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The University of Iowa Libraries

Special Collections and University Archives

Finding Aid

Asian Manuscripts Collection
MsC 913
Collection Dates: Mostly unknown; some were collected in the early nineteen hundreds; one is dated 1705; one 1812
6 linear ft.

Access and Restrictions: This collection is open for research.

Digital Surrogates: Except where indicated, this document describes but does not reproduce the actual text, images and objects which make up this collection. Materials are available only in the Special Collections Department.

Copyright: Please read The University of Iowa Libraries' statement on Property Rights, Copyright Law, and Permissions to Use Unpublished Materials.

Use of Collections: The University of Iowa Libraries supports access to the materials, published and unpublished, in its collections. Nonetheless, access to some items may be restricted by their fragile condition or by contractual agreement with donors, and it may not be possible at all times to provide appropriate machinery for reading, viewing or accessing non-paper-based materials. Please read our Use of Manuscripts Statement.

Acquisition and Processing Information: Parts of this collection were donated by Reverend Tai Kwong and parts by Professor Bose. Other items in this collection are from known and unknown sources. The donor's name in included in the individual entry of t.hose for which we know it

Photographs: None

Indigo scroll
Indigo scroll

Scope and Contents

The numbers assigned to this collection require some explanation. Numbers 50, 51, 53, 55, 56, and 64 displayed these numbers when they came to us. Notes were made on the manuscripts using these numbers and it seemed wise to keep them. Furthermore, thinking that they may have been part of a larger collection that had been broken up, we retained these numbers in case other manuscripts come to  light.

Numbers 9, 10, and 11 were assigned by personnel at the University of Iowa and are arbitrary.

The palm leaf manuscripts were reviewed by Fred Smith who provided the following commentary.

The palm leaf set with numbers in the fifties are probably Singhalese and probably came from Sri Lanka and were routed and possibly re-wrapped in China, based on the Chinese coin used on the books (see number 51). An interesting note is that these palm manuscripts use curvilinear text developed for use with palm leaves, as linear text writing would crack the palm, in contrast Northern India where dried birch bark is used, with the writing on the inside employing linear writing as curvilinear writing would make the birch bark crack. The curvilinear text is etched into the palm leaf with a stylus using no ink. Then black ink powder is rubbed over the surface to reveal the writing.

A note included with the palm leaf manuscripts of unknown origin states that the language is Pali which is " . . . the name of the literary language of the Buddhists in Ceylon. It is a dead language except as used in their sacred writing."

Box Contents List

Note: the order in the following list is as follows: number/general description/dimensions and leaf count/ notes. Each manuscript occupies its own box.

50. Red painted wood covers. 66.7 x 6.1 x 5.1cm. Metal button closure with text cast in: “Assaye” with elephant; “Smith Kemp Wright, Patent Birmingham.” Label (on right) reads: “Old Singhalese Book, No. 2561 Written on leaves of Talipot Palm from Colombo Ceylon, 1705." String holes: measuring 20cm in from left, 19.5 cm from right

51. Plain wood covers with slight light stain. 62.8 x 6.3 x4.5 cm. Button closure 2 on one:, bone with red and black stripes, metal coin with square hole. Label (on left) “_______of the Jataka stories in Pali." Label (on right): “Old Singhalese Book No. 2560 written on leaves of Talipot Palm from Colombo Ceylon." String holes measuring 19 cm from left, 18.5 from right

53. Plain wood covers with slight light stain? 55.5 x 7.4 x 5 cm. Plastic clear faceted button. Label (center) “Wasala Sustraya in Pali.” Label (on right): “Old Singhalese Book written on Talipot palm from Colombo Ceylon.” String holes measuring 23 cm from left, 15 from right

55.Wood covers, painted diamond design (inlay?), red, black, white. 48.8 x 4.5 x 6 cm. Red & white striped cord (no button stop). Label reads “Old Singhalese Book written on leaves of Talipot Palm from Colombo Ceylon 1905”

56. Wood covers, painted diamond petal and triangles red, black, white. 26.2 x 4.8 x 7.7 cm. Red and white striped cord (no button stop).  Label (on left): “Old Singhalese Book Colombo 1904”

57. Palm leaf covers (multiple leaves ticketed at corners). 25.3 x 6.2 x 2 cm. (last two measurements taken with palm leaf curve; book not flat).  Red & white thread. Label reads: “Old Burmese Book used by fortune teller who opens some pages at random and reads fortune from this. Book written on Leaves of Palm. Bought at Rangoon Burmajar 1905."

58. Palm leaf covers (3 leaves ticketed at corners).  18 x 5.4 x 2.5 cm. Label reads “Old Burmese Book bough from an old fortune teller at the Sulapagoda. His father, grandfather, and his ancestors further back were all fortune tellers and this book had come down through these generations. Rangoon January 1905."

64. Sutra Explaining the Visualization of the [Buddha] of Infinite Life (Japanese: Kanmuryōjukyō; Chinese: Foshuoguan wuliangshou jing)
佛說觀無量壽經. There are two parts to the sutra, called the upper and the lower; we have only the upper volume. Indigo scroll, Pureland sutra. 30.8 x 3.5 cm             

9. Loose palm leafs, no covers or label. 42.5 x4.3 x 3.4cm.   Worn, with insect damage. Bengali text. Two texts, one partial: Mahabharata (part of Savitri episode); one complete Bhagavad Gita (text first century CE. Date of the manuscript is 1812.) This is made of a different palm leaf than the Singhalese manuscripts. Has an inscription on the cover. A card accompanying the leaves states "The language used in the book is Sanskrit, but the script is the Bengali script."

10. Small palm leaf bearing an illustration of a parable (Buddhist?) regarding deer, archer, garden.

11. Batak [bark?]  accordion book. 2 X 3 1/4 inches, from North Sumatra, Indonesia. Incised drawing on dark wood cover. Gift of Dale Bentz, who received it from Rosella Berg Kanes, May 1, 1987. Accompanied by the letter from Ms. Kanes which states "It contains witchcraft formulas of animistic days, I'm told."

Tongan Ngatu. 71 x 156 inches. Manufactured on the island of Tongatapu. Probably used as a wedding dowry, it's meaning in unknown. Accompanied by Tapa: Conservation Treatment Research, Proposal & Documentation by Jill Iacchei, who conserved this item as her final project in the Center for the Book.

Information on items in the collection.