University of Delaware
Debra Hess Norris is well-versed in caring for her impressive collection of Beatles memoribilia.

Ultimate Beatles fan

UD expert tells enthusiasts how to care for memorabilia


3:58 p.m., Feb. 5, 2014--University of Delaware professor Debra Hess Norris can’t resist quoting a few lyrics from her favorite band of all time — the Beatles — in her lectures on photograph preservation.

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the “British Invasion” in America, UDaily talks with Norris, Henry Francis du Pont Chair in Fine Arts at UD, about her love for the Beatles and how to care for your treasured collections.

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Q. Where were you when the Beatles first appeared in America on “The Ed Sullivan Show”?

A. The Beatles first appeared on Ed Sullivan on Feb. 9, 1964. I fell in love — a love that never died — with the Beatles in 1965. I did my share of screaming in front of our black-and-white television during subsequent Ed Sullivan appearances.

Q. What’s in your collection of Beatles memorabilia? What’s that one item you would never part with? 

A. I have vintage cards, magazines, records, wallpaper, a lunch box (and thermos!), a wallet, serving tray, buttons, bobblehead dolls and other trinkets. I lust for the Beatles’ record player. 

I would never part with the concert program from when I saw the Beatles at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia on Aug. 16, 1966, with my dad. We sat in the seventh row. He was likely the only older male at the concert. He brought the newspaper. In my excitement, I accidently clobbered dad in the nose with the binoculars. He bled profusely and had to seek medical assistance. This was one of the most exciting days of my life — but not for dad. Many years later, this program was signed by John Lennon twice. I will always treasure my memories from that evening.  

Q. What’s your advice for preserving these treasures? 

A. In general:

  • Protect these materials from high and fluctuating temperature and humidity conditions. Do not store memorabilia in attics or basements. House them in a stable, low-relative humidity environment such as an interior closet. 
  • Use good-quality non-acidic paper materials and boxes for additional protection. House vintage magazines and cards in polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene plastic enclosures. Do not use PVC plastics. 
  • Protect collection materials from high light levels that will fade organic dyes and embrittle and discolor poor-quality papers. 
  • Moisture will cause magnetic tape to deteriorate. Ensure the playback device is clean. 
  • Handle vinyl records with care to protect from scratches and place in good-quality plastic sleeves. 
  • For CDs and DVDs, beware of dust that will scratch or abrade these fragile surfaces. High temperatures can lead to cracking or warping. 
  • Handle all memorabilia with clean hands and carefully as surfaces are easily abraded and damaged. 
  • Document the collection to preserve personal history and for insurance.

Q. Have you/your students had the opportunity to preserve any Beatles artifacts for museums or private collections?

A. Years ago, we treated a wonderful and rare privately owned black-and-white photographic album depicting the Beatles from 1961-63. The album was in very poor condition with discolored pressure-sensitive tapes, detached and torn pages, and surface dirt. This required nearly 100 hours of work, conducted by two talented graduate students — Jennifer Jae Gutierrez (now the Arthur J. Bell Senior Photograph Conservator at the University of Arizona) and Laura Wahl (conservator at Hagley Museum and Library). It was a collision of my passions — photograph conservation, education and the Beatles! 

Q. What are some other notable items that UD’s art conservation department has helped to conserve?

A. Our graduates have pioneered innovative examination and treatment techniques, developed national standards for the preservation of our cultural heritage, and helped to preserve cultural icons including the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Star-Spangled Banner. Their work has directly influenced the fields of art conservation, the history of art, and the history of technology, anthropology and archaeology and has insured the availability of often fragile and vulnerable cultural materials worldwide for scholarship, interpretation, education and enjoyment.

Q. How many different presentations have you given over the years with Beatles lyrics in them? 

A. I typically use Beatles music and images in my lectures on photograph preservation worldwide. Just last week I concluded a lecture on advocacy and preservation planning in Amman, Jordan, with “Help!” accompanied with images of photographs in need of improved care. The Beatles are universal.  

Q. Why are you so crazy about the Beatles, and what is your most unforgettable Beatles moment?

A. I only wish I knew! While I only saw the Beatles once, I have seen Sir Paul McCartney live 17 times … from NYC to LA. And on Aug. 4, 2011, I met him as he entered the Cincinnati stadium for his sound check. It was a dream come true. I tried to be professional, presenting him with my UD business card and telling him that I had loved the Beatles since 1965 and had the opportunity to preserve his photographs. That night he smiled at me from the stage as I held up an elaborate and colorful two-sided sign with streamers and hearts attesting to my lifelong love for the Beatles. 

Q. What’s ahead for you and the Beatles?

A. For many years I have worn a gift from my sister – a sterling silver bracelet with the lyrics of Imagine: “You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.” John Lennon’s words inspire me daily as we work in partnership to preserve the world’s photographic heritage for future generations…. I also am determined to speak with Sir Paul, Ringo, Yoko, Olivia Harrison or their agents about the long-term preservation of their archives. Just Imagine! 

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photos by Evan Krape and Sidney W. Hess

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