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American Antiquarian Society

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

American Antiquarian Society
American antiq soc seal.svg
WorcesterMA AntiquarianSociety 2.jpg
View of Antiquarian Hall from the corner of Salisbury St. and Park Ave
42°16′38″N 71°48′39″W / 42.27722°N 71.81083°W / 42.27722; -71.81083
Location185 Salisbury Street,
Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
Established1812; 211 years ago (1812)
Architect(s)Winslow, Bigelow & Wadsworth
Size4 million
Access and use
Population served1,052 (Membership, 2016)
Other information
DirectorScott E. Casper
American Antiquarian Society
Area1.8 acres (7,300 m2)
Architectural styleColonial Revival
NRHP reference No.68000018
Significant dates
Added to NRHPNovember 24, 1968[1]
Designated NHLNovember 24, 1968[2]

The American Antiquarian Society (AAS), located in Worcester, Massachusetts, is both a learned society and a national research library of pre-twentieth-century American history and culture. Founded in 1812, it is the oldest historical society in the United States with a national focus.[3] Its main building, known as Antiquarian Hall, is a U.S. National Historic Landmark in recognition of this legacy.[4] The mission of the AAS is to collect, preserve and make available for study all printed records of what is now known as the United States of America. This includes materials from the first European settlement through the year 1876.[5]

The AAS offers programs for professional scholars, pre-collegiate, undergraduate and graduate students, educators, professional artists, writers, genealogists, and the general public.[6]

The collections of the AAS contain over four million books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, graphic arts materials and manuscripts. The Society is estimated to hold copies of two-thirds of the total books known to have been printed in what is now the United States from the establishment of the first press in 1640 through the year 1820; many of these volumes are exceedingly rare and a number of them are unique.[7] Historic materials from all fifty U.S. states, most of Canada and the British West Indies are included in the AAS repository. One of the more famous volumes held by the Society is a copy of the first book printed in America, the Bay Psalm Book.[8] AAS has one of the largest collections of newspapers printed in America through 1876, with more than two million issues in its collection.[9] Its collections contain the first American women's magazine edited by a woman, The Humming Bird, or Herald of Taste.[10] The collection also contains over 60,000 pieces of sheet music, over 300 games (including puzzles, board games, and cards), a large historical pottery collection, extensive New England diaries and personal papers, a diverse collection of photographs dating from the 1830s to the 1920s, and children's literature dating back to the 1650s.[11]

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Accessing the Collections of the American Antiquarian Society
  • Scholarly Programs at the American Antiquarian Society
  • Preservation at the American Antiquarian Society
  • K-12 Educational Programs at the American Antiquarian Society
  • Fellowships at the American Antiquarian Society


[Narration] The Society sets a high priority on access, on making certain that every item, no matter how arcane, is available for research. [William Fowler] One of the most remarkable things I believe about the American Antiquarian Society, and this may sound rather technical and picky, it is their cataloguing. They have an exquisite catalogue here through which you can find so many, many things. They know what they have and they are ready to share it. [Jill Lepore] It's a very scholarly staff in many ways. People really do know the materials, not just as custodians of the vault, but as promoters of knowledge. [Ilyon Woo] You have this objects in front of you and you are able to touch them and have access to them. You don't have to have all the gloves on all the times that they are required elsewhere. There is a tactile experience to the research and an intimacy with the objects that I haven't found anywhere else. I knew that I wanted to tell a story about Eunice Chapman, a young 19th century mother whose husband stole her children into a Shaker community, and it's about her fight to get them back. It's hard to imagine what life was like for her, and that's what I was really going after. Somebody on the A.A.S staff suggested that I look at the Albany Register, which is basically a city directory. And I saw Eunice Chapman, teacher and her address. I looked through to see who was living next to her. A grocer, other widows, she was living by the water, she was living in a poor area. I could see her, I could see something about the way in which she lived, and the way she lived out her days in a way that I haven't seen before. [Allison Stagg] They provide this very welcoming environment here at AAS, where any scholar can come in, look at these caricatures, these incredibly rare, rare prints. So not only are they preserving and keeping the story alive, our story, the history of early America, but they are making it available and accessible to so many. [Narration] Part of the availability is based on the Society's large and growing collection of online resources. Finding aids and catalogs are available to anyone with an internet connection. [William Reese] The digitizing of books, which is something of A.A.S has been the forefront of, is a tremendous way to spread knowledge and give people access to it. A.A.S has done probably more in this particular area of knowledge to digitize and disseminate texts than anybody. [William Fowler] Look at their website, a remarkable achievement. Of course the heart of the website, as it should be, is the catalogue and access to the collections, but see so much else there. [Narration] And the Society's website also presents materials through a series of online exhibitions, with subjects ranging from food production in North America to a history of social dance.


