Original copy of the Bill of Rights, lock of Beethoven’s hair on display at new NYPL treasures exhibit

Posted On Mon, August 23, 2021 By

Posted On Mon, August 23, 2021 By In City Living, Events, Midtown

Photo credit: Jonathan Blanc / NYPL

The New York Public Library’s much-anticipated permanent exhibition of rotating rare objects and artifacts finally opens to the public next month. First announced in 2018, the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures features 250 unique, historic items from the library’s incredible holdings, which includes more than 45 million objects in its research collections. Highlights include Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Dickens’ writing desk, a letter written by James Baldwin to Angela Davis, the 1811 Comissioners’ Map and Survey of Manhattan Island, and much more.


Photograph by Robert Kato, “Beginnings,” Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence

On display for the first time are images, letters, manuscripts, works of art, and recordings that have been collected and preserved by the library over the last 125 years and span 4,000 years in history.

Some objects will remain on display long-term, while others will be rotated out and swapped with new items over time. The exhibition is separated into nine themed sections, including “Beginnings,” “Performance,” “Explorations,” “Fortitude,” “The Written Word,” “The Visual World,” “Childhood,” “Belief,” and “New York City.”


Photograph by Robert Kato, “Performance,” Lock of Beethoven’s Hair

Some highlights of the exhibition, as described in a press release, include:

  • Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence
  • An original copy of the Bill of Rights
  • Charles Dickens’s writing desk, chair, and paper-knife, and his personal copy of “A Christmas Carol”
  • The first copy of the Gutenberg Bible, printed in 1455, to be brought to the Americas
  • The Hunt-Lenox Globe
  • The only surviving copy of a letter from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand’s court announcing his “discovery” and “claiming” the Americas
  • The stuffed animals that belonged to the real-life Christopher Robin and inspired the Winnie-the-Pooh stories
  • Virginia Woolf’s walking stick
  • The Negro Motorist Green-Book
  • One of the library’s six Shakespeare First Folios
  • Manuscript page of Maya Angelou’s poem “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”
  • A 1773 poetry collection by Phillis Wheatley, the first Black author of a published book of poetry, written during her enslavement
  • George Washington’s handwritten Farewell Address
  • A page of Malcolm X’s unpublished autobiography chapter “The Negro”
  • 13th-century edition of the Life of the Prophet (Siyer-i Nebi), considered the most complete visual portrait of the life of Muḥammad in existence
  • The set model for the Off-Broadway production of In The Heights
  • A copy of the formal invitation to Edith Wharton’s wedding
  • James Baldwin’s handwritten open letter to activist Angela Davis
  • Charlotte Brontë’s traveling writing desk
  • Jack Kerouac’s proposed cover design for On the Road
  • First edition sheet music of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
  • The 1811 Commissioners’ Map and Survey of Manhattan Island—a preliminary grid plan for the city’s future growth
  • Artwork by Henri Matisse, Édouard Manet, Andy Warhol, Faith Ringgold, Romare Bearden, and Edward Hopper
  • Manuscripts and sheet music by Bob Dylan, Dizzy Gillespie, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven (as well as a lock of his hair)


Gottesman Hall; Photo credit: Jonathan Blanc / NYPL


Photograph by Robert Kato, “Childhood,” Winnie And Friends

The exhibition is opening on September 24 at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building’s Gottesman Hall, located on the library’s main floor. The Treasures exhibit is supported by a $12 million donation from Dr. Leonard Polonsky and the Polonsky Foundation.

The Polonsky Exhibition was originally scheduled to open last fall, but the coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered the city’s libraries for many months delayed its debut.

“The New York Public Library is an iconic institution with a trove of buried treasures,” Leonard Polonsky said. “I’m delighted to help bring them to the surface so that the public can forever share in them. It has always been my purpose to democratize knowledge and provide the public with access to rare documents and artifacts. The treasures rotating through this exhibition represent some of the most important roots of our culture and civilization.”

Timed tickets are required. Free tickets for the exhibition are now available to reserve here.

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