Ask A Librarian

What is in the Archive: The Importance of Looking Good

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 16th, 2013

As the third post in our series about the enduring value of archival items, today’s post will explore artifactual value.  The Society of American Archivists’ glossary defines artifactual value as “The usefulness or significance of an object based on its physical or aesthetic characteristics, rather than its intellectual content.”  We can say an item has artifactual value if it is a good example of its type, regardless of its subject matter.  Artifactual value can apply to such diverse items as photographs, land grants, clothing, and books, and it is one of the factors that archivists (and museum professionals) consider when deciding what to preserve for future generations.

Here are a few examples of items with artifactual value that can be found in WVU’s collections:

Mesopotamian clay tablets with cuneiform writing, ca. 3000 BC

Cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia

Students who have toured the Rare Book Room in the WVRHC may remember seeing these clay tablets.  While these tablets may not have high informational value, they are good examples of this type of object, and they are still intact 5000 years after they were created!

Page of an illuminated manuscript from a book of hours, France, 1440 AD

Book of Hours page

Illuminated manuscripts are handwritten documents in which the text is supplemented by decoration, such as the ornate letter and border art in the image above, and/or miniature illustrations.  Though no longer bound in its book, this page is in good condition and provides a good example of the kind of decoration applied to illuminated manuscripts, thus making it valuable as an artifact.  If this same page was torn, crumpled, and had lost its gold paint, it would not be as good an example of its type, which would lessen its artifactual value.

Publishers’ bindings on Constantinople: the City of Sultans (1895) and The Harkriders (1903)

Two Publishers' Bindings

The two decorative covers in the image above have artifactual value as good examples of publishers’ bindings, though the texts within had no lasting popularity.  This type of binding was fairly standard for book covers during a fifty year period, ca. 1875-1925.

Blog post by Jane Metters.

Comments are closed.