Ad*Access is a pilot project to make a selection of historical advertisements available for study and research. The project draws on part of a large collection of magazine and newspaper ads within the Duke library's J. Walter Thompson Company Archives. The project includes over 7,000 ads, mainly from U.S. publications dating between 1911 and 1955. The 7,000 ads included in Ad*Access are only a tiny subset of all the advertisements printed during the time period in question. Rather than include just a few ads on many topics, we elected to digitize and make available hundreds or thousands of ads that relate to one of five main categories. This enables researchers and students to have enough material to draw on to begin to understand that advertising for a certain product or time period. The categories we selected are: Beauty and Hygiene, Transportation, Radio, Television, and World War II. Each of these categories is one we know attracts a lot of research interest, and most of them also reflect major developments in American society, culture, business, and technology.
But still: why advertising? Many commentators have noted that advertising is such a pervasive feature of American life that the 20th century can not be fully understood without studying it. Despite its perceived importance-love it or hate it-advertising has not been as thoroughly documented as other aspects of business. Not all companies that advertise hold on to their past work. Few ad agencies retain comprehensive files of their output. And relatively few libraries, museums, or archives make an effort specifically to document the industry.
Duke University's Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History has been active in building research collections in its topic fields since 1992. The Hartman Center now ranks as one of the most extensive resources for studying advertising history in the U.S. Its collections, acquired to preserve documentation that stimulates interest in and study of historical marketing topics, include the archives of advertising agencies and trade organizations, as well as the papers of industry executives and private collectors.
The most extensive collections are those of the J. Walter Thompson Company, a major international advertising agency founded in 1864, and the Archives of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), the trade organization for the billboard and other out-of-home advertising industry. Other ad agency records held here include those of DMB&B, Wells Rich Greene, and Charles W. Hoyt Company. The OAAA Archives are complemented by many individual collections relating to outdoor advertising, including the papers of the R.C. Maxwell Company and files of commercial artists Howard Scott and Garrett Orr. Other individuals' papers in the Hartman Center include papers of executives Kensinger Jones, Edgar Hatcher, and transit advertising salesman John Hogan. Specialized collections include the Wayne P. Ellis Collection of Kodakiana, the Nicole Di Bona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks, the Mobius Advertising Awards Collection, and the McGraw- Hill Marketing Information Center files. Many other medium and smaller sized archival collections and a growing collection of books and periodicals complement these holdings.
On-line access is available to detailed descriptions, or finding aids, of these and the hundreds of other manuscript collections held by the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. This resource, the Archival Finding Aids page, allows browsing and searching of the finding aids. This page also includes links to additional collections and resources here at Duke University. For more information, see questions 8 and 9 on the Frequently Asked Questions Page.
The Hartman Center at Duke University is one of a small number of other institutions that has focused on documenting advertising; for a brief introduction to others, please see Selected List of Other Repositories.
About the Competitive Advertisements Collection, the Source of Images for Ad*Access
The images in Ad*Access are from the Competitive Advertisements Collection (Pre-1955 files) within the J. Walter Thompson Company Archives. The Competitive Advertisements Collection was created at JWT as an in-house resource over the period of many decades. Like other advertising agencies, the J. Walter Thompson Company had employees who clipped advertisements from magazines and newspapers and filed them according to the type of product or service advertised. Then the files could be used for reference by agency staff. Evidently the primary purpose was to provide ready access to the current and earlier work of competing advertisers, hence the title of the collection. The clipping at JWT seems to have begun in the early 1910s and continues to this day. Although many agencies have created similar "tearsheet" files, the very large JWT "Competitive Advertisements Collection" is one of the few that has been preserved over so many decades.
The JWT Competitive Advertisements Collection as a whole fills many hundreds of cartons. In the earlier years (the "Pre-1955 Files" from which Ad*Access is drawn), the clipped ads were arranged by categories with subject headings such as "Yarn," "Beverages," "Radio," etc. From 1956 on, the clippings are arranged by alphanumeric codes by the PIB (Publishers Information Bureau) scheme. So, for example, in these more recent files, the category "F115" is for Gelatins and Puddings; the category "T413" is for Airlines.
Because the Competitive Advertisements Collection seems to have been created for a particular purpose, and because it was a working file from which agency staff used to be able to borrow items or whole folders, the collection is not a complete record of all advertisements printed in American magazines and newspapers. Some subject categories are much more fully represented than others, and sometimes files for specific years or products went missing long before the collection came to Duke in 1987 as a part of the massive J. Walter Thompson Company Archives.
One of the reasons for deciding to create Ad*Access is the difficulty that researchers and students have in locating large collections of older print advertisements. As mentioned above, a fairly small number of institutions in the U.S. focus on collecting advertising materials for permanent preservation and study. Many libraries do own collections of the thousands of magazines or newspapers that contain ads, but several conditions may make research access difficult. Some libraries keep only recent issues or recent years; others may preserve older periodicals and newspapers only on microfilm, which can be difficult to use and which prevents users from viewing images in color. Newspapers present a special problem because the acidic paper on which they are printed is so fragile. Newspaper ads produced on cheap newsprint made of wood pulp tend to become very brittle, even after a fairly short period of time. Here at Duke, we felt forced to close the pre-1955 portion of the "Competitive Advertisements Collection" because so many of the newspaper ads were too fragile to handle without their disintegrating.
Even when magazines or newspapers are available to researchers, searching through months or years of issues looking for ads about specific products or product categories can be labor-intensive and fatiguing. The "Competitive Advertisements Collection" has the advantage that the ads have been sorted by product type. Research becomes much easier for the on-site user. And preparation of an electronic version of the material grouped by type also becomes more practical.
Part of the process of creating Ad*Access involved carefully sorting through the files of the "Competitive Advertisements Collection." The sorting allowed verification that ads were filed in the proper categories, permitted the removal of duplicates from the scanning process, and provided a good opportunity to unfold many items and place them in proper acid-free folders and boxes for the first time. So one result of the project will be better storage of the original paper items. By scanning the ads, we hope to increase use of them without physically wearing them out. Users who visit Duke University may use those previously-closed portions of the collection that now have received better physical care. We hope to extend that proper housing-and maybe scanning, too-to more of the collection as resources permit.