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Crawford Collection

Date range: 14th century BC-19th century AD

Number of items: c.6,000 items (dispersed).

Alexander Lindsay (1812‒1880), known for most of his life as Lord Lindsay, and his son (James) Ludovic Lindsay (1847‒1913), 25th and 26th earls of Crawford, fashioned one of the largest and most significant private libraries ever assembled in Britain. They developed the Bibliotheca Lindesiana, as the library was known, over 70 years, from the early 1830s to the turn of the century. At its fullest extent, the library comprised over 100,000 printed books, tens of thousands of documents and printed ephemera, and six thousand manuscript codices, scrolls and fragments.

Lord Lindsay was a gentleman-scholar who devoted himself to collecting, bibliographical pursuits and the study of art history, comparative religion, philosophy, ethnology, linguistics and genealogy. He invested huge amounts of financial capital to expand the much-depleted family library into a panoptical repository of ‘the best and most valuable books, landmarks of thought and progress, in all cultivated languages, Oriental as well as European’. He claimed not to be a collector of manuscripts per se, acquiring only representative examples of illuminated manuscripts and avoiding the obvious attractions of 15th- and 16th-century Books of Hours and other bibliophilic baubles.

However, Lord Lindsay assembled major collections of Middle Eastern manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Samaritan; South Asian manuscripts in Sanskrit and numerous modern Indian languages; Chinese and Japanese printed books and manuscripts; and Syriac, Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopic Christian codices. Many items derived from the libraries of famous Orientalists such as Pierre Léopold van Alstein, Nathaniel Bland, Colonel George W. Hamilton, Julius Klaproth, Hendrik Christiaan Millies and Isaac Titsingh.

As a collector Ludovic was quite unlike his father: he was impulsive in his acquisitions, eclectic in his tastes. He was fond of jewelled bindings, early Carolingian and Visogothic codices, and spectacular illuminated manuscripts. He developed extensive holdings of South-East Asian manuscripts, written on palm-leaf, bamboo, bone, bark and copper; fragments of ancient papyrus from Egypt; and a vast collection of French Revolutionary and Napoleonic proclamations, newspapers, periodicals and autograph documents.

Ludovic was still buying magnificent medieval codices and Egyptian papyri in 1901, when he suddenly decided to sell the manuscripts, probably for financial reasons. Fortunately, Enriqueta Rylands was able to buy the entire collection for £155,000. The Crawford Collection thus complemented the Spencer Collection of printed books, which she had purchased in 1892. 3,093 Oriental printed books and manuscripts were transferred to Manchester, plus several thousand papyri, in comparison to just 475 Western manuscripts.

Although Enriqueta clearly intended the manuscripts for the newly-founded John Rylands Library, she retained possession of the majority of them at her home, Longford Hall, and they only passed to the Library after her death in 1908.

See also:

The manuscripts are arranged by language, following the tradition established by the earls of Crawford. The major language sequences are described individually in this guide.

Further Information:

  • See entries for individual manuscript collections (e.g. Arabic Manuscripts) for information on catalogues.
  • Nicolas Barker, Bibliotheca Lindesiana: The Lives and Collections of Alexander William, 25th Earl of Crawford and 8th Earl of Balcarres, and James Ludovic, 26th Earl of Crawford and 9th Earl of Balcarres (London: Bernard Quaritch for the Roxburghe Club, 1978).
  • Nicolas Barker and others (eds), 'A Poet in Paradise': Lord Lindsay and Christian Art (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2000).
  • Henry Guppy, 'The "Bibliotheca Lindesiana"', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 30, no. 1 (1946), pp. 185‒94.
  • James Ludovic Lindsay, Bibliotheca Lindesiana: Catalogue of the Printed Books Preserved at Haigh Hall, Wigan (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1910).

Other resources:

The archives of the earls of Crawford, which contain a great deal of material on the formation of the Bibliotheca Lindesiana, are held on deposit at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.

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