About Our Collections

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is one of the largest family history libraries in the nation, has excellent collections on local and regional history, and offers a manuscript collection renowned for its 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century holdings. With the Balch Institute’s merger into the HSP in 2002 (and those of The Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania in 2006 through a Strategic Alliance Agreement),  the Society is now also one of the nation’s leading repositories of ethnic and immigrant studies materials. The Society houses some 600,000 books, pamphlets, serials, and microfilm reels; 20 million manuscripts; and over 300,000 graphics items, making it one of the nation’s largest non-governmental repositories of documentary materials.

The Society holds many national treasures, such as the first draft of the United States Constitution, an original printer’s proof of the Declaration of Independence, and the earliest surviving American photograph. But the true strength of our collection is the overall breadth and depth of materials that together offer a rich, complex portrait of U.S. history and society from the 17th century to the present.

The Society's Collections Management Policy (latest version approved by the Board of Councilors on November 11, 2011) is now available online.

Types of Materials

The Society’s collections include a number of different types of materials:

  • Books and pamphlets – ranging from limited-edition and out-of-print volumes to current reference works and scholarly monographs. The Society’s pre-1820 imprints are housed next door at The Library Company of Philadelphia.
  • Serials and newspapers – spanning almost 300 years, in either original format or microfilm copy. Many of our ethnic newspapers are in off-site storage. These can be retrieved with two days notice.
  • Manuscripts – materials such as letters, diaries, account books, deeds, minutes, and scrapbooks. Manuscript collections include personal papers created by individuals and families, and records created by organizations and businesses.
  • Graphics – prints, watercolors, and other works of art on paper, architectural drawings, photographs, broadsides, maps, posters, and other images.
  • Printed ephemera – such as event programs, brochures, invitations, advertisements, trade cards, certificates, and menus.
  • Microforms – microfilm and microfiche reproductions of newspapers, genealogical resources, manuscript collections, and other materials.