The manuscript materials are arranged into tidy record groups, each with a distinctive "MSS" number. This disguises the un-cataloged state of many of its smaller collections, which are grouped together as the Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, (MSS 9001). Many of these manuscripts are cataloged individually, but many are not. They can be accessed only through a rough alphabetical list of folder titles. The Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection is quite large, over 141 linear feet and growing and includes a very wide range of material. Typical contents are wills, deeds, receipts, letters, diaries and account books, usually no more than one to ten items and never as much as 0.25 linear feet from any one individual or organization.
Up until the 1940's, the standard means of cataloging this sort of loose material was to place it in scrapbooks. Five of these scrapbooks have since been disbound but are still cataloged by volume and page number. These collections are: Rhode Island Historical Society Manuscripts (Mss. 9003), Rhode Island Manuscripts (Mss. 9004), Shepley Collection (Mss. 9006), Peck Collection (Mss. 9005) and Deed Books (Mss. 378). All five contain extremely important material regarding the early history of the state and its citizens, which for the most part can only be located through our card catalog. These collections contain mostly pre-Civil War material.
Two other important collections deserve special mention. The Rhode Island Currency Collection consists mostly of state-issued notes from 1721 to 1786 and "obsolete" notes issued by local banks from the 1810's through the Civil War. The Postal Collection’s highlight is the Slater Postal History Collection, which is dedicated to the first Rhode Island stamps issued in 1846.
The most comprehensive access to manuscript materials is through a paper card catalog located in our Reading Room. A complete listing of our manuscript collections and detailed inventories for many of them are available in the Reading Room. Electronic versions of the detailed inventories are also available through the Master List of Finding Aids page. Please contact the Reference Librarian for more details about the manuscript collections for which there is no detailed inventory available on this website.
If you are looking for something in particular, please contact the Reference Librarian so we can consult our extensive catalogs at the library.