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Manuscript Collections

Washington University's collections of manuscripts contain a broad range of materials dating from the 2nd century BC through the present. The largest group of materials is the Modern Literature Collection.

While much of what constitutes Special Collections’ manuscripts collections is related to the Modern Literature Collection, there are a number of substantial collections that exist independently. In addition to a collection of ancient and medieval manuscripts documenting aspects of the history of the book (including cuneiform tablets, books of hours, psalters, and missals), other manuscript collections provide a range of research opportunities. Below are some examples of these resources. 


Phillip Mills Arnold Papers

The Philip Mills Arnold Semeiology Collection, perhaps the most diverse and comprehensive of all the Washington WashU Libraries Special Collections, brings together a broad range of materials dealing with or exemplifying the nature and characteristics of communication. Placing particular emphasis on early printed materials that appeared at early stages of the development of interest in topics relevant to semeiology, the Arnold Collection had especially strong holdings in the fields of cryptography, artificial memory, decipherment of unknown languages, early development sin stenography, Braille, deaf and mute languages, and various forms of nonverbal communication.

Complementing the more than 2,000 volume in the Arnold book collection that forms the largest component of the Semiology Collection is the Phillip Mills Arnold Papers, a small, yet select, group of manuscripts and printed ephemera, including materials relating to cryptography, sign languages, telegraphy, accounting, paleography, mnemonics, philosophy, stenography, and other topics.

The sign languages section contains numerous single printed sheets from the nineteenth century depicting different systems for deaf-mute communication in many languages, probably published as teaching aids. The three items on telegraphy emphasize its use for the military, focusing on secretly communicating sensitive offers for maneuvers. Items included in the Accounting and Paleography sections demonstrate the variety of early forms of alternative numerological systems and alternative scripts, both of which indicate that communication is based on an ever-changing use of various signs.

An important work on mnemonics, Raymond Lull’s Ars demonstrativa et ars brevis, highlights this curious and frequently mystical system of logic, metaphysics, and the intricate workings of the communicating mind. Manuscripts depicting many of the thousands of separate languages of the world are also included in the collection, mostly relying on biblical texts to illustrate the complex nature of human communication. One other example of alternative means of communicating is a shorthand version of the Psalms.

Finally, included as an illustration of the early evaluation of printing, are 52 specimens of early typography, dating from 1477 to 1674. Taken as a whole, the manuscript collection reveals the interdisciplinary nature of semeiology and reflects the eclectic range of Arnold’s important collection.

William K. Bixby Papers

The William K. Bixby Papers includes a variety of materials, ranging from Bixby's personal correspondence relating to his collecting interests, through his connection with Washington University and the St. Louis Burns Club, and including many items from his manuscript collection.

The correspondence in each series is arranged chronologically. Items in other subseries are arranged alphabetically. The correspondence in Series I relates primarily to Bixby's collecting interests, publication of items in his manuscript collection, and his work on the Capitol Decoration Committee of Missouri, 1921-1927, 681 items. Series II contains items relating to gifts made by Bixby to Washington University, 1913-1927, 66 items. Series III contains items relating to the Burns Club of St. Louis but is in no way a complete archive of the Club's activities or of Bixby's relation to it, 80 items. Series IV contains autograph letters and related documents of notable individuals, primarily of significance in American and English literature and history, 891 items. Series V concerns Eugene Field and includes correspondence, numerous original manuscripts, editorial materials, printed items, and miscellaneous personal items, 281 items. A list of the correspondents included in each series precedes the section of the register devoted to that series. Included at the end of the register is a list of 15 items relating to John Paul Jones.

Cartographic Manuscript Collection

The Cartographic Manuscript Collection consists of maps or engravings by Theodore de Bry, John Ogilby, Phillip Baldeeus, Jean Baptiste B. d'Anville, Jean Barbault, Jacques Nicholas Bellin, Rigobert Bonne, Frederik Ludvig Norden, Richard Pococke, Robert Sayer, Thomas Stackhouse, Adam Black, Adrien Hubert Brue, John Dower, Geographisches Institut, Victor Levasseur, John Pinkerton, John Thomson, Philippe M.G. van de Maelen, John Carry, Auguste Henri Dufour, Samuel Dunn, William Faden, Thomas Jefferys, Alexander Keith Johnston, Daniel Lizars, Charles V. Monin, Joseph Parker, and Justus Perthes.

Gert von Gontard

The Gert von Gontard Papers are part of a larger collection given to Washington University in 1980 by his widow, Hildegard. The collection includes von Gontard’s extensive book collection and is highlighted by his collection of over 1300 books, manuscripts, and memorabilia relating to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Also, present is a file of letters from von Gontard’s colleagues in the literary and arts communities.

George N. Meissner Collection

The George N. Meissner Collection is composed of items owned or created by important literary and historical figures, including manuscripts, correspondence, prints, and autograph signatures. The archive’s subject areas vary considerably, from United States presidents to figures of the Italian Renaissance. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are represented by multiple items, as is Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). Among the most notable items in the collection is a signed document in the hand of Michelangelo. A collection of illuminated manuscripts dating from the 14th and 15th centuries has proved a valuable resource to historians, artists, and students of the book.

Rare Books also holds a George N. Meissner Collection consisting of roughly 2,000 volumes. They represent fine books from the 15th century to the present, including early illuminated manuscripts and incunabula. One of the collection’s most notable volumes is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s copy of Chapman’s Whole Works of Homer (1616). The volume includes Coleridge’s annotations and inscription to Sara Hutchinson, the object of the poet’s unrequited love.

The library and manuscript collection of St. Louis collector George N. Meissner came to the University in 1962 as a gift from his family, along with funds for the construction of Special Collections’ original reading room and storage space.

Papyri Collection

The manuscript collections include the Papyri Collection which consists of more than 400 Egyptian manuscript fragments, dating from the 1st century BC to the 8th century AD. As is the case with a number of North American universities, Washington University initially acquired its papyri collection through a subscription to the Egypt Exploration Society, which raised operating funds through the sale of subscriptions. These fragments were excavated in 1923 by Sir William Flinders Petrie and the Egypt Exploration Society at the site of the ancient Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus.

The physical Papyri Collection is owned by the WUSTL Department of Classics but housed and accessed in Special Collections. Contact the Department of Classics for permission to access the collection 

The content in our papyri digital exhibition represents the fragments that were published in two volumes: Washington University Papyri I : Non-literary Texts (1980) and Papyri from the Washington University Collection, St. Louis, Missouri. Part II (1990), both available at Olin Library and in Special Collections. Imaging and cataloging sponsored through Advanced Papyrological Information Ssystem III, a National Endowment for the Humanities funded project, in 2003.