Trevor: First, could you tell us a bit about the Cabrinety Collection? What’s the backstory? What is its scale in terms of numbers of items, date ranges, types of items, etc?
Henry: The Stephen M. Cabrinety Collection in the History of Microcomputing was a gift to Stanford University. Stephen Cabrinety was a collector who began a very systematic effort to document the history of videogames while a teenager. Documents in the collection tell the story of his remarkably prescient vision of a historical collection or museum of the history of microcomputing. He attended Stanford briefly, stopped out and unfortunately passed away at a much too early age. His family then was faced with the decision about what to do with his collection. His sister contacted Stanford based on her discovery of our Silicon Valley Archives while searching on the web, and we negotiated the terms of the transfer by gift in 1998.
Note that this is a history of microcomputing collection, not a game collection per se, though probably more than 80 percent of the collection is console and computer games or related forms of interactive entertainment or education. The collection covers the period from the Magnavox Odyssey (1972) to just before DOOM (1993); it includes a substantial portion of the microcomputer (including console) software produced in this period. We do not have an exact count for various reasons, but the number of software titles is in the neighborhood of 12-15,000, plus more than 70 platforms, other hardware, books, magazines, ephemera, and archival documentation.
Trevor: Could you tell us about a few of the items in the collection that you think are particularly special, exciting and unique?
Henry: I can answer this question from several different perspectives. From a personal perspective, nearly every box I open from the collection catches my eye with an interesting strategy title or historical simulation — Avalon-Hill games like Nukewar or Chris Crawford’s early games or the amazing run of games from SSI during the 1980s. Another criterion might be rarity, and we find that games like Ultima – Escape from Mt. Drash or hardware like a Magnavox Odyssey in the original (unopened) box are in the collection. Then of course there are the many classics in pristine condition from Atari, Electronic Arts, Nintendo, and so on, including versions of software such as VisiCalc (even a dealer demo) and Wordstar.
Trevor: Could you tell us about the partnership with NIST? What is the plan? What is Stanford doing and getting out of the relationship and what is NIST getting?
Henry: The plan is to image as much of the software collection as possible and add the images and hashes to the NSRL database. In a nutshell, we will move through the collection beginning with the items on relatively familiar, more recent formats first (e.g., CD-ROM, 3.5” floppy diskettes, etc.) and ending with now unfamiliar formats from the 1970s, such as data on audio-cassettes. NSRL will capture disk images from original media, along with photographic images of media, boxes and box inserts (manuals, registration cards, etc.); Stanford will provide the software, manage metadata, carry out quality control, and archive the images in our digital repository. We will be able to compile success rates for data capture from the various media formats, and finally, we will contact rights-owners to request permission to provide access to items in the collection for which they hold copyright.