Manuscript collection development

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This article describes the Folger Shakespeare Library's manuscript collection development policies. For related articles, consult Manuscripts (disambiguation). See also: our general Collection development policy, and policies on Early modern English collection development, Continental collection development, Art collection development, and Shakespeare collection development.

Sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

Since all manuscripts are unique and there is a limited supply of privately-owned English 16th-17th century manuscripts appearing on the market, it is important to pursue as many manuscripts from this period as we can, while we can, particularly Elizabethan and early Stuart manuscripts. While the Folger has its share of priceless treasures, such as the Macro Plays, the Trevelyon Miscellany, the John Donne letters, and James I's warrant releasing Walter Raleigh from the Tower, our future lies in the development of our quieter strengths. The Folger is one of the few libraries in the world that can provide the level of depth required by researchers in these areas to support book-length projects. Important genres include:

  • scribal and autograph copies of political, religious, and literary writings
  • dramatic and theatre-related manuscripts
  • family correspondence and papers
  • letterbooks and individual letters
  • copybooks and writing manuals
  • commonplace books
  • poetical miscellanies and other poetry
  • cookery and medical receipt books
  • armorials and other heraldic manuscripts
  • inventories and account books
  • diaries
  • sermons

Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

The manuscript collection's strengths lie in promptbooks, theatrical manuscripts--particularly the records of Drury Lane and Covent Garden--the papers of David Garrick, and literary and scholarly manuscripts relating to the editing and performance of Shakespeare. We will consider non-Shakespeare promptbooks when they relate to Drury Lane or Covent Garden productions, or to individuals for whom we collect as widely as possible, as our budget allows (listed below). We should strive whenever possible to add to our major holdings relating to the following families and individuals:

  • Booth family
  • John Payne Collier
  • Augustin Daly and his circle
  • David and Eva Garrick and their circle
  • James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps
  • Elizabeth Inchbald
  • William Henry Ireland
  • Sir Henry Irving
  • Kean family
  • Kemble family
  • William Charles Macready
  • William Winter

Additional strengths and emerging strengths

These include manuscripts by or relating to:

  • Frances Abington
  • Viola Allen
  • Colley Cibber
  • George Colman (younger and elder)
  • Richard Mansfield
  • Samuel Phelps
  • Ada Rehan
  • Richard Brinsley Sheridan (as theatre owner/playwright)
  • Ellen Terry
Shakespeare critics/editors/commentators (including doubters)
  • Delia Salter Bacon
  • Mary Cowden Clarke
  • Frederick Fleay
  • Clement Mansfield Ingleby
  • Sir Sidney Lee
  • Edmund Malone
  • John Bowyer Nichols
  • John Gough Nichols
  • Algernon Swinburne
  • George Steevens, and
  • Stratford luminaries Mary Rose and the Flower family


We have an enviable collection of letters by the bluestockings Hannah More and Elizabeth (Robinson) Montague, and in the future should be alert to letters by them relating to Shakespeare or Garrick. Our collection of correspondence involving members of the Deutsche Shakespeare Gesellschaft is also robust, but rarely used, and is not a top priority.

Twentieth century and beyond

Twentieth century holdings include Shakespeare-related unpublished screenplays and scripts and an eclectic assortment of literary, theatrical, and authorship manuscripts relating to Shakespeare (largely gifts), as well as archives relating to the Folger Theatre, which are being added to the Folger's institutional archives. We are beginning to identify and target the archives of living (or recently deceased) Shakespearean actors and directors, and of Shakespeare theaters (see Shakespeare page). We should continue to grow in these areas. As a general policy, we do not collect scholars' papers.