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Karr Collection Television Commercials: Introduction

This is a guide to the television commercials in the Lawrence F. Karr Collection held in the collections of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Congress.

The Karr Collection contains 1,928 commercials produced during the 1960s and early 1970s. In addition, there are 175 duplicate copies. Public service announcements (PSAs) are not included in this finding aid, but a guide to them is in preparation. The commercial products advertised include items such as food for human and pet consumption, automobiles, cigarettes, miscellaneous products for indoor and outdoor household use, entertainment products, and various services. Companies which manufactured the products represented in the Karr Collection include Colgate- Palmolive, Campbell's, Chevrolet, General Foods, American Oil Company, Topper Toys, and many more.

These commercials were broadcast on WJAR-TV, Channe1 10, the NBC affiliate in the Providence, Rhode Island area. Although some of the advertising campaigns found in this collection were for products available only in this geographic area, most were for products meant for a wider, national audience of viewers and consumers.

Researchers in the fields of broadcasting history, advertising history, industrial relations, film and media studies, American studies, women's studies, African American studies, and other areas will find these films rich in representations of American life during the 1960s and early 1970s. Many of the ads depict, or make reference to, topics and issues which characterize that time period. The environmental concerns as reflected by the Great Society programs of the Johnson administration, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the burgeoning "youth culture", the women's movement and the sexual revolution are presented in imaginative ways in these commercials.

Aesthetically, the visual and aural zeitgeist of the 1960s and early 1970s is captured through use of jump cuts, montage editing, innovative lighting, "mod" fashions, psychedelic graphics, and diverse music sound tracks representing rock and roll and jazz that foreshadow the techniques later found in the music videos of the MTV era.

In addition to the Karr Collection, other television commercials are contained in the collections of the Division. However, it is difficult to gain access to many of them because in the older manual card files, they are entered under the name of the sponsor and are not brought together as a genre. The following is an example of a title in the card files: "[Colgate Palmolive television commercial]. Bend your elbow."

Since about 1987, commercials have been cataloged in the Library's MUMS computer system. To date, MUMS contains 573 commercials.

The titles of the television commercials begin with the generic term, "[Television commercial--]," and continue with the name of the product or sponsor and, in some cases, the title of the commercial, if known. The following is an example of a title in the MUMS system: "[Television commercial--Quaker State motor oil]. Father and son."

A number of search strategies could be used to locate the commercials. The most inclusive search would be a title keyword search limited to the file of audio-visual materials: "find t television commercial and c collection;f=av." The second component of the search string, "and c collection," confines the results to commercials actually held at the Library of Congress. If the searcher knows the type of product or the name of the manufacturer or service provider, they should add those words to the search string, for example: "find t television commercial miller beer and c collection;f=av." For further assistance on searching MUMS, please consult online help, online searching documents, a reference librarian or Library of Congress publications.

Separate guides to the Dartmouth College Collection of approximately 500 television commercials, dating from 1952 to 1963, Gitt Collection of television commercials and public service announcements in the Karr Collection are also available. It is hoped that other collections will be made accessible through finding aids in the future.

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  August 31, 2010
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