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Chester Beatty first found fame as a book collector of Western illuminated manuscripts. The collection began modestly in the years preceding his move to London in 1913, but with the help of expert advice, by the end of the 1920s it had grown to become one of the most important collections in England.

Beatty's preference for illuminated manuscripts can be deduced from archival sources, as mention is made of French Books of Hours, five of which were in his possession by 1910.

After moving to London, Beatty began buying much earlier manuscripts from the Carolingian and Ottonian periods, including manuscripts which were not illuminated but were highly important on palaeographical grounds.

By the end of the 1920s, he had assembled a collection of well over 200 European manuscripts which, together with his other collections, made him the most important book collector in England in the mid-twentieth century.

While over half of the European manuscripts Beatty collected throughout his lifetime were bequeathed to his personal estate, the Library retains some fine and important examples of beautifully illuminated medieval texts.