AzAA Blog Post May 2021

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This month we feature a write up regarding the Arizona State Archives, part of the Arizona State Library, Archives, & Public Records department with the State of Arizona from Laura Palma-Blandford, Deputy State Archivist at Arizona State Archives and Treasurer of AzAA. We thank Laura for providing a wonderful overview of the many interesting (and weird) items the Arizona State Archives has in its collection. 

Close your eyes and imagine yourself in an archive. Can you see long shelves filled with heavy, leather-bound volumes or gray boxes in a multitude of sizes?  Do you open the volumes and boxes to find handwritten or typed documents, some fading, others worn from years of use?  Perhaps, you have included media in your image too. While this dominant image is valid, it does not capture the variety of objects documenting Arizona’s history and resting quietly in the Arizona State Archives. 

The Arizona State Archives (one part of the Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records) serves as the official repository of the State of Arizona’s permanent and historically valuable records, and we occasionally receive records in non-traditional formats that cause our conservator headaches. We try to weed these materials out, but some must be preserved as they are part of the historical record or we keep them because they contribute to a unique part of Arizona’s history. The list of these types of records includes flour sacks, keys, bullets, a hatchet, leather brands, and other ephemera. 


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The flour sacks came to us from the Secretary of State office’s earliest trademark registrations. To cut down on costs, instead of submitting a drawing or representative image of the trademark, companies sent in their flour sacks with the trademark on it. Also, courtesy of the Secretary of State, we have keys. The Secretary of State registered vehicles from 1912 to 1925. In the 1920s, Secretary James Kerby issued license tags (that said Secretary of State Kerby on them) that citizens could attach to their keys. Consequently, when kind people found lost keys, they would send them to the Secretary of State since they had his name on the tag. The State Archives could get rid of them, but they are interesting, document the myriad of tasks the early Secretary of State undertook, take up a small space, and serve as a great example of unintended consequences. 

A picture containing key

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The leather brands are from the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. As in the case of the trademarks, people submitted their brand registrations to the County Recorder on pieces of leather. We have 15 boxes of these samples dating from 1877 to 1897 when the Territorial Livestock Sanitary Board took over registering brands for the entire Territory of Arizona. The brands serve as a vivid example of Arizona’s ranching history and the importance of brand registrations. 


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Our largest source of oddball materials is the courts. Courts occasionally stored exhibits with their case files and sneak into the archives. When these items are found, the Archives staff meet to determine their future. Items from historically significant cases that form a key part of the case are retained. Therefore, we have a hatchet from Arizona vs. Granville Johnson (hint: don’t write your name on your murder weapon), bullets from Arizona vs. Winnie Ruth Judd, and a floor tile with a shoe print in sugar from Arizona vs. Jeffrey Landrigan

What weird items have we decided not to keep?  Again, most of it came via the courts and these items were either unable to be put in context of a specific matter or did not have a significant role in the case. We have discarded drugs, blood samples, an ice pick, liquor bottles, knives, a box of broken glass, and baseballs. One of the more unique things was a box of gold coins we got via a mismarked box from the Attorney General’s office. Sadly, they did not allow us to keep these. 

Like most institutions, the Arizona State Archives does contain a plethora of volumes, maps, books, and assorted boxes. Keep looking, however, and you will be surprised at the weird and wild stuff you will find mixed with conventional materials. 

Thanks to Carlos Lopez, Wendi Goen, and Kaitlin D’Amico for helping contribute ideas and photographs for this post.

Published by Arizona Archives Alliance

The Arizona Archives Alliance is a nonprofit organization that advocates for Arizona's historical archives and their users, provides training to archivists and archive volunteers, and promotes the use of Arizona’s historical archives.

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