How do you move millions of items which are cumulatively worth tens of millions of dollars? The joking answer is “very carefully,” but it's not too far from the truth. My team experienced it this summer as we relocated our entire collection to a new state-of-the-art storage facility.
The Archives of The Coca-Cola Company was initially conceived as early as 1939 when the company, with memories fresh from its 50th anniversary celebrations, kicked off plans to gather material for a library and potential exhibit. Franklin Garrett, who later headed the Atlanta History Center and was named the city’s official historian, was hired in 1940 and served as the company historian. He held that role until Wilbur Kurtz, Jr. assumed the duties of assisting with bottler anniversaries in 1958.
Kurtz was born into his love of history – his father, Wilbur Kurtz, Sr. was an artist with a passion for history who recreated many famous historical scenes. He even served as the technical advisor for the filming of Gone with the Wind. When I began working at the Atlanta History Center in 1987, I worked with Franklin. My first task was to create the finding aid for Kurtz, Sr.’s collection.
While Garrett was more focused on writing about the history of the company, Kurtz Jr. began to amass the memorabilia which forms the core of our collection now. The Archives had been limited in scope to North America until it was transferred to the global Corporate offices in 1971.
In 1977, as Kurtz retired, The Coca-Cola Company hired its first professionally trained archivist, Phil Mooney. Phil quickly set out to modernise the company's holdings and consolidate its collection from various warehouses and offices. By 1983, Phil was able to get the first dedicated storage space on the complex when the collection was moved to rooms that had been occupied by the company supply store. Instead of holding paper and staplers, the rooms now housed the growing archives collections.
When I interviewed with Phil for the job of Archives Manager in 1997, I was surprised when I was not able to see the collection. Phil did say that the collection storage was about to be modernised, and that the successful candidate would be responsible for that project. That was no joke! I spent the first year on the job overseeing the installation of 13,000 square feet of compact moving shelving.
Every item had to be removed from the shelves as construction took place, then returned to the new shelving. In 2000, the collection outgrew the rooms, and we were able to expand the space by adding a new room. You can get a good feel for the layout of the Archives via the virtual tour website and app.
Phil retired in 2013, and I was named Archivist. I never imagined that I would move the collection again, but due to a renovation project at the Coca-Cola campus, a new state-of-the-art space was identified as a location for the collection.
With excellent humidity and air conditioning available because of the room’s former use as a computer “server farm,” the location is perfect for the long-term storage and preservation of the collection.
Construction began around February to convert the location for the installation of the high-density shelving, which was installed in June.
So, how are we moving the collection? Very carefully! In order to maximise space, we have done months of pre-planning to place similar collections together. We have installed new art shelving, which allows the art to be hung in a manner better suited for long-term preservation and also to serve as a showcase.
Our team has worked with the movers to box and pack the fragile items, and we even hand-walked the Norman Rockwell paintings and other high-value items between the two spaces.
Having now moved the Archives collection twice, I hope my successor gets to move it the next time!
Ted Ryan is director of Heritage Communications at The Coca-Cola Company.
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