Preservation of Single Issues

This question was on the minds of the Penn State Project staff every time they found scarcely-held scattered or single issues of newspapers during their field work.  Project-funded filming of single issues was not an option as funding levels were limited and designated for established titles with long runs.  The Project Staff knew that rare single issues would not survive for very long without some sort of preservation action.  Furthermore, they thought if they could find a way to “capture” the content found among the published pages history could be saved for future generations of historians, researchers and scholars.

After many attempts to “capture” newspaper pages using a variety of available photographic and photocopying methods (of the time) including video taping, the Penn State Project staff drafted a report and presented their findings with associated costs, to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Project’s Advisory Council for consideration at their November 1986 meeting.

Unfortunately, the Advisory Council did not support the recommendations.  As reported in the November 13, 1986 Advisory Council minutes:

The Penn state catalogers had used a 35mm camera to do some sample filming of single pages, and provided a photographic print to show the result.  Although the example showed a clear and readable copy, Council advised that filming individual issues in this manner would require a considerable investment of time and resources, and that single issues of newspapers were of limited value to historians.

After the decision was reported back to the Penn State Project staff, the enthusiasm to “capture” single issues ended.  As rare single issues were found and cataloged in the field, Project staff shared basic newspaper preservation information with their owners in the hope that their issue would survive into the future until new technology solutions would be found.

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The following is the Penn State Project staff’s November 1986 report on the preservation of single issues.

 Report: Preservation of Single Issues

 I.  Assignment:

Suggest options for dealing with short runs and single issues of newspapers to ensure their preservation.

II. Problem:

  1. Single issues often found scattered throughout a county, largely in the hands of private collectors.
  2. The logistics of arranging to collect, to microfilm in-house, and to return single issues and short runs could prove to be prohibitively expensive and difficult to organize.

III. Possible solutions:

As an alternative to microfilming in-house, various options have been explored which address the   feasibility of reproducing single issues in the field.

IV. Five options for the preservation/reproduction of single issues/short runs are outlined below.

A.  Video Taping

While not fully explored, it is suspected that video taping would result in poor resolution  of the image.  It would also require the slow scanning line by line of each page for best  legibility.

Expensive equipment would have to be purchased and video tape machine would be required for viewing.  (Most libraries do not have the necessary equipment).

Continual reproducing of the video tape would result in poorer and poorer copies.

B. Xeroxing

This is a feasible, but temporary duplicating technique that would be viable in some cases if no other method is possible.

Points to consider are:  Some private collectors and small libraries do have access to Xerox machines, but:

1)  Papers to be copied are frequently brittle and photocopying could prove fatal.

2)  Quality is often poor, unless a first class machine is used.

3)  Size of print, light, contrast, etc., can not be controlled.

4)  The newspaper has to be photocopied in sections and pieced together.

5)  The copying paper is not acid free and will deteriorate with time, just like the newspapers itself.

Xeroxing has the advantage of economically placing in the public domain copies of unique items. 

C.  View Camera (Photographic Reproduction)

(Also known as a studio camera)

While this method would faithfully reproduce pages of newspapers, it requires large, heavy equipment and uses sheets of film rather than a roll.  To view the newspaper, prints would have to be made and each printed page costs roughly $12.70 (excluding film and developing costs).

While this would be a permanent preservable copy, the cost would be prohibitive and the equipment is too cumbersome to carry.

This is the preferred method of preservation for all newspapers found.  However, due to the amount of special equipment, lighting and expertise needed for quality microfilming, it is impractical for project staff to do this in the field.

D.  Microfilming

Costs of having professional microfilmers do on-site filming have not yet been established.  Depending on what the cost per frame is, this may still be a viable option.

Other strategies to consider follow:

1)  Have a special “microfilming session” for one to two days in each county.  Newspaper owners will have been contacted and asked to bring their newspaper(s) to a centrally located public library, high school, historical society or other center.  Given enough notice, owners may be willing to do this.  The papers can be brought to the specified site and left there.  Microfilming staff can then film at that site, leaving the papers with the contact person for return to the owners.

2)  Or, have the microfilmer pick-up the papers which are now collected, film them in-house at the microfilmer’s, and return all to the center for delivery by contact person or pick-up by individual owner.  The contact person could then receive a copy of the microfilm for his/her institution, to be used by everyone.

3)  The idea of outfitting a “Van” with microfilm equipment is still a good one.  Such a vehicle could make the rounds, filming single issues and short runs whenever they are found.  It would be quick and would eliminate the problem of removing the newspaper from the owner and having to return it again.

Preliminary experimentation has demonstrated that this is a viable method of preservation that:

1)  Can be accomplished on-site by project staff, with limited amount of instruction.

2)  Would not be prohibitively expensive.

3) Requires moderate amount of portable equipment:  35mm camera, tripod, and portable lights.

E.  Use of 35mm Camera

On a recent site visit we took a picture with a 35mm camera, using regular 400 speed film for prints.   Lighting was poor, and the paper was wrinkled.  Due to the coarseness of the color print film, the fine print was not readable; however, large advertisements were legible.  Even the negative proved to be partially legible using a microfiche/microfilm reader.  It is to be expected that using a fine grain black and white high resolution film a clear negative would result.

At Penn State the procedure would be as follows:

Using already available 35mm camera we would need to purchase/rent portable lights and a tripod.  We can purchase fine grain high resolution black and white film which is available to us through PSU Photographic Services.  (They purchase the film in 100 foot rolls and cut it down to 24-36 frame size and “can” it for us).  The camera negative, or a positive copy (see samples) can be viewed “as is” on a microfilm reader or spliced onto a 100 foot reel of regular microfilm film (using ultra sonic splicing techniques).

Prints can be made as needed (see samples) from either the 35mm copy or the spliced copy (using a regular microfilm reader-printer for the latter).  Prints would not be routinely made (due to the expense), but the newspapers so photographed will be preserved in the same manner as commercially microfilmed newspapers, and can be   viewed the same way.

For all future field work, it is possible that project staff could do the photographing during the site visit.  This is clearly an alternative in preserving single issues and short runs that otherwise stand no chance of being preserved.

F.  Vertical Stat Camera

A Vertical Stat (Photostatic) Camera can produce a large size print (18 x 24), either positive or negative, of a newspaper.  It is used at the State Archives, frequently for maps.

This camera replaces the Photostatic Machine they used to use at the State Archives to make copies of large items.

The copy of a page, which costs about $5.00, lasts only 10 years, so it is not archival quality.

If paper were purchased in 100 sheet boxes, the cost could be reduced somewhat ($193.00 per 100), but the lifespan is still unacceptable for the expense, effort, and time involved.

This is not a portable camera.


 Attachment:  Equipment Needed

(Cost Estimates)


  • 35mm Camera:  (already owned)
  • Cable Release to trip shutter — ($2.00 – $3.00)+
  • Tripod with tilting head:  ($100.00)*   $40 – $100.00+
  • Portable Lights:

2 light stands ($50.00)*

2 lights  ($50.00 – $100.00)*

Extension cord  ($10.00)*


  • 35mm film (Black and White)  36 exposures  *($5.00)
  • Developing charge:  ($5.00)

*Can roll 15, 25, or whatever exposure roll as needed

            (May be able to purchase this commercially – cheaper!)


  • 20″ x 24″ display print:  $12.7
  • 11″ x 14″ display print:    $ 5.60




* Cost estimate given by Jim Lukens in PSU Photographic Services

+ Cost given by salesperson at Film Center, State College, [Pa.]



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