Digitizing The Phoebe Beach Archive

In case you didn’t catch it in the announcements, I am in receipt of “The Phoebe Beach Archive”. This represents all the photos, documents, and various other bits of paper and ephemera that Phoebe inherited from her husband Donn Beach. It was this information that her late husband Arnold Bitner used to write his biography of Donn: Scrounging the Islands with the Legendary Don the Beachcomber. There is no way to write a proper biography of Donn without this information and I was blessed to have Phoebe grant it to me last year. I was supposed to be traveling to see her in New Zealand in May to digitize the archive when Covid prevented my trip. She instead decided to send it to me here so that my research and work could start.

It is 70 kilos (155 pounds) of material. I hurt my back just getting off the delivery truck.

When it arrived in January we opened everything and did a cursory review just to see it all once. Then it was re-boxed and now I am slowly going through it in detail to digitize it all. Photographing documents (as I describe here in this post) and scanning photographs. Occasionally I read a tiny bit of what I’m handling. Mostly I am just quickly trying to get it copied. This process started in January and now at the end of March I have finished six of the binders Phoebe created and all of the films and negatives that were in the batch.

The set up above with the bins of material under the table.

The lightbox in action. Binder to the right.

At some point over the years Phoebe took this massive collection and organized it into binders by subject. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude for that. She made my work far far easier.

You can see two of the green binders in the above photo on the chair to the right and a purple one on the table above. I don’t know how many there are in total. Each binder represents 250+ items.

Once I have finished with the archive, I will then actually start examining its contents in detail. I will read the TV scripts, personal letters, business contracts, trade mark applications, site plans, drink recipes, secret drink ingredient recipes, his own autobiographical material written in his all too hard to read handwriting, etc., and then add it to the thousands of articles, stories, and other history I have collected and start to form it into a biography of my own.

I had planned to take two weeks in New Zealand to scan all this. I was to work morning to bedtime in a mad dash to get it done. It is more leisurely now, but I may yet have to take some time off to get it done. I am trying not to let it dominate my life. It could easily burden me constantly as it is always on my To-Do list. I admit I spend too much time lying in bed awake thinking about it.

I expect it will take several months to finish scanning. By end of summer I may be ready to start digesting it.

This is a long process.

My goal is to donate all of it to a museum or university archive so it can be available forever to anyone who wants to do more research. I have decided to try to share it online when the book is done. I am already sharing items I know will not make it into the book here. In some format I want to put it all out there now so you all can dig into it. How, I don’t know exactly. Stephanie is always asking me what I intend to do when I retire and putting all this on this website may just be that answer.

One thought on “Digitizing The Phoebe Beach Archive

  • March 28, 2021 at 6:12 pm
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    If there would be a “Hero of Tiki Culture” medal, you’d deserve it! And I am not being facetious here 🙂

    Reply

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