The oldest society of autograph and manuscript collectors in the United States today, the Manuscript Society has become an international organization with members in Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. While collectors formed the heart of the organization in 1948, its membership today includes archivists, manuscript curators, librarians, and prominent manuscript dealers and auction houses. That expanded focus led the organization to change its name from the National Society of Autograph Collectors to the Manuscript Society in 1953. The shift also recognized that its members are serious manuscript collectors--not just autograph seekers.
A quarterly journal—Manuscripts—and a quarterly newsletter—The Manuscript Society News—are hallmarks of its publications program. The Society also publishes books from time to time. Other major activities include its scholarship program and its assistance to collectors in replevin cases. On the lighter side, the Society holds an annual meeting, offering members a fun-filled get together and visits to memorable manuscript venues both in the United States and abroad. Members also get together from time to time for locally sponsored events in major cities like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston.
For decades the manuscript market was an integral part of the book trade. With the rapidly evolving interest in autographs, manuscripts and documents, a large independent market has opened up with many dealers handling only manuscript material. Through this rapid growth period, there have been no general standards available for describing and grading manuscripts and documents. Although there are examples in many catalogues of good descriptive criteria, collectively there are many differences in the criteria used from one dealer to another. Often much is left to the imagination of the buyer and collector. It was clear that there was a pressing need to adopt a standardized format for describing and grading manuscript material.