Curating Rare Books for a 200-Year-Old Library – The Boston Athenaeum


The Boston Athenaeum in 1908 (Library of Congress)

In one of Atlas Obscura’s recent email listings, this hidden gem of a rare-book library right here in the U.S. was featured. Specifically, the curator of the Boston Athenaeum, (whose motto is literarum fructus dulces – “sweet are the fruit of letters”) Stanley E. Cushing, was featured, having spent 47 years in the library.

Below are the opening paragraphs of the story of his work in this special library. Find the rest at the link at the end.

When I visit Boston, this wonderful place will be on my itinerary. 🙂

The Boston Athenaeum—a 211-year-old independent library in the center of Beacon Hill—is home to about 150,000 rare books. Some are old, and some are brand new. Some are huge, and some are tiny. Some are made of lead, some are made of shredded army uniforms, and one is, famously, made of human skin. Until recently, Stanley Ellis Cushing was in charge of all of them.

Cushing began his career at the Athenaeum in 1970, right after he graduated from college. He ended up staying for 47 years—“longer than anybody else in the last hundred years or so,” he says—working as a bookbinder and conservator, then as the Chief of the Conservation Department, and finally as the first-ever Curator of Rare Books. While in this last position, he began the library’s artists’ books collection, and took the opportunity to scoop up everything from bark cloth catalogs to anti-war tracts.

Cushing retired in late 2017 (he is now the Rare Books Curator Emeritus) but his legacy remains on the Athenaeum’s shelves, in the form of the many additions he has made to them. He spoke with Atlas Obscura about his favorite books, his chain of accidentally strategic resignation attempts, and the various priceless treasures he has rescued from the open stacks.

Source: Exit Interview: I Curated Rare Books for a 200-Year-Old Library – Atlas Obscura

Published in: on February 22, 2018 at 10:56 PM  Leave a Comment