The New York Public Library has always been more than just a repository of books. From the stunning architecture of its main building on 42nd Street (including pneumatic tubes!) with a site history connected to the Croton Reservoir, to more recent additions like the 2016 renovation of the Rose Reading Room and an adorable book train system, there is plenty of history and curiosity to take in — especially at the new Polonsky Exhibition, a new permanent exhibition that showcases the library’s most precious historical treasures.

  • Winnie-the-Pooh
  • Declaration of Independence
  • Christopher Columbus letter
  • Gutenberg Bible

The library’s collection itself could rival that of a museum, and yesterday tickets went on sale for a permanent exhibition at Gottesman Hall, a 6,400 square foot marble exhibition space inside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the landmarked 42nd Street building. The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures will open on September 24, 2021. It will feature over 250 items spanning 4,000 years from the institution’s renowned research collections.

Lock of Beethoven's Hair
Lock of hair from Beethoven. Photograph by Robert Kato

The “Treasures” exhibition will feature a rotating display of the priceless items in its 45 million item collection such as The Declaration of Independence written in Thomas Jefferson’s hand, the original Bill of Rights, The Gutenberg Bible, the original Winnie-The-Pooh and friends dolls, Virginia Woolf’s walking stick, the collection from the World’s Fair, a letter from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand, and more. Additional items of curiosity include a lock of Beethoven’s hair, an original key to the Croton Reservoir, a Berliner Gram-O-Phone, an Underwood & Underwood photography Perfescope for viewing stereograph images, a ballet flat by Coco Chanel, the umbrella belonging to Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, and Shakespeare’s First Folio. A larger list of highlights on display can be found on the NYPL’s website.

Declaration of Independence. Photo courtesy of Robert Kato.
Key to Croton Reservoir
Croton Reservoir Key. Photo courtesy NYPL.

Join our special after hours tour of the Treasures Collection

Gottesman Hall at NYPL

NYPL After Hours Treasures Tour

In its inaugural iteration, The Polonsky Exhibition is organized into nine sections: Beginnings, Performance, Explorations, Fortitude, The Written Word, The Visual World, Childhood, Belief, and New York City. Each section highlights the stories behind the individual objects selected, as well as their contributions to a broader historical narrative. Some objects will remain on long-term display, but section themes and individual items will be swapped in and out to give the public an opportunity to more deeply explore the collection of treasures.

Gutenberg Bible. Photo courtesy of Robert Kato.

The Polonsky Exhibition will be funded from a $12 million gift from philanthropist Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE and The Polonsky Foundation. The New York Public Library’s collection also includes more than just physical objects. There are recorded sounds as well as digital items, currently spread across four libraries — The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the Library for the Performing Arts, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Science, Industry and Business Library. The Treasures collection will be the first time these items will be available to the public on a permanent basis.

“The New York Public Library is an iconic institution with a trove of buried treasures,” said Leonard Polonsky CBE. “I’m delighted to help bring them to the surface so that the public can forever share in them.  It has always been my purpose to democratize knowledge and provide the public with access to rare documents and artifacts. The treasures rotating through this exhibition represent some of the most important roots of our culture and civilization.”

The Polonsky Foundation was also the benefactor of a previous $1 million gift to digitize the manuscripts of early American writers as well as literary manuscripts from writers like Walt WhitmanMark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne and others.

The NYPL will be offering a a special after-hours curator tour of the “Treasures” exhibition to Untapped New York Insiders on October 18th. Join Insiders and register for this exciting event starting on September 16th. You can get your first month free using code JOINUS.

Gottesman Hall at NYPL

NYPL After Hours Treasures Tour

Next, check out the Top 10 Secrets of the New York Public Library.