Digitizing the Museum Archives

by Jeremy Wilson

In addition to its unique collection of “Full Classic” automobiles and its world-class mascot collection, the Classic Car Club of America Museum is home to a fine automotive library. The library comprises many hundreds of books and magazines, and a large automotive literature collection. But most significantly, the Museum is preserving the archives of the people who contributed to the making of the Classic Era: The files of the custom houses of Derham and Judkins as well as the papers of Ray Dietrich.

In keeping with its tradition of  exemplary stewardship, the CCCA Museum has undertaken the task of digitizing these files (over 1200 folders and more than 20,000 documents in all). The purpose of this project is threefold:

  1. To preserve a facsimile of each and every document in a medium that will never deteriorate.
  2. To allow interested parties to examine archive content, free from the wear and tear associated with handling and photocopying.
  3. To provide a mechanism with which one may, from anywhere in the world, quickly search the archives by coachbuilder, marque, year, or keyword. For example, searching for “1941 Cadillac” should make available a list of all documents containing that phrase.

To facilitate this task, we have set up a state-of-the-art digitizing station at the museum. The basic elements are a personal computer, an Epson V600 photo scanner, and a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ60 camera with a tripod and four desk lamps.

The Epson photo scanner delivers extraordinary quality scans at a resolution of up to 6400 x 9600 dots per inch. Furthermore, it came bundled with optical character recognition software that allows us to create searchable PDF documents. This means we will be able to put our entire archive collection online (photos, typewritten documents, etc.) and quickly retrieve any one of more than 10,000 documents by date, coachbuilder, marque, or keyword.

The Epson scanner can handle legal size documents, but the archives contain much larger blueprint drawings and build sheets. Scanner prices rise prohibitively for oversize documents and taking the fragile and irreplaceable documents to a copy center is not an option.

However, thanks to the advancement of digital camera technology, we were able to solve the problem by creating what is called a “copy stand.” In our case, we have combined a camera, tripod, and lighting to allow the photographing of documents up to 18 X 24 inches.

The example images shown are reduced in size, but all the documents in our digital archive are high resolution and capable of being clearly reproduced at their original size.

Many of the folders in the archives contain absolutely fascinating correspondence between the coachbuilder and the automobile manufacturer. The first folder I examined revealed how a 1928 Packard Derham created considerable angst between Derham, waiting for an overdue chassis from Packard, and Packard, when the vehicle was delivered. Correspondence with Packard was addressed to a Mr. G. C. Parvis, Manager, Custom Body Department in at the Packard Building in New York and Derham was based in Philadelphia. In addition to build sheets and drawings, the folder contains many letters—and telegrams when the levels of urgency escalated. Upon its arrival in New York, the Packard Derham had defects and, interestingly enough, these were farmed out to the Rollston Company to correct.

Then, after delivery to the customer, the newly-built custom Packard developed paint problems, not pleasant news for the coachbuilder to receive from 100 miles away in 1927 (see letter on Packard stationery, next page).

We are now set up and underway with the digitizing system. From time to time we’ll be reporting our progress and will let you know when the first collections are on our website, ready for your viewing.


Copy Stand Specifications

Not being a photography expert, I spent several days experimenting with the camera settings and finally enlisted the help of a professional photographer for some final fine tuning. The exact settings are included here in case anyone else has occasion to photograph large documents.

The lighting needs to very white, so we are using 100-watt-equivalent compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) with a color temperature of 5000K (daylight), and the desk lamps are from Home Depot. Note: The idea with the lamps is to illuminate the space without pointing them directly at the documents. You can see in the photo of the digitizing station (earlier in this article)  that the lights are pointed at approximately 30 degrees to the document. We are using a Harbor Freight inclinometer to maintain the desired angle.

The tripod must be able to support a camera that points down from the top. The Benro A-150EXU has this capability.

With the copy stand installed, it is just a matter of taking photographs of documents and transferring them to the computer via a USB cable. Microsoft provides free downloadable software to do this (Windows Live Photo Gallery).

Here are the camera settings we are using for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ60 camera:

  1. Mode: Manual
  2. Photo Style: Standard
  3. Picture Size: 16M
  4. Quality: Fine
  5. AF Style: AFS
  6. AF Mode: 23-Area
  7. Metering Mode: Center Weighted
  8. Aperture Value: 8.0
  9. Shutter Speed: 13
  10. ISO Increments: 1EV
  11. White Balance: White Set 1

Originally I set the camera’s “White Balance” to 5000K, the same as the compact fluorescent lamp color, but the photos were coming out with a green cast. The white balance may also be set by photographing a piece of  absolutely white piece of paper. This worked far better.