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Persian Collections

Collection Details

Persian Collections held at Asian and African Studies [Institution record]

Description of Collection

Content description

Printed books and periodicals: in the humanities and social sciences, from all parts of the Persian-speaking world and the Iranian diaspora, and ranging in date from early Iranian and Indian imprints to a selection of the latest publications.

Manuscripts: covering all subject fields, and ranging in time from the 12th century to handwritten and typed texts of recent years.

History and development

The holdings, like most of those in oriental languages in OIOC, comprises three elements: material collected by the India Office Library prior to 1982; material collected by the British Museum Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts prior to 1973; and subsequent acquisitions of the British Library era. Together they form a research collection recognised as being of world-ranking importance, especially strong in material from the Subcontinent.


The manuscript collections originate from the whole of the Islamic world, in particular Iran, Central Asia and India, and are strong in most of the traditional fields of humanities and religious studies. The monograph and periodical holdings include numerous rarities from Iran, Afghanistan and India. Since the 1960s especially, a wider selection of subjects has been covered. Many of the Persian manuscripts are copies of rare texts, and the arts of the book are copiously represented at the highest level: illustrated volumes include some of the most famous miniature paintings of the Persian and Mogul schools.

General arrangement and access regulations

The collection is organised into sections comprising manuscripts, printed books, periodicals and newspapers.

Subjects of the Collection

Regions of Asia

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

Languages of material

Persian, Tajik.


Agriculture, Anthropology, Archaeology, Arts, Communication and media, Development, Economics, Education, Environmental sciences, Geography, History, Human rights, Industries, International relations, Language, Law, Literature, Medicine, Music, Philosophy, Politics and government, Recreation, Religion, Science and technology, Sociology, Travel, Women.

Languages as linguistic focus

Persian, Tajik.

Collection Material and Size of Collection

Material Types

Archival materials (includes non-published & mixed material), Books, Manuscripts, Maps (includes all types of cartographic material), Music (only includes printed & manuscript music), Newspapers (includes microfilm editions), Official publications, Serials, Visual materials (includes photographs, prints, drawings, videos & films).

Total size of collection


Size of collection - vernacular

Well over 30,000 volumes of printed books and periodicals. Approximately 12,000 manuscript texts in about 9,000 volumes.

Size of collection - western

Many thousands.

Collection Management Information

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

Annual intake

About 800 printed books

Content date range

1200 to present

Collection policy

Collection Catalogue Information


There is no 'single gateway' to APAC collections, either on the Web or in the British Library's reading rooms. The majority of APAC's modern printed accessions (except for certain Asian languages) are available via the Library's OPAC, but records for the historic printed collections very largely await retrospective conversion (being still to be found in hard-copy printed catalogues, card catalogues and on microfilk or microfiche). The India Office Records class lists are available in the APAC Reading Room in hard-copy (some have been published, but most not). Recently collection-level records have been contributed to the Access to Archives (A2A) project led by the Public Record Office. Catalogues of European Manuscripts, and Prints, Drawings & Photographs are soon to be mounted on the Library's OPAC. For further details see under the records for APAC's individual collections.

Catalogue transliteration schemes

The Library of Congress transliteration schemes are used for the majority of Asian languages. For further details and the exceptions see under the records for APAC's individual collections

Catalogue scripts

Hebrew script is available on the Library's OPAC. Chinese and Japanese characters are used in the Allegro-C database.

Collection printed catalogues

Catalogue of the Persian manuscripts in the British Museum.
Rieu, C.
London: British Museum, 1879-83.
3 vols. Reprinted 1966.

Supplement to the Catalogue of Persian manuscripts in the British Museum
Rieu, C.
London: British Museum, 1895. Reprinted 1966.

Handlist of Persian manuscripts, 1895-1966.
Meredith-Owens, G. M.
London: British Museum, 1968.

Catalogue of Persian manuscripts in the Library of the India Office.
Ethe, H.
Oxford, 1903-37.
2 vols. (vol. 2 revised and completed by E. Edwards). Reprinted London, 1980.

Hand-list of Islamic manuscripts acquired by the India Office Library, 1936-8.
Arberry, A. J.
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1939, part 3 (July), pp. [353]-396.

Notes on Islamic manuscripts recently acquired by the India Office Library.
Arberry, A. J.
Islamic Culture, vol. 13 (1939) , pp. 44-58.

Handlist of Islamic manuscripts acquired by the India Office Library 1938-85.
Sims-Williams, U.
London: India Office Library and Records, 1986.

Catalogue of two collections of Persian and Arabic manuscripts preserved in the India Office Library.
Ross, E. Denison, and Browne, E. G.
London, 1902.

A descriptive catalogue of miscellaneous Persian Mughal documents from Akbar to Bahadur Shah II.
Shakeb, M. Z. A.
London: India Office Library and Records, 1982.

A descriptive catalogue of Persian letters from Arcot and Baroda.
Shakeb, M. Z. A.
London: India Office Library and Records, 1982.

A descriptive catalogue of the Batala collection of Mughal documents, 1527-1757.
Shakeb, M. Z. A.
London: British Library, 1990.

Supplementary handlist of Persian manuscripts, 1966-1998.
Waley, M. I.
London: British Library, 1999.

Catalogue of the Library of the India Office, Vol. II, Part VI: Persian books.
Arberry, A. J.
London: [India Office], 1937.

Catalogue of the Persian printed books in the British Museum.
Edwards, E.
London: British Museum, 1922.

Union catalogue of Persian serials & newspapers in British libraries.
Sims-Williams, U.
London: Ithaca Press for the Middle East Libraries Committee, 1985.

Miniatures from Persian manuscripts: catalogue and subject index of paintings in the British Library and the British Museum.
Titley, N. M.
London: British Library, 1974.

Persian paintings in the India Office Library: a descriptive catalogue.
Robinson, B. W.
London; New York: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1976.

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