Our manuscript collection includes most of the kinds of books used between 1000 and 1500 A.D.: prayer books and poetry, Bibles and political propaganda, philosophical works, and fantastic histories. Some manuscripts are elaborate and beautiful works of art; others are humble "owner-produced" books, copied out from a borrowed copy by someone who needed a particular text. Each one tells us something about a long-vanished age.
The Free Library’s digital manuscript collection includes two different sorts of objects: complete manuscript books, or "codices," and separate leaves and cuttings—fragments separated from their original contexts. With the images you will find basic information about the object pictured: when and where it was made, and what its imagery depicts. When the image is from an intact book, the accompanying information will tell you about the book, and will also link to a complete description of it.
Books have been photographed to look like three-dimensional objects instead of flat images. Individual leaves and cuttings are shown front and back to give as much information as possible about the leaf’s original context. All texts should be legible in close-up view.
We have provided a concise introduction to the medieval book, along with links to the rich online resources on medieval art and culture available in other museums and libraries.
Manuscripts from the Free Library's collections are also accessible through the Digital Scriptorium, a large database that includes manuscripts from many great American libraries and museums. For more information about our digital collection, or about individual manuscripts, please email the Rare Book Department at ErefRBD@freelibrary.org or call 215-686-5416.
This digital collection was made possible by generous financial support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.