Unbound Objects

Unbound archival materials are usually straightforward to digitize - they are simply placed on a copy stand and photographed, and sometimes carefully flattened with glass if needed and if safe for the object. This can be a fairly quick process for many types of materials, but there are many complicating factors including fragility of the items.

The biggest complicating factor, though, is size. We consider anything that we can't capture in a single photograph at the desired resolution to be "oversized". There are a number of solutions we utilize to image oversized items, such as stitching together multiple tiled images or using our large-format sheet-feed scanner - depending on the type of item and its physical characteristics, the end-use of the images, and so on.

Click on images to see objects in full resolution.

Typical Archival Objects


Bach autograph music notation

Archival objects are often single sheets of paper - in this case, musical notation written in Johann Sebastian Bach's hand.

Large undated letter, 1975-1990

Single-sheet letter to artist Ruth Asawa

Similarly, a letter sent to Ruth Asawa.

[Original painting of Castle Rock by a Japanese immigrant interned at Tule Lake]


Or, an object may be a small piece of art. This is a painting done by a Japanese detainee at the internment camp at Tule Lake during World War 2.

Leaf from an antiphonary, music and text not yet identified

Manuscript leaf

The photography setup we use creates very even lighting, but it is not flat lighting, and it allows us to capture details like the glint of the gold leaf on objects like this.

Leaf with Initial 'S', Virgin Orans, from a Gradual
Leaf with Initial 'S', Virgin Orans, from a Gradual

Framed manuscript leaf

Objects that are framed can be digitized in the frame - this can pose challenges, but depending on the end-use of the images and if the object is already going to be unframed (for conservation, perhaps) or not, it usually makes the most sense to leave the object as-is.

It's also useful as an example here because you can clearly see that even for "flat" items, what we are doing is taking photographs - not using flatbed scanners, for example.

If the individual situation warrants it, objects may be removed from their frames by Conservation before digitization.

Sing Fat Co. : two postcards of the landmark building in San Francisco's Chinatown, from before and after the Chinese revolution of 1911
Sing Fat Co. : two postcards of the landmark building in San Francisco's Chinatown, from before and after the Chinese revolution of 1911

Postcards - small item, high resolution

Items like these postcards can be easily imaged at higher than standard resolution. Backs of items are not always captured, but we always do if there is anything on the back (even the smallest mark), and sometimes do even if the backs are blank depending on the requirements of the request or project.

Poster 1 People in tower
Poster 3 Cupola
Poster 6 Campus View
Poster 5 United States Map
Poster 4 People in front of Arch
Poster 3 View of the Quad with Trees

Collection of artwork

Projects and requests often contain items of varying sizes. Because resolution is standardized - we don't re-compose to fill the camera frame with the objects - collections like this can be easily imaged all at the same time. The images are cropped after capture to size.

Telegram Correspondence between John F. Kennedy and John W. Gardner : June 1963
Telegram Correspondence between John F. Kennedy and John W. Gardner : June 1963

Stapled item - telegram from John F. Kennedy

This telegram could, perhaps, be considered bound - by a single staple.

In many cases Conservation will want to remove staples like this, as eventually they rust. Here the staple has not been removed, but the corner was already creased, so DPG staff were able to digitize all four sides of the two sheets of paper.

We often encounter stapled items like this as part of collections of loose unbound material, which is why it's included in this section. In most cases, thankfully, we are able to image them like we did here with little issue.

Wilson's "Confectaurant" Menu, May 19, 1933

Restaurant menu with attached card

This item had a small card attached with a paperclip. Here, imaging staff were able to remove the card both to see what's under it and to image both sides of the card itself separately. This is a good example of our approach to capturing objects, leaving no stone (or card) unturned.

Aeolian Company Ledger Books 1905-1930

High-throughput imaging for robust unbound material

For unbound material that doesn't have handling concerns, such as this stack of photocopies, we can use a sheet feed document scanner if suitable for the end-use of the images. Often for this type of material the end-use is OCR or otherwise just for access to the text content, so aesthetics and accurate representation of the item as an object are unimportant. In those cases, sheet feed document scanners are extraordinarily productive - scanning something like this stack of 450 pages in a document scanner takes only minutes compared to several hours using an overhead camera setup.

Rip Off The Big Game : poster, circa 1970

Medium/Small Posters

As camera resolution improves over time, our definition of "oversized" evolves. Small posters, newspapers, etc. can now be imaged in a single shot, up to about 23x17 inches in size (approximately 58 x 43 cm). This "Rip Off the Big Game" poster measures 22x16 inches, and the posters below are similar or smaller.

Latin American political posters, 1972-2001
Cinco de Mayo at Stanford University, Stanford, California
Demons of the Drug Wars: Beyond the Hype, Stanford University, Stanford, California

Oversized Objects

Revised floor plan of Hanna House showing change in terraces; dated and initialed by FLW
Revised floor plan of Hanna House showing change in terraces; dated and initialed by FLW

Oversized object - Hanna House blueprint - overhead camera

Large objects like this one - a blueprint of the Hanna House by Frank Lloyd Wright, built for a Stanford professor and now owned by the university - are digitized using an overhead camera. Multiple images are captured (anywhere from 2 to 20+ depending on the size of the object) and then stitched together to achieve high resolution.

