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Asian Collections at the Library of Congress: An Overview

Tibetan Collection

The Tibetan Collection of the Library of Congress began in 1901 with a presentation of 57 xylographs and eight manuscripts acquired by William Woodville Rockhill, U.S. Minister to China, during his travels in Mongolia and Tibet from 1888 to 1892. Between 1901 and 1928, approximately 920 original xylographs and manuscripts were acquired for the Library, mostly by Rockhill, Berthold Laufer (1874-1934), and Joseph Rock (1884-1962). Currently, the collection is one of the largest in the West, consisting of approximately 17,000 monograph volumes, 3,600 volumes of rare books, 57 serial titles, and over 15,000 pieces of microfiche/microfilm.

Tibetan musical score. 19th century. Library of Congress Asian Division.
Tibetan musical score. 19th century. Library of Congress Asian Division.

The Library's Tibetan Collection is representative of the entire corpus of Tibetan literature from the 8th century to the present: Buddhist and Bon-po philosophical texts and their commentaries, history, biography, traditional medicine, astrology, iconography, musical notations, the collected works of over 200 major Tibetan authors, bibliographies, traditional grammars and linguistic sciences, modern science, social sciences and modern literature. Among the Library's holdings are several rare xylograph redactions of the Buddhist canonical literature, Kanjur and Tanjur, as well as a complete set of the Bon-po Kanjur and Tanjur. The Derge Kanjur was acquired by William Rockhill in 1908 for the Library, and the Narthang Tanjur was acquired by Berthold Laufer in 1926. The complete Coni redaction in 317 volumes acquired by Joseph Rock in 1928 is one of only a few known to exist today.

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