Although I sometimes find it hard to believe, back in February, I celebrated 6 years with Virginia Tech Special Collections. Time flies when you’re having fun, and since then I’ve processed, scanned, scoured through, or somehow handled a LOT of manuscript materials. I certainly can’t remember everything about every item, but there are plenty of things that stick with a person: a particularly exciting image, a sad letter, a plan from a local house that has to be seen to be believed…I could make you a long list. One thing you can never forget, however, is your first collection. Only about a week or so after I started, while trying to learn how processing happened here (every institutions has its methods), we bought a glass plate negative with two copies of a print. It’s not a life-changing finding aid in the scheme of things (though it is a cool plate!), but meant (and still means) something to me.
The Ivanhoe, Virginia, Moonshine Still Glass Plate looks, well, like this:
This is a print made from the plate and it depicts a working still. If the approximate date we have is close, then this was a still that was in action during Prohibition in the United States. We were primarily interested in it for the local history (Wythe County) connect. In 2009, the culinary history collection was well established, but we hadn’t started collecting materials on the history of the cocktail in America just yet. I always feel like this item was a little ahead of its time, since we would start collecting on the cocktail, distilling, and Prohibition about three years later.
If you’re curious what the plate itself looks like, I’ve made an attempt to photograph it, but our digital camera doesn’t like to focus on an object like this (which makes the prints extra helpful!):
There’s a short and sweet finding aid for this collection available online. We didn’t have much to go on, so it’s by no means my longest or most researched guide, but it was how I started learning about Virginia Tech Special Collections and how I started experimenting with EAD (that’s Encoded Archival Description, the XML schema we use to create our finding aids). Six years later, I would say I’ve come a long way, but I’m still learning everyday. I’ve worked with collections ranging in size from a single item to more than 100 boxes. Our processes have changed and evolved, too, as we’ve added new software, skills, and people to the department. I can’t wait to see what happens next, and I hope you continue to follow us the blog and visit us! We have a lot of memories on our shelves, waiting to be discovered.