A Cabinet of Treasures and Curiosities: The Polonksy Exhibition

476 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018, USA

Museums are historically defined as the institution committed to preserving the evidence of humankind and the environment, according to the definition by Britannica. The majority hold the original artifacts that have existed and preserved from a century ago to millions. Although libraries differ in a nuanced way, in which they store and preserve books, they are similar in a way where they both hold the stories, experiences, and knowledge of humanity throughout time. 

Charles Dickens' desk; where he wrote Great Expectations and Hard Times, as well as fifteen-thousand letters.

I've had the pleasure of sauntering around this fascinating exhibition that is being held at Stephen A. Schwarzman building at The New York Public Library between 40th and 42nd on 5th Avenue. Thanks to the generous donation of $12 million from philanthropist, Dr. Leonard Polonsky, you can now see rare artifacts and historical items that will conjure your curiosities. "The exhibition exposes to the world, or the world that is willing or able to attend, the richness of the holdings of the library...which are extraordinary." Polonsky says in an interview conducted for The New York Public Library's website. From ancient religious texts, to the first drafts of some of the most notable novels in literature, here are some of the artifacts that truly intrigued me. 

As a reader and fan of The New Yorker magazine, I was excited to see the original prospectus written by Harold Ross, who founded the publication in 1924 or 1925. Titled "The New Yorker" with their signature font, the drop caps and detailed, illustrative border with crinkles of the paper and coffee-coloured tone to show it's aging that showed that it's been through a lot - yet kept in good shape. 

Through the cleanest glass I've ever seen stands the stuffed toys that inspired a story that was my whole childhood. I grew up watching the show and reading the books about Christopher Robin's adventures with Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends, Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger, and Kanga. As a child, I've always seen the characters as how they were originally illustrated (the original illustrator was Ernest H. Shepard). To see the inspiration behind it all, the very items that began a story that influenced and was embraced by millions of children and adults, was truly an amazing experience. 

I think one of the most decorative and beautiful books I've ever seen in my life is the Evangelie naprestol’noe (or the Altar Gospels). A golden cover with detailed engravings and embellished with gems and jewels, it is the book that highlights and holds the word of God to the highest standard. Bound by the Muscovite craftsmen (who were inspired by the French), it's a work of timeless art that anyone will marvel at. 

Another favourite in the exhibit was Charlotte Brontë's portable desk. Foldable and filled with different compartments to store her inks and pens, it was mesmerizing to look at a piece of Brontë that she used to write letters and drafts of some her greatest novels in English literature. According to the place card, the box was opened in 1973, the first time thirty years after The New York Public Library had acquired it. After unlocking it, they found several keepsakes of Charlotte's, including memorial cards for her siblings, Branwell and Emily. 

I was mesmerized by the illustration that the library displayed for Gaius Julius Hygenus's De astronomia. The book was opened to a page that had glowing illustrations of mythological creatures and a written manuscript that is a poem describing how the alignment of stars and planets governed the affairs between heaven and earth. Throughout the manuscript, he named 42 constellations and the gods and heroes associated with each of them. 

If you ever have spare time and happen to be around 42nd and 5th Ave., I highly recommend going! When I discovered the exhibition online, they have timed free admission!! And since the Christmas market has opened in Bryant Park, it also makes a nice date or general day out with friends where you can walk around after a look around the library and get hot cocoa and eat delicious food, shop for Christmas gifts, or go ice skating. 

The Polonsky Exhibition is the perfect place to marvel, learn, and delve into your curiosities. Get your free tickets, bring a friend, or even go by yourself as I did. 

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