See more: Hanna House collection

Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge, Barge Canal Crossing, Tonawanda, NY. File 1025: S.T.B.B. 1917. Roll 41, Item 1
Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge, Barge Canal Crossing, Tonawanda, NY. File 1025: S.T.B.B. 1917. Roll 41, Item 1

Oversized object - bridge blueprint - high volume large-format sheetfeed scanner

Large collections of non-fragile objects like maps, posters, and blueprints can, alternatively, be digitized with DPG's large-format sheetfeed scanner in a small fraction of the time required to digitize oversized materials with an overhead camera. This blueprint is approximately the same size as the Hanna House blueprint, but took only about 10-15 minutes total for digitization from start to finish, including post-processing and quality control checks. An item like the Hanna House blueprint may take as much as 2-3 hours in total using the overhead camera method.

So why not always use the faster way? The large-format sheetfeed scanner produces images with excellent color and spatial accuracy and high resolution, with one big caveat - digital artifacts in the form of streaks are often present and unavoidable, as in this bridge blueprint. The streaking rarely obscures information (and if it does, we will catch it during quality control checks and rescan), so the speed makes the tradeoff worth it for many projects where access is the primary concern.

Though not suitable for images used for reproduction or for certain types of fragile materials, this type of scanner nevertheless makes large scanning projects of oversized materials feasible that otherwise could never be justified due to the amount of time they would take using an overhead camera.

See more: Joseph Strauss bridge plans

Das Thier in der Decorativen Kunst
Das Thier in der Decorativen Kunst
Das Thier in der Decorativen Kunst

Collection of oversized art prints

This object is comprised of 30 separate art prints, each of which had to be stitched together from multiple images.

Poster 7 California drawings

Oversized with extra resolution

This drawing is mounted on an oversized board. We imaged it twice - once with the full board to communicate the full physical object (image 2), and again centered just on the drawing itself at higher than standard resolution, as it is a dense drawing. The image was destined for reproduction, where the full physical object would be cropped in to just the drawing itself anyway.

Oversized Objects: Newsprint

Though usually consisting of multiple separate sheets, newspapers are not bound and so can be imaged using similar techniques to other unbound materials.

Depending on the size of the newsprint and the nature of the project, these may be imaged using DPG's large-format sheetfeed scanner (for high volume), such as the New York Weekly issue here, or with an overhead camera as with the other two examples.

Street & Smith's New York weekly. Volume 24, number 50, 1869-10-28
Aurora. 1978-03-13
Habari Gani. Ravenswood High School student newspaper. Volume 3, No. 10

Oversized objects: Conrad Collection

"The Conrad Collection on Dutch Waterways is the personal collection of Jan Frederick Willem Conrad, a 19th century Dutch engineer and former chief inspector of Rijkswaterstaat. Included in this collection are cartographic and technical materials that document the construction of the Dutch waterway and coastal infrastructure during the 17th to 20th centuries."

This collection consists of many hundreds of maps and other oversized items, all imaged using an overhead camera.

[Plates to Allgemeine auf Geschichte und Erfahrung gegr√ľndete theoretisch-practische Wasserbaukunst.]

The two items below are individual parts of larger maps made up of multiple sheets, which are grouped together in Searchworks. View the other parts of the one on the left: https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/14058624; and the one on the right: https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/14054927.

Nieuwe kaart van het Hoogheemraadschap der uitwaterende sluizen van Kennemerland en Westfriesland
['t Hooge heemraed-schap van Rhynland]

San Francisco polyphony
San Francisco polyphony

Oversized item imaged at lower resolution than standard

The decision was made to image this object at a lower resolution than DPG's typical 600 ppi because it was being digitized in order to be reproduced in print and doesn't contain particularly fine details. It was imaged at 400 ppi - standard print resolution is 300 dpi, so 400 ppi images are more than sufficient.

Images at this resolution are significantly faster and easier for DPG to produce for oversized objects, and an object like this that would be considered oversized at the standard 600 ppi can easily be captured in a single image at 400 ppi.

This was digitized for physical reproduction to be displayed in the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics building. "An early example of computer-typeset music (MS plotter output) produced by Leland Smith at Stanford University, presumably between 1974 and 1975. The single leaf of music is made up of several smaller sheets printed separately and assembled together."

Processus Martini P.[apae] IV [aliis II] contra Petru[m] Arragonae et Palaeologum : manuscript document, ca. 1281
Processus Martini P.[apae] IV [aliis II] contra Petru[m] Arragonae et Palaeologum : manuscript document, ca. 1281

Vellum scroll

In this case, the scroll was imaged at DPG's standard 600 ppi, which requires significant extra time and care - but we feel it's worth it to capture the fine detail in an interesting historical item like this. An image of the scroll rolled up was captured as well.

Browse all unbound objects: