In Pursuit of Grolier

The American Antiquarian Society is somewhat of a rare bird in the way we exhibit our holdings. On the one hand, the fact that we have virtually no display space means that materials are lent for other institutions to display; on the other hand, we’re just itching to show off our collections. So when the opportunity presented itself to showcase nearly limitless AAS-only items at the Grolier Club in New York City, the staff responded. The curators selected, pruned, and honed – the photographer set-up, digitized and stitched – and the conservation staff cared, cleaned and mended. The result is a content-heavy approach that  showcases the depth of the collections. In short, visitors to the physical show leave knowing that AAS has a vast amount of material.

The Chief Conservator, Babette Gehnrich and Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts, Lauren Hewes, who was also the registrar of the exhibition, prepared the materials prior to their departure. Together they organized them, packed them, shipped them (in Worcester), and unpacked them, assembled them and arranged them (in New York).

Perhaps a more appropriate analogy is in order. Because the sheer amount of materials destined for Grolier was such so large, detailed attention was involved at each step of the journey. Much like packing and shipping lobsters, you can’t just throw them in a box, use self-stick adhesive and say “see you on the other side!”

The collection (like lobsters) is high-maintenance, temperature and humidity sensitive, requires extra precautions and tastes best with clarified butter. Accordingly, and taking into account the crustacean-like-needs, Lauren and Babette left lots of extra space, made sure everything was well-padded, well-wrapped and virtually weather-proof. The support materials (case labels and item labels) were dry mounted, stacked and packed separately (but equally as carefully so they did not get bent or damaged along the way).

Alas, now the shelves where the items sat and were culled lay empty, the sign indicating their temporary location for more than a year is torn, and this period where the items are displayed rather than amassed, and contextualized, rather than occupying their more permanent position in call number order, is brief. So in the meantime, until November 17th, if you want to view these items in all their careful splendor, please visit the Grolier Club. No lobster bibs required.

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