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Boston Athenaeum's Curator

 20/02/2018

A 211-year-old independent library in the centre of Beacon Hill—the Boston Athenaeum — is home to about 150,000 rare books. These range from rare collectibles to brand new, huge tomes to tiny ones. Some are made of lead, some are made of shredded 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, 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 discovered such rarities as Audubon’s Birds of America, the great big folio multivolume set of images of birds.

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.

Read the Atlas Obscura interview here
 
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.