Old manuscripts have always fascinated me. Looking at an original document that some famous (or infamous) person has written is a completely different experience than just reading a printed document.
Manuscripts are intriguing because they have a personal quality that’s missing from print.
Handwriting analysis is above my pay grade, but from the look of this sinuous signature even my untrained eye appreciates that when Charles Dickens sent a personal note, he wanted no confusion about who had written it.
This original Dickens note was only one of many intriguing documents on display at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in Jacksonville, Florida.
The Karpeles Library is the world’s largest private holding of important original manuscripts and documents, and their museum in Jacksonville is one of 12 located in smaller cities around the US. Founded in 1983 by California real estate magnates, David and Marsha Karpeles, the library’s goal is stimulating interest in learning, especially in children. I particularly like their policy of rotating items between museums each quarter so the exhibits are constantly changing.
The Dickens exhibit also included a number of original illustrations by artist Joseph Clayton Clarke, aka “Kyd.”
Riding Dickens’ coattails was a wise career move; Kyd became famous and earned his living in London from watercolor sketches, mainly of Dickens’ characters.
On the opposite side of the gallery was a totally different but equally amazing manuscript written by Albert Einstein in 1929.
Einstein wrote this 3000-word essay on his theory of relativity for publication in both The London Times and The New York Times. If you look closely you’ll see one of the details that I enjoy about manuscripts – a glimpse at Einstein’s personality.
Even the most influential physicist of the 20th century had to correct a few mistakes and make a few edits to his draft.
In a case a few steps away was another testament to the museum’s astounding eclecticism: J. R. R. Tolkien’s manuscript notes for the index to The Lord of The Rings. Long before Frodo and his merry band reached the big screen, I was a fan of these epic fantasy novels. So it was exciting to see something written in Tolkien’s own hand.
If you’ve read the books you know how useful an index for keeping track of the characters and geography would be. And after seeing this manuscript, it came as no surprise that Tolkien’s penmanship was artistically exotic.
In addition to the Jacksonville location, we visited the Charleston museum many times. And even though the exhibits are small, they’re excellent, and as an added bonus, admission is free. The Karpeles website has a list of all 12 locations, and hopefully, you’ll find one close enough for a visit.
In these days of emails, texts, and Twitter, handwriting is a dying art. My own penmanship is nothing to write home about, but it’s gratifying to know organizations like the Karpeles exist to keep the art alive.
Have you seen an amazing manuscript? Go ahead – namedrop.
James and Terri