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NYPL hosts free exhibition of centuries-spanning artifacts

Included: Thomas Jefferson's handwritten Declaration of Independence and the original Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals.

Written by
André Wheeler
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The New York Public Library has dug through its expansive and centuries-spanning archive to stage an impressive free exhibition filled with cultural artifacts. Launching this week, The Polonsky Exhibition of New York Public Library’s Treasures spans 4,000 years of history and includes a wide range of history-making pieces, including the only surviving letter from Christoper Columbus announcing his “discovery” of the Americas to King Ferdinand’s court and the first Gutenberg Bible brought over to the Americas.

Some standouts from the 250+ items in the free exhibition include: 

  • Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence
  • The stuffed animals that belonged to the real-life Christopher Robin and inspired the Winnie-the-Pooh stories 
  • Virginia Woolf’s walking stick, as well as a letter from her husband Leonard Woolf to her longtime lover Vita Sackville-West documenting its discovery following her suicide 
  • The set model for the Off-Broadway production of In The Heights 
  • The 1811 Commissioners’ Map and Survey of Manhattan Island—a preliminary grid plan for the city’s future growth 
  • A copy of the formal invitation to Edith Wharton’s wedding

The exhibition is free, but timed tickets are required and can be reserved in advance at nypl.org/treasures. The exhibition is expected to be a dynamic experience—new items will be removed and added in over time. Not surprising, when one considers how many gems the New York Public Library has likely acquired over the course of its 126-year history. The new exhibition was made possible through a $12.5 million donation from philanthropist Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE and The Polonsky Foundation and curated by a team of research library staff led by Declan Kiely, the Library’s Director of Special Collections and Exhibition. 

For the New York Public Library, a fuller look at the bedrocks of past and present civilizations and societies could not be more timely. “To move forward and make real and essential progress as a society, we need to understand what came before us. We need to learn the stories that have contributed to our collective story, the awe-inspiring, the heartbreaking, the infuriating, the spectacular,” says Anthony W. Marx, president of The New York Public Library.

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