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Case Study: J.C. Allen and Son Collection, Indiana State Fair Photographs, 1926-1952

About the Collection

The Allen Collection is one of the most comprehensive photographic bodies of work documenting American agriculture in the early 20th century. Most of the images were taken by J.C. Allen and his son Chester Allen from 1926 to 1952. The business is still in operation in Lafayette, Ind., under the management of John O. Allen. Descriptions for most images were provided by the photographers. The collection was donated by the Center for Agricultural Science and Heritage (The Barn), located on the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis.

About the Indiana State Fair

Since 1852, the Indiana State Fair has played a pivotal role in the research and technological development of  the agricultural industry. The fair brings together farmers, manufacturers and residents who share new ideas about agriculture and stimulate industry, with agriculture and livestock as the core components.

Conservation Summary

The J.C. Allen Collection includes glass plate negatives, nitrate negatives, acetate negatives and photographic prints, as well as aged paper and glassine storage envelopes. Many of the negatives were subject to bubbling, image loss and deformation because of the original materials they were made from. Negatives and papers often fused to one another in stacked storage. Damage to these types of materials can easily happen unless special storage precautions are taken. The damage can be slowed by placing negatives in controlled cold storage or the image can be scanned and preserved digitally.

Conservation treatments were performed for each fragile item in this collection so that these items were stabilized. Each piece needed to be both visually identifiable and physically strong enough to undergo the processing necessary for digitization. 

The collection included many different types of damage, which varied depending upon the original material the negatives were made of, the way they were stuck to paper or other negatives, and which side of which material was stuck to which. Fortunately, some duplicates were available, but overall it was necessary to devise 11 different treatment processes to treat the more than 200 damaged pieces in the collection.

Since their digitization, the resulting online collection, encompassing more than 700 individual historical images, provides ready access to a large variety of images in the Allen Collection. You can see them here. 


Brooks Tormohlen and His Brown Leghorn

This negative is adhered to a paper envelope and another unrelated print, some of which has chipped off leaving holes through which the image on the negative can be seen.

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The envelope and print were cleaned off the negative's surface in a surfactant bath, followed by swabbing with a solvent-based film cleaner. The negative was then scanned and printed digitally with restoration of the missing area on the right edge.

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Hopewell Male Quartet
This stack of materials is stuck together, from top to bottom: a paper envelope, a film negative and two photographic prints.

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The negative has lost most of its image due to exposure to high temperatures and the instability of the original material it was made from.

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The print was saved by separating it from the deteriorated negative in an alcohol-based surfactant bath . The print was then digitized for online use.

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Jimmie Risk Horseshoe Pitching
This negative is adhered to the remains of a photographic print, which has peeled away to leave holes through which the image on the negative can be seen.

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The negative was saved by cleaning away the print using cotton swabs and a slightly alkaline, solvent-based solution. The negative was then scanned and inverted with slight digital flattening for viewing.

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Additional Images from the J.C. Allen Collection in the History Lab

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