Major ad agencies and ad industry organizations with collections have found university archives ready to take their material.
The University of Illinois communications library houses Advertising Council material and what Lisa Romero, a librarian and associate professor, believes to be the world's largest collection of print ads: 5 million of them (including print work from the D'Arcy agency and its successors from 1880 until 1983).
The John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History at Duke University is home to corporate collections from J. Walter Thompson Co. and also work from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles and the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.
But individuals and small companies with material of potential interest face a different situation.
Consider Bill Gould. In a back room at his company's offices are as many as 2,000 uncatalogued kinescope film reels of commercials dating back to 1960. Clips include spots for Dial soap (1966) and Good & Plenty (1966) to Budweiser (1963).
Mr. Gould, 38, is president of BRY, Chicago, a graphic arts company that makes post-production TV storyboards from videotaped commercials. He has been trying, unsuccessfully, to donate the kinescopes to a museum or film library for the past 10 years.
"I don't know everything that's on them -- whether they're priceless or not -- but I'm surprised. I thought somebody would want them," he said.
Officials at broadcasting museums and libraries cite copyright laws, inadequate storage space and the cost of transferring images from 16mm kinescope film to modern videotape to explain their reluctance to accept such donations.
"We'd be doing more harm than good if we accepted film we couldn't transfer and had to move it from one basement to another," said Chris Broyles, a producer for the Museum of Broadcast Communications.
The Chicago museum's policy is to handle each donation inquiry on a case-by-case basis, said Archives Director Clair Schulz. Potential donations that touch on Chicago-based businesses are sometimes looked upon more favorably given the museum's limited capacity, he said.
There also are other specialized advertising and TV-related museums, such as the American Advertising Museum in Portland, Ore., and the Museum of Television & Radio in New York.
The New York museum receives up to 25 donor inquiries a year, most from individuals, said TV and advertising curator David Bushman.
'AS MUCH AS WE CAN'
"We try to take as much as we can," he said. "People like to give to us because [the donation] can be seen by anybody here. It doesn't go into a library for research."
The museum has about 10,000 ads in its collection.
Some universities maintain information networks among potential donors. Duke's Hartman Center publishes a newsletter sent to 2,000 subscribers in the advertising and marketing industry who might be interested in donating to its collection. "All of these people know other people," said Hartman Center Director Ellen Gartrell. "It's a word-of-mouth thing."
Before videotape, 16mm kinescope films were the standard for recording TV shows, news broadcasts and commercials. A motion picture camera placed in front of a TV monitor filmed the shows and commercials off the screen.
Kinescope as a means of recording TV shows was abandoned in the early 1950s, when electronic videotape was introduced. BRY, which produces storyboards for agencies such as Leo Burnett Co., continued to shoot kinescopes until the early 1980s because the slower film speed made it easier to freeze frames to make storyboards.
Mr. Gould, who joined BRY in 1978, more or less inherited the reels from BRY founder Art Becker, who started the company in 1939. Mr. Becker died in 1992.
"I can respectfully say that Art was a pack rat," Mr. Gould said. "I don't think he consciously saved them, but as time progressed, maybe he thought that one day this film would be of value or use, or that agencies might request them."
Mr. Gould, who also co-owns a color management company housed in BRY's office, wants to move the film to make space for his new business. Like many other people with collections of historical ads, Mr. Gould said he is not looking to make a profit on them but does not want to throw them away. "I'd like to get them off my hands with a clear conscience," he said.
MANY TURNED DOWN
The Museum of Broadcast Communications, which receives 30 to 50 donation offers a year, said it recognizes the possible historical value in such a collection but simply does not have enough space or funding to accept every donation.
"We've had to turn down many film-oriented donations," Mr. Broyles said. Mr. Schulz, the archives director, said funding has often fallen through at the last moment. That may change in the next few months. In January, the museum announced plans to partner with the library of the University of Illinois at Chicago -- an association that will enable both to share information and shelf space.
One potential buyer for collections is the WPA Film Library in Orland Park, Ill.; it sells film footage to clients such as E! Entertainment, Boston Public TV station WGBH and the National Film Board of Canada.
Televent Video Services, a 16mm film-to-video transfer company that does pro bono service for the Museum of Broadcast Communications, also expressed interest after a recent inquiry by Advertising Age.
"I don't think I'm sitting on a gold mine," Mr. Gould said. "Are they interesting or of historical value? I don't know. They're snippets of