Aspen Historical Society goes big to save images
November 1, 2010
ASPEN – Brittle maps from Aspen’s mining heyday, now more than a century old, are readily viewable for anyone who wants to see them thanks to a two-month digital scanning effort taking place at the Aspen Historical Society.
Staffers in the society’s archives are wrapping up the monumental task of scanning more than 900 oversized photos, maps and posters – all items that are far too large for the office’s standard 11-by-17-inch flatbed scanner.
A large roll scanner, which accommodates items up of to 55 inches in width and unlimited length, is making the project possible. With funding from the Thrift Shop, Aspen Elks Lodge and the Iselin Foundation, the society leased the machine from a Denver company – at a cost of about $3,000 – and set it up in the archive’s basement headquarters at the Wheeler/Stallard Museum in Aspen’s West End.
Four strong guys lugged the scanner down the stairs, and the archive staff began rummaging through items in the society’s collection that rarely see the light of day. What sounded initially like a routine project revealed some interesting finds, according to curator Lisa Hancock.
“I started in 1990 and I have never looked at some of this stuff,” she said. “That’s why I’m so excited to access it and know what it is.”
Several maps in the society’s collection are too big to scan, even with the large-scale scanner, but many others are now preserved digitally, making them accessible to researchers who can sit down at a computer and peruse the maps.
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Among the surprises is a 1951 aerial survey of Aspen, apparently the only known copy in existence, and posters that haven’t been unrolled in many years. A large William Henry Jackson photograph of Aspen, of which the society has the only known print, has now been scanned, as well.
The maps, especially, are in delicate shape. Some are paper on canvas that don’t unroll easily, said archivist Anna Scott, and some suffered water damage during the years they were stored in the basement of the county courthouse. They are attached to dowels and must be painstakingly removed from the wooden rods before archives technician Megan Cerise can run them through the scanner.
A large, bound volume of maps, U.S. Surveys of Mining Claims for Pitkin County, is also being disassembled so each page can be scanned.
“For us, this is exciting. For people who are into mining, it’s exciting,” Scott said.
“The thing with the maps is, they’re so big, we can’t really access them,” Hancock added. And, she said, if anything happens to the originals, the scanning effort should ensure the information is not lost.
Sending the maps out to be scanned would cost $25 to $100 per item, Scott said.
Since it has the machine on hand, the society also scanned old newspapers for the Mount Sopris Historical Society in Carbondale. Pages of the Carbondale Headlight and Crystal River Empire from the 1920s have now been digitally preserved.