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India Office Prints Drawings and Photographs Collection

Collection Details

India Office Prints Drawings and Photographs Collection held at Asian and African Studies [Institution record]

Description of Collection

Content description

The Prints, Drawings and Photographs Section of the Oriental and India Office Collections comprises the majority of the British Library's holdings of visual material relating to South Asia. The collections' scope is limited geographically to the modern countries of South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, Bhutan), and to neighbouring countries and areas in parts of Asia with which the East India Company and British Government of India had dealings, principally Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Central Asia, the different countries of South-east Asia, and China. Temporal limits are broadly from the beginnings of English involvement in the east until Indian Independence in 1947.

History and development

The Section's origins lie in the works of art assembled by the Directors of the East India Company to decorate their premises in Leadenhall Street in London, and subsequently by the India Office for its premises in Whitehall; and also in the albums of drawings by British and Indian artists and of prints acquired after the foundation of the Company's Library in 1801. These traditional visual sources were immensely enriched by photography, and by the India Office's enthusiastic patronage of this new medium as a tool for the recording and dissemination of information.


In addition to their great aesthetic interest, the collections as a whole an unrivalled survey of the topographical, cultural and social history of South Asia from the late 18th to the middle of the 20th century.

General arrangement and access regulations

The collections are arranged by media as follows: Photographs (accessioned by Photo number); Western Drawings (WD); Prints (P); Paintings Sculpture and Works of Art (F); Indian Miniatures(J. or Add.Or.); Company Drawings (Add.Or.); Natural History Drawings (NHD); Indian Popular Paintings and Prints (Add.Or.).

They are mostly stored in or beside the Print Room adjacent to the OIOC Reading Room in the British Library. Paintings and other works of art are in the Painting Store or else on display in the BL building or elsewhere. All the collections are accessible to readers by appointment.

Subjects of the Collection

Regions of Asia

Central Asia and the Caucasus, East Asia, Near & Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, South East Asia.


Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Yemen.


Agriculture, Anthropology, Archaeology, Arts, Education, Geography, History, Industries, International relations, Law, Literature, Medicine, Music, Politics and government, Recreation, Religion, Science and technology, Sociology, Travel, Women.

Collection Material and Size of Collection

Material Types

Manuscripts, Maps (includes all types of cartographic material), Visual materials (includes photographs, prints, drawings, videos & films).

Total size of collection

200,000 Photographs; 16,000 Western Drawings (including about 400 maps or plans); 3000 Prints; 220 Paintings Sculpture and Works of Art; 1900 Indian Miniatures; 4500 Company Drawings; 5700 Natural History Drawings; 800 Indian Popular Paintings and Prints

Collection Management Information

The collection is being actively developed, and the average intake has stayed the same.

Annual intake

Several thousand photographs; about 50 drawings or other works of art

Content date range

1450 to 2000 AD

Collection Catalogue Information


For printed catalogues of major parts of the drawings collections, see under the individual media. Dedicated computerised databases exist for all the collections, including the photographs, available in the OIOC Reading Room. These are now also available on-line at

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