Isaiah Thomas, the founder of the American Antiquarian Society
Isaiah Thomas, the founder of the American Antiquarian Society

On the initiative of Isaiah Thomas, the AAS was founded on October 24, 1812, through an act of the Massachusetts General Court.[12] It was the third historical society established in America, and the first to be national in its scope.[4] Isaiah Thomas started the collection with approximately 8,000 books from his personal library.[13] The first library building was erected in 1820 in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts.[14] In 1853, the Society moved its collections to a larger building at the corner of Highland Street, also in Worcester.[15] This building was later abandoned and another new building was constructed. Designed by Winslow, Bigelow & Wadsworth, the Georgian Revival building was completed in 1910 and stands on the corner of Park Avenue and Salisbury Street. There have been several additions to this building to accommodate the growing collection. The most recent addition was completed in 2019 and created room for an updated HVAC system, conservation lab, and multi-use learning lab.[16] AAS was presented with the 2013 National Humanities Medal by President Obama in a ceremony at the White House.[17]

History of printing

As part of AAS's mission as a learned society, it offers a variety of public lectures and seminars. One topic to which AAS dedicates significant academic energies is printing technology, especially in eighteenth-century British North America. Since Isaiah Thomas was a newspaper man himself, he collected a large number of printed materials.[18] With regard to printing, paper making, edition setting, and reprinting, not much had changed in European technology by the eighteenth century. It was not until the late eighteenth century that paper-making material began to evolve from a hand-woven cloth to an industrial pulp. AAS undertakes special efforts to preserve printed records from this time period, as the Society maintains an on-site conservation department with various sewing, cloth, and binding materials to aid in the preservation process.[19]

Past Leaders

Over its two hundred year history, the Society has had 14 formal leaders who have shaped the organization's vision, collections, and day to day operations. Leadership roles at the AAS have historically overlapped in chronology, as different roles oversaw different aspects of the Society simultaneously.

AAS Leaders
Name Dates of Leadership Role Occupation
Isaiah Thomas 1812-1831 President Publisher
Christopher Columbus Baldwin 1831-1837 Librarian Lawyer
Samuel Foster Haven 1838-1881 Librarian Archaeologist/Anthropologist
Stephen Salisbury II 1854-1881 President Landowner
Edmund Mills Barton 1883-1908 Librarian Librarian
Stephen Salisbury III 1887-1905 President Politician
Waldo Lincoln 1907-1927 President Manufacturer
Clarence S. Brigham 1908-1959 Librarian/Director Author/Bibliographer
Calvin Coolidge 1929-1933 President Politician
R.W.G. Vail 1930-1939 Librarian Librarian
Clifford K. Shipton 1939-1967 Director Archivist/Historian
Marcus A. McCorison 1960-1992 Librarian/President Rare Books Librarian
Ellen S. Dunlap 1992-2020 Director Librarian
Scott E. Casper 2020-present Director Historian

Notable members

The American Antiquarian Society's membership includes scholars, writers, journalists, historians, artists, filmmakers, collectors, American presidents, and civic leaders.[20] Notable members include the following individuals:


AAS was presented with the 2013 National Humanities Medal by President Obama in a ceremony at the White House.[11]

See also


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  2. ^ "American Antiquarian Society". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved July 10, 2008.
  3. ^ Gura, Philip F. The American Antiquarian Society, 1812–2012: A Bicentennial History (Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 2012), p. x.
  4. ^ a b "National Historic Landmarks Program (NHL)". Archived from the original on June 6, 2009.
  5. ^ aasmaster (March 28, 2017). "Mission Statement". Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  6. ^ aaswebsite (August 25, 2012). "Programs & Events". Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  7. ^ aasmaster (October 2, 2012). "Tours". Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  8. ^ Gura, p. 24.
  9. ^ aasmaster (October 22, 2012). "Newspapers". Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  10. ^ MURPHY, JILLMARIE (2016). ""The Humming Bird; or Herald of Taste" (1798): Periodical Culture and Female Editorship in the Early American Republic". American Periodicals. 26 (1): 44–69. ISSN 1054-7479. JSTOR 44630664.
  11. ^ a b "About | American Antiquarian Society". Retrieved October 28, 2022.
  12. ^ Gura, p. 1.
  13. ^ Gura, p. 33.
  14. ^ Gura, p. 32.
  15. ^ Gura, pp. 98–99.
  16. ^ "Development Department of the American Antiquarian Society". Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  17. ^ "President Obama Awards 2013 National Humanities Medals". National Endowment for the Humanities. July 22, 2014. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  18. ^ Gura, pp. 14, 33.
  19. ^ "Conservation at the American Antiquarian Society". Archived from the original on November 16, 2010. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
  20. ^ aasmaster (February 28, 2018). "Members Directory". Retrieved February 28, 2018.

Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 6 May 2023, at 04:07
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