Chester Beatty Library – Collections – The Western Collection – Papyri - History | The Western Papyri Collection History, Chester Beatty Library Papyri Collection History, History of the Papyri Collection
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History of the Collection

The Papyrus Collection was, for the most part, established in the 1920s. Under the guidance of senior curators in the British Museum's Department of Egyptian Antiquities and Department of Manuscripts, allied Oxford and Cambridge academics also contributed to the formation and development of the extensive collection.

Harold Idris Bell, Frederick Kenyon, Alan Gardiner and Edward Edwards, as well as Herbert Thompson, Charles Alberry and W. E. Crum, were retained by Beatty as advisors.

The principal papyri were purchased through dealers or through a museum syndicate, which included many American museums and universities. Beatty's acquisition of papyrus manuscripts began to turn the emphasis of his collection away from illuminated manuscripts towards rare texts, and in several contemporary newspapers he was referred to as 'a British Egyptologist.'

Beatty's papyrus collection would eventually develop into one of the most important private collections in the world, which few other private collectors, and only the largest public institutions, could match. He was now in active competition with some of the great imperial museums of Europe, and in some cases his acquisitions were made in an arena of great rivalry between the British and German national collections.

In the course of forming the Collection, Beatty very often disposed of material. The most important of his donations was to the British Museum: Papyrus Chester Beatty II-XIX (London, BM 10682-10699). Beatty also gifted smaller collections of documentary papyri to his friend and fellow collector Wilfred Merton. In 1958, the Merton Collection of Papyri was bequeathed to Chester Beatty and now forms part of the Library.

Unlike most of Beatty's other purchases, the Papyrus Collection demands extensive conservation, an ongoing process. In the past, this was usually carried out at the British Museum or by German conservators in Berlin.

A significant part of Beatty's Coptic Papyrus Collection was confiscated by Russian forces in Berlin at the end of the Second World War and removed to the Soviet Union. The collection was returned to East Berlin in the 1960s and eventually to Ireland in 2001.