Free Library of Philadelphia

Tour of Our Collections

The Free Library of Philadelphia's Lewis-Widener manuscript collection is part of our national and world heritage of hand-written and illustrated texts that have survived from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It contains 255 complete codices, 2,000 illuminated leaves (single manuscript pages separated from books), and 1,000 leaves with text only, which are fragments from almost two thousand books. A few leaves date from as early as the ninth and tenth centuries. The earliest codices are from the eleventh century, with the majority dating from the fourteenth, fifteenth, and early sixteenth centuries.

The John Frederick Lewis collection was donated to the Free Library in the 1930s and includes manuscripts of high artistic value, as well as representative examples of a broad range of medieval books. In 1939, Joseph E. Widener donated nine manuscripts of extraordinary historical and artistic quality to the Free Library.

The Rare Book Department is open on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tours of the department are available Monday through Friday at 11:00 a.m., or at other times by prior arrangement.

Featured below, as an introduction to the collection, are some of the manuscripts in the Free Library collection that are especially notable.

Select a Manuscript:
Lewis E 185 ff. 1v-2r
Lewis E 185 ff. 1v-2r
Lewis E 29 f. 81r
Edward IV Roll section 1
Widener 1 f. 1r
Widener 1 f. 5v
Lewis E M 11:19 recto
Lewis E M 11:20 recto
Lewis E 1 f. 1r
Lewis E 1 57r