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Subject guide

Post-medieval Manuscripts and Private Archives

The domain of the post-medieval manuscripts and private archives covers the period from about 1550 to the present. A clear distinction with the medieval manuscripts, however, is difficult to make. There are many undated manuscripts and it is often difficult to date them even within a decade or a quarter of a century. And most former owners would have regarded the division between medieval and post-medieval manuscripts an artificial one; for them the subject matter is the most important criterion. A good example are the alchemistic manuscripts of the Vossius Collection: some twenty are composed before 1500, while the majority dates from the second half of the 16th century.

Some of the core collections and main components are:

  • Alchemistic manuscripts – The 115 alchemistic manuscripts in the Vossius Collection (shelfmarks begin with VCF, VCQ or VCO) originate from the library of the Swedish Queen Christina, war booty acquired during the Thirty Years War in the German states, especially Bohemia and Bavaria. For a long time they formed a hardly accessible and somewhat underestimated subcollection. This situation has changed thanks to the catalogue of P.C. Boeren (1975) and a growing interest in hermetic writings and the role of natural philosophy and esotericism for the development of science in 16th century texts.
  • Alba amicorum – The Leiden collections contain more than 140 alba amicorum of Leiden students or professors. These ‘books of friends’ have their origins in 16th century university circles. Students often visited various universities in Europe. During their peregrinatio academica they asked students and professors with whom they associated to write a note of remembrance in an album. Leiden University has been of great importance for the spread of the album amicorum in the Netherlands. 
  • Lecture notes – The more than 850 volumes with lecture notes — written down by Leiden students during four centuries — constitute an important source in the study of academic education and research.
  • Libri annotati – About 3,000 printed books with handwritten notes, mostly from Leiden scholars of the 17th and 18th centuries are kept as a separate unit of the western manuscript collections. They bear shelfmarks beginning with the numbers 754-766. These so-called libri annotati are described in Leiden’s online catalogue, in most cases provided with (as yet unsearchable) information about the handwritten notes in that particular copy. For example: 766 E 21, a copy of the Opera omnia of Apuleius Madaurensis (Leiden 1723) contains notes of Jac. Tollius. An electronic inventory of libri annotati, with an index of annotators, is under construction.
  • Private archives – A major part of the almost 50 separately shelved collections is formed by (parts of) personal estates, bought or acquired as a gift, as a bequest or as a loan by Leiden University Library over a period of four centuries. These could be divided in two categories, dependent of the way they were formed: either as a personal archive or as the result of private collecting. The scientific notes and correspondence (consisting of received letters in original and sent letters in draft or copy) of the famous Dutch historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) form an ‘archive’ (see the collection guide). On the other hand, the letters and manuscripts of several persons acquired by the Amsterdam merchant Gerardus van Papenbroeck (1673-1743) can be called a ‘collection’ (in the proper sense). In most cases we find a mixture of the two kinds: the Lipsius Collection contains a part of the correspondence and notes of Justus Lipsius (1547-1606), but also medieval manuscripts he collected and used for his own research. The Bibliotheca Publica Latina Collection and the manuscripts collection of the Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde (Society of Dutch Literature) — both in fact collections — contain a great number of archives and collections themselves, originating from, respectively, Leiden scholars and Dutch writers.
  • Archives of non-governmental institutions, such as: Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde. — Waalse Kerken in Nederland (Bibliothèque Wallonne). — Bibliotheca Thysiana. — Legatum Stolpianum. — Uitgeverij De Erven F. Bohn. — Uitgeverij Bohn Stafleu Van Loghum. — A.W. Sijthoff’s Uitgeversmaatschappij.

Online catalogue
The catalogue contains:

  • Short descriptions of complete manuscripts and archives. The itemrecords contain references to all relevant printed catalogues (listed below). Private archives are accessible through collection guides (see below), which can also be found in the catalogue. In a few cases the letters in those archives are described on item level.
  • Descriptions of collections and archives with links to the corresponding collection guides. It is important to note that by browsing the catalogue, you do not search the inventories and detailed descriptions within the collection guides themselves, only their descriptions on a main level.

Collection Guides
Our Collection Guides search portal provides information on archives and collections' provenance, structure, content, and composition. A growing number of archives have an inventory attached to the collection guide with the possibility to request items for consultation in the reading room directly. You can search the collection descriptions and inventories using the comprehensive search function.

The following estates and archives, among others, have electronic inventories: Bibliothèque Wallonne archives and collection. — Archive of the Bibliotheca Thysiana and Thysius family archive. — Bohn (publishing house). — Radslav Kinsky archive. —​​​​​​​ Luzac family archive. —​​​​​​​ Archive of the Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde. —​​​​​​​ Taco Hayo Milo archive. — Sijthoff (publishing house).

Most provenance collections contain, to a greater or lesser extent, modern manuscript material. Where an archive has been digitized, the inventory includes links to the images in Digital Collections.

Digital Collections
Digital Collections is a database containing digital images of manuscripts, archives, letters, and other materials (such as rare books, maps, prints, drawings, and photographs). Some manuscripts are available as a digital facsimile, for example, the album amicorum of Janus Dousa (BPL 1406). Complete collections and archives, such as those of Nicolaas BeetsConrad Busken HuetFrançois Haverschmidt, and Arie Cornelis Kruseman, have been digitized. In due time, the archives of Johan Huizinga and Christiaan Huygens will also be digitally available.

The online catalogue doesn't give full descriptions of all the special collections. More information can be found in the printed catalogues and inventories that have been compiled over time. These printed catalogues have been brought together in a separate collection guide, containing links to the paper copies and digital versions.:  Catalogues of the Holdings of Leiden University Libraries. For post-medieval manuscripts and private archives, see the following codes: A 1-9. — A 10.22. — A10.26. — A10.35. — A10.37. — D 1-5. — D 7-14. — D 16. — D 18-20. — D 22-29. — D 31. — M 2. — M 4.1. — M 6.1. — M 7-8. — M 11. — O 1-4. — P 2. — Q 1-24. — R 8-9. — R 11. — S 7.

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