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Folger Exhibitions
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Pen's Excellencie

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The Pen's Excellencie

February 6, through June 8, 2002

Curator: Heather Wolfe, Curator of Manuscripts.


The experience of looking at a mansucript is quite different from the experience of reading a printed book or viewing a work of art. Most of the one hundred "treasures" selected for the Folger's first all-manuscript exhibition were originally created for private use rather than public display, so their importance is measured not only in artistic terms but also in their literary or historical significance. As we view them we find ourselves, as it were, peering over the shoulders of individuals from other times and places, hunched over their desks, scribbling furiously. We sympathize with their hurried handwriting and careless mistakes, while we marvel at the beauty or historical import of their words.


Ranging in date from the early fourteenth century to the early twentieth century, many of these manuscripts are on display for the first time ever. The plays, poems, essays, letters, warrants, deeds, receipts, diaries, commonplace books, emblem books, and prose works of individuals as diverse as Shakespeare and Dickens, Henry VIII and Buffalo Bill, John Donne and Mark Twain, and Aphra Behn and Oscar Wilde, can only hint at the depth and scope of the 55,000 items in the Folger's manuscript collection.

Descriptions and images of several manuscripts from the exhibition can be viewed by clicking on "Learn More"  below each image.

Medieval Manuscripts
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Kings & Queens
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Shakespeare & Contemporaries
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Autograph Hands
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Age of Romanticism
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19th Century Commentators
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Inspired by Shakespeare
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Learn more about the fascinating collection of manuscripts exhibited in Pen's Excellencie in the exhibition catalogue.

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