Pic of the Week: Caring for the Library’s Oldest Poster

Photo by Shawn Miller.

Library of Congress conservators use enzymes and small hand tools to gently remove the cloth backing from the verso of a giant poster created to advertise a 19th-century circus. The treatment is part of an effort to preserve the poster, the earliest surviving one in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division.

Titled “Five Celebrated Clowns Attached to Sands, Nathans and Company’s Circus,” the poster came into the Library’s collections as a result of being deposited with a copyright registration in 1856. Measuring almost 12 by 7 feet, it showcases five nearly life-size clowns.

Its size suggests that it was meant to be visible at a distance when adhered to the side of a building or a barn. Joseph W. Morse, who devised a system for printing theatrical posters from large blocks of wood, designed the poster. It was originally printed on 10 paper panels in four colors using 40 hand-carved wood blocks.

The Sands, Nathans and Company’s Circus operated from about 1855 to 1863 and was noted for its two performing elephants, Victoria and Albert.

The conservators shown here are, from left, Emilie Duncan, Claire Valero and Bailey Kinsky.

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