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Chester Beatty Papers (CBP)

Collection Overview

Creator: Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968)
Dates: 1894-1968
Extent: 143 linear feet
Abstract: The papers of Alfred Chester Beatty measure approximately 143 linear feet and date from 1894 to 1968, with bulk dating from 1920 to 1950. The collection includes extensive correspondence files on the library acquisitions made by Beatty, as well as files on the administration and publication of his catalogues. The collection is an invaluable resource in tracing the provenance of particular works in the collection and provides an insight into the activities of collectors and dealers in the years leading up to and following the Second World War. Very few files relate to Beatty's business activities or Edith Beatty's art collection.

Administrative Information


The papers of Alfred Chester Beatty are part of the Chester Beatty Bequest bequeathed to Ireland by Sir A. Chester Beatty.

Preferred citation

Chester Beatty Papers (CBP). Chester Beatty Library, Dublin

Processing information

The staff of the Chester Beatty Library partially processed the collection to a preliminary level by the mid-1960s.

A large part of the collection was fully processed by a team of professional archivists under the direction of the Chester Beatty Library Archivist Charles Horton. Karl Magee, Colum O'Riordian and Rachel Scahill completed most of the work between 1993 and 1995.

Preliminary processing on others parts of the collection continued with the help of curatorial assistants Sinead Ward and Rachel O'Connor.
The Heritage Council and FÁS awarded the Chester Beatty Library a generous grant to fund the arrangement, processing, and description of the collection.


Restrictions on access

The collection is open for research by appointment only and is limited to our Rules of Access and Copyright Policy.

Ownership and literary rights

The papers of Alfred Chester Beatty are owned by the Chester Beatty Library Trust. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Related material

There are numerous related collections in the holdings of the National Archives, Trinity College Dublin, and the National Gallery of Ireland.

Several British Universities and Museums hold the personal papers of several art dealers, scholars, and collectors whose names appear in the collection.

Researchers are encouraged to conduct a database search and to discuss their research needs with the staff of the Archives.

Historical note

The CBP have had an unfortunate history. Some files originated in Chester Beatty's New York or London offices while others came from his London home.

His move to Ireland in the late 1940s necessitated another move and the division of his papers.

It appears that only those records with the most direct connection with Chester Beatty's library were brought to Dublin.
The papers were stored until the new library was built in Dublin and at some stage during the 1960s staff of the Library sorted the correspondence into an alphabetical arrangement.

Many individual letters or invoices pertaining to specific manuscripts or books were removed from the files and placed inside the solander boxes which protected the manuscripts or early printed books or in the office files as current records.

As far as possible these papers have been reunited with the parent files or a new file created within the archival collection.

The CBP, while extensive, are not complete; many files begin in the middle of a correspondence with references to previous transactions or have gaps of months or years. Only a dozen files cover the period 1894–1909 and sixteen cover the next five years. The annual number of files grew as the pace of Beatty’s collecting increased and some files extend over long periods, running to over 800 letters or more as business relationships developed into acquaintanceships and genuine friendships.

In total the records consist of over 2,100 correspondence files (1894–1968), thirteen scrapbooks (1924–68), fifty-eight accession registers (1910–68), scores of sales books and piles of papers both important and inconsequential, which record the minutia of sixty years of book-collecting, often showing tantalising trails that fade away, whimsical rejections, astute bargaining and occasional political intrigue.