Behind-the-Scenes Vault Tour

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Behind-the-Scenes Vault Tour

Behind no less than five sets of locks – both electronic and analog, including a 19th century bank vault door – rest some of the most treasured items in HSP’s collection of over 21 million manuscripts, graphics, and books.

The roster of items kept in HSP's most secure vault – such as many of our country’s founding documents  – reads like a list of materials viewable only through bullet-proof glass.

Through the Behind-the-Scenes Vault Tours, HSP offers the opportunity to see these documents closer than ever before and, in the case of a few materials, to even hold them.

  • Hum along to The Star-Spangled Banner with Francis Scott Key's handwritten lyrics
  • Pose for a selfie with the first photograph taken in North America
  • Chase the changes in the U.S. Constitution through its first and second drafts
  • Commiserate with the man responsible for a typo in the printer's proof of the Declaration of Independence
  • Compare the Philadelphia of today with the first map of the city produced for William Penn before his arrival in the Delaware Valley
  • And more

Gene Gugger, Greg Pietrzykowski, Michael Hallman, Patrick Pusey, and Scott Gugger viewing a draft of the Constitution on their Tour of Treasures: Behind-the-Scenes at HSP. 

The history of the United States is marked by myriad struggles and successes. Perhaps nothing is more American than pursuing and protecting the "certain inalienable rights" first laid down here in Philadelphia all those years ago. On Behind-the-Scenes Vault Tours, visitors will also have a chance to view materials documenting the instances in American history when the Founders' promises were not kept.

  • Contemplate the somber hues of life in a Japanese-American internment camp through the remarkable sketches of Sumiko Kobayashi
  • Learn of William Still, an prominent conductor on the Underground Railroad, and those he helped navigate the dangers of a Philadelphia bound by the Fugitive Slave Acts
  • Flip through the pages of Drum, the first openly gay magazine in the US published at a time when homosexuality was still considered a mental illness, "curable" through lobotomy and electroshock therapy
  • And more

Through these items, visitors will learn not only the history of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. The treasured items of HSP chart the development of a fledgling federation of mildly-antagonistic states into a nation of peoples bound together by shared beliefs and values - and the struggle to secure these rights for all Americans, regardless of creed, color, or lifestyle.

The safari guide through HSP's most secure vault is Lee Arnold, HSP's Senior Director of the Library and Collections, whose 20-year intimate knowledge of the collection is only matched by his enthusiasm. He will also show visitors items as they arrive at HSP, what’s involved in preparing them for research, how they are preserved and digitized.

Behind-the-Scenes Vault Tours are 60 minutes and accommodate parties of up to six people. The tour is $500 per group.

Please contact Vincent Fraley, HSP’s Communications Manager, at or 215-732-6200 ext. 233 for more information or to register.


Jack and Linda Hoeschler visit HSP's most secure vault with their grandchildren.