There’s an Archivist for That! Interview with Samantha Bradbeer, Hallmark Archivist

This is the second post in our new “There’s an Archivist for That!” series, which will feature examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.  To continue this new series, COPA member Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Samantha Bradbeer, archivist and historian at Hallmark Cards, Inc.

SBradbeer Interview Photo 1

Samantha Bradbeer, Courtesy of Hallmark Cards, Inc.

Samantha Bradbeer has served as the archivist and historian for Hallmark Cards, Inc. since 2011. Prior to Hallmark, she was an assistant librarian at the Ike Skelton Combined Arms Research Library on Ft. Leavenworth, KS and interned at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

She is a Certified Archivist (CA), and holds a Bachelors of Arts in Anthropology (BA) from the University of Kansas and a Masters in Museum Studies (MA) from Johns Hopkins University.

Samantha is an active member of SAA’s Business Archives Section and ICA’s Section on Business Archives, and serves as the vice-chair of the Kansas City Area Archivists.

RS: How did you get your gig?

SB: I began my career at Hallmark almost seven years ago. At Christmastime 2010, a friend recommended that I apply, as she felt that the job announcement was kismet. We both felt that it was written just for me, as I met all the requirements to a tee and have been a brand supporter for years. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of visiting Hallmark Gold Crown stores for cards and Keepsake Ornaments with my parents, and, as if there was serendipity involved, I even saw some of my first Hallmark purchases stored in the Hallmark Archives during the interview process. As luck would have it, Hallmark hired me on Valentine’s Day 2011.

Since then, I have been responsible for preserving and sharing Hallmark’s corporate and product history with employees, business partners, special guests, media and the greater Kansas City community. I am able to do so by answering research requests, creating exhibitions, providing tours, recording oral history interviews and responding to guest speaker opportunities. I am also responsible for arranging, cataloging and storing the collections.

SBradbeer Interview Photo 2

Samantha prepares several displays for the 2017 Keepsake Ornament Club Convention (Courtesy of Hallmark Cards, Inc.).

RS: Tell us about your organization.

SB: The Hallmark Archives is located inside Hallmark’s worldwide headquarters on the southern edge of Kansas City, Missouri.

The significance of our holdings stem from Hallmark founder J.C. Hall’s encouragement for a high level of quality and creativity and a longstanding tradition of support for the arts. Hall began assembling our antique card collection, one of several collections we hold, in the 1950s in the interest of creating an accurate and varied record of the historic development of the greeting card industry, and our company’s major product line.

The Hallmark Archives has since served a dual role in that – in addition to serving the entire corporation and outside organizations as a source for industry history, holiday origins and graphic design trends  – it also serves Hallmark by supporting current product development. Hallmark artists and writers often reimagine past designs based on current marketplace trends or anniversaries. For example, Hallmark is currently celebrating the 100th anniversary of gift wrap, and several vintage gift wrap patterns from the Hallmark Archives are currently in stores to mark the occasion.

RS: Describe your collections.

SB:  The collections housed in the Hallmark Archives provide a visual and historical representation of greeting card history, industry and printing technologies, and serves as the repository for materials documenting Hallmark corporate, family and product history.

  • The design collection includes advertising, chromolithographs, folios, original artwork, prints, progressive proof books and rare books from the 17th to 19th centuries.
  • The historical collection includes Victorian-era greeting cards representing holidays and everyday, as well as advertising and trade cards, handmade or folk art, playing cards, postcards, scrapbooks and salesman’s sample books.
  • The corporate collection includes Hallmark advertising, audio visual materials, correspondence, photographs, publications and oral histories from 1910 through today.
  • The product collection includes greeting cards and other products manufactured and sold by Hallmark from 1910 though today.
  • The masterworks collection includes samples of original Hallmark product art dating from the 1950s through today.

Unique items in the Hallmark Archives include medieval manuscripts, two examples of the world’s first printed Christmas card and Victorian-era Valentine puzzle purses.

SBradbeer Interview Photo 3

Samantha adds original artwork to the masterworks collection (Courtesy of Hallmark Cards, Inc.).

RS: What are some challenges unique to your collections?

SB: Hallmark has created millions of products since 1910, and the Hallmark Archives has stored and preserved a sampling from every year and holiday or occasion. It can be challenging at times to select which products to keep, but luckily our complete set of employee newsletters and product catalogs provide insight into the full product line, when needed.

Although our retention schedule automatically sets aside most products, many departments keep their records as working files for years, even decades. We recently started relocating some of these records to the Hallmark Archives, as the departments needed additional working space. Retired employees and fans of the company have also donated other products and records, and, like many archives, we have a backlog of materials to still process and properly store.

As technology has improved, we have also been digitizing our collections gradually. Most of our materials are digitized when our employees and business partners request them, but, as time allows, we have also scanned entire collections, including our masterworks collection of over 40,000 samples of original Hallmark product art dating from the 1950s through today. With that being said, an extremely small portion of our corporate records – including audio visual materials stored on now obsolete formats – has been digitized. I hope to start digitizing more of these records, especially as we are sharing more and more of our company history online and in the media.

RS: What is the favorite part of your job?

SB:  Over the past 100 years, Hallmark has partnered with dozens of well-known and influential artists, writers, celebrities and politicians. Many of whom – including Winston Churchill, Walt Disney, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Grandma Moses and Norman Rockwell – built personal relationships based on mutual respect and admiration with our founder. I grew up reading about these icons, and having the opportunity to see their original artwork and read their personal letters still gives me goose bumps.

I love to display these materials and other unique items from the Hallmark Archives as often as I can at the Hallmark Visitors Center, so employees, local residents and visitors to Kansas City can see a glimpse into our collections and company history.

SBradbeer Interview Photo 4

Samantha shares the history behind J.C. Hall and Norman Rockwell’s friendship and business partnership with Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family talk show host Ken Wingard (Courtesy of Hallmark Cards, Inc.).

 

Stay tuned for future posts in the “There’s an Archivist for That!” series, featuring stories on archivists working in places you might not expect. If you know of an archivist who fits this description or are yourself an archivist who fits this description, the editors would love to hear from you—share in the comments below or contact archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed on ArchivesAWARE!

 

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