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Egyptology Rare Books Collection

The Egyptology Rare Collection is a small collection of about 165 titles on Egyptology and Egyptian travel, people, language, history, religion, culture and architecture. Most of the works were published in the 18 th and 19 th centuries and are mainly in English, French and Latin, however it also includes some very important early works such as Pignoria’s Mensa Isiaca of 1669 and works by Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), a German Jesuit scholar who made an early study of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The collection contains works by some of the pioneers and giants of Egyptology such as Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832). Champollion was a French classical scholar, philologist and orientalist who deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphics with the help of groundwork laid by his predecessors, translated parts of the Rosetta Stone, and is regarded as the father of modern Egyptology. We have three of his major works: ‘L’Egypte sous les pharaons, ou, Recherches sur la geographie, la religion, la langue, les ecritures et l’histoire de l’Egypte…’ (Paris, 1814), ‘Pantheon egyptien : collection des personnages mythologiques de l’ancienne Egypte, d’apres les monuments, avec un texte explicatif’ (Paris,1823), the latter containing 90 leaves of coloured plates, and his famous ‘Lettre a M. Dacier relative a l’alphabet des hieroglyphes phonetiques employes par les Egyptiens pour inscrire sur leurs momuments les titres, les noms et les surnoms des souverains grecs et romains’ (Paris, 1822).

Thomas Young (1773-1829), an English polymath who made notable contributions to the field of Egyptology and was one of the first to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, replied with his own ‘An account of some recent discoveries in hieroglyphical literature, and Egyptian antiquities : Including the author’s original alphabet, as extended by Mr. Champollion … , in which he endeavoured to have his own work recognised as the basis for Champollion’s system. This work, which reflects the schism between the two Egyptologists, is also present in the collection.

An interesting work is the 1821 ‘Panckoucke’ edition of ‘Description de l’Egypte, ou, Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont etes faites en Egypte pendant l’expedition de l’Armee francaise’ which is a collaborative work of scholars, scientists and artists who accompanied Napoleon to Egypt in his 1798-1801 expedition as part of the French Revolutionary Wars.

Another prominent figure was Karl Richard Lepsius (1810-1884), a pioneering German archaeologist and linguist who, in 1842, was commissioned by King Frederick Wilhelm IV of Prussia to head an expedition to Egypt and the Sudan in order to explore and record the remains of the ancient Egyptian civilisations. His work ‘Briefe aus Aegypten, Aethiopien und der Halbinsel des Sinai: geschrieben in den Jahren 1842-1845, wahrend der auf Befehl Sr. Majestat des Konigs Freidrich Wilhelm IV von Preussen ausgefuhrten wissenschaftlichen Expedition’ ( Berlin, 1852) describes this expedition. Other notable works in the collection include ‘I monumenti dell’Egitto e della Nubia …’ (Pisa, 1832-44) by Ippolito Rosellini (1800-1843), an Italian Egyptologist and disciple of Jean-Francois Champollion. This nine-volume work with plates records the results of his and Champollion’s visit to Egypt in 1828 (known as the ‘Franco-Tuscan’ expedition) financed by the Grand-Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, and the King of France, Charles X. Works by English Egyptologists include ‘Topography of Thebes, and general view of Egypt: being a short account of the principal objects worthy of notice in the valley of the Nile’ (London, 1835) by Sir John Gardner Wilkinson (1797-1875) and ‘Essay on Dr. Young’s and M. Champollion’s phonetic system of hieroglyphics: with some additional discoveries, by which it may be applied to decipher the names of the ancient kings of Egypt and Ethiopia’ (London, 1825) by Henry Salt (1780-1827).

Subjects covered in the collection include: expeditions, excavations and discoveries of antiquities; travels in the years 1768-1773 to discover the source of the Nile; descriptions of journeys and adventures through Egypt and other parts of the Middle East (including Karl Baedecker’s travel guide ‘Egypt: Handbook for travellers); natural history (including ,A handbook to the birds of Egypt’ (London, 1872) by G. E. Shelley, which has coloured plates); Egyptian language and grammar, including hieroglyphics and Coptic; Egyptian history, geography, religion and mythology.

Many of the books in the collection were bequeathed to the Library in 1963 by Sir Alan Gardiner (1879-1963), President of the Egypt Exploration Society (previously the Egypt Exploration Fund). Sir Alan was a prominent British Egyptologist and linguistic scholar and was also instrumental in founding the Society’s organ, the Journal of Egyptian archaeology in 1914. The Collection also contains works bequeathed to the College by Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards (1831-1892), author, Egyptologist and one of the founders of the Egypt Exploration Society. She worked tirelessly for the Society and was a devotee of William Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), who was appointed to the College as the first Professor of Egyptology in the UK.