How to Save a Circus Poster: Collection, Conservation, Context

Conservators examine a circus posted in shredded pieces

American Antiquarian Society
185 Salisbury Street
Worcester, MA 01609
United States

If you found a box containing a jumbled pile of old, crumpled paper, would you keep it? You might, if you knew it would turn out to be an eight-foot-tall circus poster that includes the earliest known depiction of an American circus ring! Join Babette Gehnrich, AAS chief conservator; Lauren B. Hewes, AAS vice president for collections; and Matthew Wittmann, curator of the Harvard Theatre Collection at Houghton Library, for the story behind salvaging an 1830s poster, printed by Jared W. Bell of New York and intended for display on buildings lining the parade route of an early traveling menagerie. This program will closely examine the complex conservation work required to stabilize and piece together this enormous piece of ephemera in the AAS collections and its implications for what we know about early American popular entertainment.


Babette Gehnrich is the chief conservator at AAS. She is responsible for the preservation of the Society’s collections and works closely with library staff. She received her training in book/paper conservation and hand bookbinding in Berlin, Germany, and the Centro del bel Libro in Switzerland.