A lesson in saving your company’s artifacts

Get our Storytelling Newsletter


A 1942 piece of Superman comic book cover art went up for auction today in a thriving collectibles market where old superheroes can trade for more than $1 million.

The cover art comes direct from the collection of Jerry Robinson, now 88, a member of the original Batman team and the creator of the Joker. Back in the 1940s, most original comic art was destroyed by engravers hours after the printing presses finished their run. Robinson is one of the few artists from that time who had the foresight to save his work.

It’s not likely that your company’s old letterhead will ever fetch you a big sum at auction, but I guarantee that if you keep these artifacts and organize them properly, generations of employees and managers down the road will be glad you did. I’ve lost count of the number of times a client has been working with us on an anniversary book for their company and lamented that a previous owner or CEO hadn’t kept more records from the company’s past.

My advice for companies is to set up one filing cabinet drawer called “History In the Making” and assign the job of “Company Historian” to maintaining it. It shouldn’t take more than three hours per month. This person should have good instincts for what to keep and what to recycle. A moving “thank you” card from a customer is a keeper while notes from a staff meeting are not. Incidentally, the Company Historian should also be tasked with snapping photos at every company milestone, from Christmas parties to strategic retreats to AGMs (here’s a great link on how to organize digital photos).

So, in the filing cabinet, set up one folder for photos and one for letters, memos, etc. Write a quick caption of who/when/where on the back of each photo before it is placed in the cabinet (in a pen that won’t rub ink off onto the other photos). Store the CDs of digital photos with the printed photos (CDs labelled by year and event). At the end of each year, all of the files in the cabinet go into a banker’s box (labelled by year – ie. Company History 2010). You may be able to fit more than one year’s worth of memories in a box, in which case just write the new year on the box (ie. Company History 2008, 2009, 2010).

As for the Superman comic, it provokes an interesting side question: are you a superhero in your company? Most superheroes are motivated with a profound sense of responsibility to serve people with no expectation of being in the spotlight for their good work. Does this describe you as a leader? If you had a boss like this, would you be more or less motivated to work hard?