At first glance, they might look like nothing more than the old papers Granddad stuck up in the attic, the dusty boxes about his business that no one ever took the trouble to throw out. But to the people at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, they look like treasures.
For, along with the tools and machines and boats and planes that make up the visible parts of this museum's collection has come an assortment of archival material that reveals volumes about the business and labor of this city.
The collection ranges from photographs of Stieff silversmiths to drawings of Baron Von Esskay advertising that company's hot dogs; from canceled checks and stamped time cards to industrial catalogs, and from 19th century ledgers to labels of vegetable cans that were once filled in myriad Baltimore canneries.
"We are lucky because the people here at the museum starting collecting this stuff right from the start, when they were organizing the place in the late '70s," said Nancy Perlman, the museum's archivist. "Still, a lot of stuff was just thrown away."
For the past year and a half, Ms. Perlman has been organizing the 74 different collections held by the museum on Key Highway.
They are stored in a cluttered upstairs storeroom, 17,000 climate-controlled cubic feet dominated by shelves holding scores of boxes, each containing 1,000 pieces of paper or some of the 56,000 photographs and other images the museum holds.
On the floor are large cans filled with rolled-up blueprints.
Down one aisle are big framed photographs of buildings constructed by an engineering firm, down another a collection of industrial movies from various sources.
Stacked along one wall are the huge, leather-bound, handwritten ledgers used to record business transactions in the 19th century.
"Sometimes we don't even know where these things came from," Ms. Perlman said.