Special Collections: Manuscripts

agreement of surrender, MS 1284

Agreement of Surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. Original document signed at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia on April 10, 1865, General John Gibbon Papers, MS 1284, MdHS.

How to Find Manuscripts

The Maryland Historical Society has more than 5 million manuscripts, organized into more than 3,000 processed collections. Following the standard practice of most historical repositories, the MdHS catalog and finding aids do not list every sheet of paper separately for most collections. Instead, access is provided at the collection, box, or folder level.

Requesting Retrieval of Collections

Ordering Copies of Manuscripts

Finding Manuscripts

To find information about the manuscript collections:

  1. Use the online catalog: Each processed manuscript collection has an entry in the online catalog including some description of the collection. Manuscripts normally have an MS number or will be noted as being in the "Vertical File" or VF with a location of "Special Collections."
  2. Check the finding aid: For about 500 of the manuscript collections, we also have finding aids, a more detailed listing of what is in the specific collection, usually including a listing by box and folder. To access finding aids:
    1. Link through the catalog if there is an online finding aid for a collection, there will be a link from the catalog which will appear both in the title list and in the catalog entry. Click on the link, to get the finding aid. The catalog searches only the catalog entries, not linked documents.
    2. Search the text of all the online finding aids at once by going to the finding aids search page.
    3. Browse the finding aids by going to the finding aids search page. There are links at the bottom of the page that will allow you to browse.
    4. Paper copies of the finding aids are filed by collection number in black binders in special collections.
  3. Check Subject Finding Aids: There are approximately 50 small guides to manuscript collections organized by subject. These are available in special collections.
  4. Check MdHS publications: The library has two guides to its manuscript collections, one published in 1968 (known as Pedley) and the other in 1981 (known as Cox and Sullivan). They contain brief descriptions, titles, span dates, and sizes for collections MS. 1-2450. They are indexed and available in both the special collections and the Main reading room. A combined online version is available. Please keep in mind that neither the print nor the online versions include manuscript collections processed after 1983.

Once you’ve identified collections you want to see, you may request them in Special Collections. You will need the collection name and MS number and, if applicable, the box number or date range. If what you want is in the Vertical File in Special Collections, please include the author, title, and date.

Order Ahead

If you know exactly what you want to use, you may ask ahead of time to have the boxes pulled. E-mail your request, specifying collection and box numbers, to specialcollections@mdhs.org ; also let us know when you expect to arrive. Please give us at least 24 hours’ notice. We will try to have the items ready for use.

You may request photocopies of Special Collections material. Please note that not all materials in Special Collections are eligible for photocopying. Only materials which can be photocopied without damage—typically, stable unbound documents not larger than 11" x 17"—are eligible. If material you want turns out not to be eligible for photocopying, we will inform you and refund your money.

Normally, orders from the special collections are limited to 50 pages, but exceptions can be made.

On-site Patrons:

On-site patrons may order up to 50 pages of a collection at a cost of 50¢/page plus additional shipping & handling fees. Please fill out a photocopy order slip in special collections. All photocopying is performed by staff and mailed to the requestor within 10 business days.

Off-site Patrons

If you cannot visit the library in person, you may request copies via mail at:

Library/Special Collections Photocopying
Maryland Historical Society
201 West Monument Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

The minimum charge for copying for off-site patrons is $20, which includes up to 20 copies, plus 50 cents per page for any copies after 20. If the order includes more than 20 copies, there may be an additional charge for shipping. Prepayment is required by check or money order. Make checks payable to the Maryland Historical Society. If you are unsure if the materials you want can be photocopied, please inquire at specialcollections@mdhs.org