A Local Treasure: The National Bankruptcy Archives

The National Bankruptcy Archives (NBA) is a national repository of archival materials relating to the history of debtor-creditor relations, bankruptcy and the reorganization of debt. It was created in 2000 to serve as a valuable resource and research tool for scholars and lawyers. This article introduces you to its utility and some of its content.

The NBA was formed through an agreement between the University of Pennsylvania Trustees and the American College of Bankruptcy, and is currently located at the Biddle Law Library. It houses the records of organizations and individuals whose activities are relevant to bankruptcy and insolvency legislation, regulation and administrative and judicial determinations. The NBA has also collected over 70 oral histories of important bankruptcy figures as well as many videos of educational programs of historic significance.

If you drop by the collection, you can listen to Asa Herzog describe the workings of the “bankruptcy ring” in the 1930’s, and trustee Norman Nachman recall the failure of the Tucker Corporation in its mission to challenge the three big automakers in the 1950’s. You can listen to attorney Charles Horsky, who (also) represented Fred Korematsu, discuss the restructuring of the Penn Central Railroad, the largest bankruptcy reorganization of the 1970’s.

The 1970s also marked the beginning of the crisis, or turnaround management, industry. Evidencing that period are oral histories of Victor Palmieri, who used his real estate expertise to reorganize the holdings of the Pennsylvania Company following the bankruptcy filing of Penn Central, and turnaround specialist Robert “Steve” Miller, who discusses the players involved and efforts made to reach agreement with 400 banks represented by Len Rosen in the Chrysler restructuring.

If you would like to understand the United States trustee program better, you can watch a panel consisting of the first Executive Director of the Office of United States Trustee and two United States trustees discussing the challenges of the pilot program and how they were met in 1979. Or you can view a fascinating discussion between women pioneers from both the bench and practice, who discuss their experiences breaking into this male-dominated arena.

The documentary collection is broad and deep. You will be able to access the legislative history of the Bankruptcy Reform Act through documents donated by Kenneth Klee and Richard Levin who served as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, as well as an understanding of cross-border insolvency from the papers of international bankruptcy law expert Daniel Glosband, a primary draftsman of Chapter 15 of the Bankruptcy Code and the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Bankruptcy Insolvency.


These materials are just a few examples of the history preserved in the collection at the NBA. The oral histories and educational program materials are available to you on your computer or mobile device in audio and/or video format from the NBA website. Efforts are underway to digitize documents to facilitate remote access to the growing paper collection. To visit in the NBA in person, contact Leslie O’Neill at the Biddle Law Library.


Photos courtesy of Leslie O’Neill, Archivist, Biddle Law Library at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. 


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