I researched with Walter Breen at the National Archives in Washington DC (and I brought in one of the world's first portable photocopy machines) to copy Mint documents).
On arrival all institutions now want a picture ID. A driver's license will do. This was the first institution in my experience that kept the card while you are in the building. All others were satisfied with photocopying the card and returned it immediately.
A manuscript department assistant usually has a conversation with you at this time. Here again you have to state what you are seeking and a little of your previous research experience. I also toss out my wallet of numismatic credentials. If you have properly impressed the assistant he (or she) usually forgoes examining the contents of that wallet. But I have had some who looked at every card.
The first half of the day proved futile. One journal of Gorham customers -- which could possibly have given us our answer -- was missing the two pages for the 1907-1908 time period we wanted to view. Bad luck. Then our luck changed full circle.
Sam Hough walked up to our table. He was the one who saved the Gorham records from destruction. He gave us a little of the background. Textron purchased Gorham Company and the usual new management decision came down: destroy all the old records. A Gorham insider tipped off Sam, at that time a rare book librarian at Brown's John Hay Library. Sam rushed over to find some of the records already in the dumpster.
To shorten the story, he gathered three truck loads of Gorham records. The contents of those truck loads were weighed; nine tons of records were saved from destruction! He next spent 9 months organizing them, and writing a summary of their contents. We were handed his 2-volume "Finding Guide" when we first entered the reading room. He accomplished this hercularian task in record time (and has even given speeches to groups of professional archivists on how he did this).
Then Sam started bringing in boxes and drawers of records for us to examine -- and blowing our minds! I had brought with me a record of 103 medals made by Gorham. In one drawer alone was a photo file of 438 medals (and similar items) made by Gorham, each with a 4 or 5-line photo caption right on the photo.
With the next armload, he teased us, "Got to entertain you fellas." We were more than amazed, or entertained! We were overwhelmed! After a far too-brief a time examining this latest trove we had to stop. We had to get our photocopy orders in as it was approaching an hour before closing time. I learned long ago, never wait to the last minute to have staff do your photocopying. I can't wait to return.
Wow - what a great experience. It's amazing what great numismatic information is still out there waiting for the right researcher to come along and put it to good use. What other troves are out there waiting to be utilized? -Editor
Wayne Homren, Editor
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