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Japanese books and maps collection

Identifier: ubl081

Scope and Contents

An important collection of Japanese books on grammar, literature, history, geography, natural history and science, the latter category containing many books on 'Rangaku' or 'Holland-knowledge': Dutch-Japanese dictionaries and Japanese translations of Dutch works on science, medicine and technology. The collection of maps is of paramount importance for the study of the history of geography and topography in Japan.

The 1896 catalogue by L. Serrurier, arranged according to subject, is still the best thematic guide to the collection. The table of contents lists the following subjects (with present holdings in the University Library, excluding doubles):

  1. General works (24 items)
  2. Language and linguistics (137)
  3. Geography (255)
  4. History, Law, Art of War, Government (159)
  5. Theology, Philosophy, Literature (incl. Theatre) (151)
  6. Ethnography (77)
  7. Technology, Sciences, Commerce (78)
  8. Natural History, Agriculture (127)
  9. Medicine (62)
  10. Painting & drawing (most are in Museum) (118)


  • Creation: 1592-1954
  • Creation: Bulk 1700-1885


Language of Materials

Japanese, Chinese (‘Kanbun’), Dutch,

Conditions Governing Use

Regulations that apply during the use of these materials can be found on the website of Leiden University Library.


1255 items (52 metres)

Abstract in Dutch

Historisch belangrijke collectie van ca. 1255 Japanse gedrukte boeken, kaarten en handschriften, voor een aanzienlijk deel afkomstig uit de verzameling van Philipp Franz Von Siebold (1796-1866), een Duitse arts in Nederlandse overheidsdienst bij de handelspost op Deshima in de baai van Nagasaki.

Abstract in English

Historically important collection of c. 1255 Japanese printed books, maps and manuscripts, originating for a considerable part from the collection of Philipp Franz Von Siebold (1796-1866), a German physician in the service of the Netherlands Government at the trading post of Deshima in the bay of Nagasaki.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

The Japanese books, block-printed on indigenous Washi paper, have kept extremely well over the years. The condition of the maps, still folded in their original cases, appears more fragile.

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

The most recent and complete access to the Japanese collections of Leiden University and the Museum dating from before 1868 is H. Kerlen’s Catalogue of pre-Meiji Japanese books and maps (1996).

L. Serrurier’s Bibliothèque japonaise of 1896 is still widely used. The copy in the Special Collections reading room contains valuable annotations in the hand of Serrurier and others.

A complete list (with introduction) of the present holdings in Leiden University Library is provided in Koos Kuiper's The Serrurier Collection: Introduction and list of books, manuscripts and maps in the Leiden University Library (2016).

In 2015 the whole collection became accessible in the Leiden University Library online catalogue.

Custodial History

The Serrurier collection, the collection of old Japanese books, manuscripts and maps at the Leiden University Library, is also known as the 'Siebold collection'. Other parts of this collection are kept in the Museum Volkenkunde (Ethnographic Museum) and the Herbarium (now Naturalis). The history of this collection is intimately connected with the Dutch commercial presence in Japan, concentrated on the tiny artificial island of Deshima in the bay of Nagasaki . From 1640 until 1853 the Dutch were the only Europeans to be allowed access on Japanese soil.

From the seventeenth century onwards isolated items entered the University Library, such as the Fides no doxi, printed at the Jesuit press in Japan (1592)

The core of the collection, however, consists of books acquired by employees of the Dutch trading post such as Jan Cock Blomhoff (1779-1853), Johannes F. van Overmeer Fisscher (1800-1848), and, more importantly, Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866). Von Siebold, a native of Würzburg , Germany, served as a physician from 1822 until 1829, when he was forced to leave. Von Siebold is still widely respected as the father of Western science in Japan, and his contribution to Japanese studies in the Netherlands cannot be overrated. This core collection of 594 items was described in the Catalogus librorum et manuscriptorum Japonicorum a Ph. Fr. de Siebold collectorum, authored by J.J. Hoffmann (1805-1878) and published by Von Siebold in 1845.

In 1858 Jan Hendrik Donker Curtius (1813-1879), the last 'opperhoofd' or chief of the Dutch settlement at Deshima, acquired c. 100 Japanese books on his final mandatory voyage to Edo to pay tribute to the Shogun.

In the course of the nineteenth century these collections were purchased by the Dutch Government and transferred to the Ethnographic Museum in Leiden, the present-day National Museum of Ethnology.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

In 1881 the director of the Ethnographic Museum, Lindor Serrurier (1846-1901), divided the Japanese book collections between two state-owned institutions in Leiden: the Ethnographic Museum and the Library of Leiden University:

‘En 1881 par l’initiative de l’auteur du présent catalogue (i.e. L. Serrurier), les livres de grammaire, de littérature, d’histoire, de géographie, etc. furent cédés à la Bibliothèque de l’Université, tandis que Musée Ethnograpique ne conservait que les albums de dessins et les livres illustrées, don't le contenu fut jugé d’utilité pour l’étude de l’ethnographie japonaise’ (L. Serrurier, Bibliothèque japonaise 1896, p. vi).

Serrurier’s selection, however, appears somewhat haphazard, with a noticeable tendency to reserve books with attractive colour illustrations for the Ethnographic Museum. Thus, many books on Ethnography were transferred to the University Library.

More Japanese books came to the University Library after the death of professor J.J. Hoffmann (1805-1878). A handwritten inventory is extant in the Western MSS collections, Lijst der Japansche of andere in Japan gedrukte boekwerken uit de nalatenschap van wijlen Prof. Dr. J.J. Hoffmann […] , (BPL 2186: J 8 ). A list of Hoffmann’s printed books in European languages, mainly on Japanese and Chinese studies, is available in the Library Archive (BA1 J 39, Lijst der nieuw ingekomen boekwerken 1880-1881 , July-September).

The Japanese books of A.J.C. Geerts (1843-1883), professor of Medicine at Leiden University, were at first kept in the Ethnographic Museum and in the Herbarium Library. The latter and part of the former were transferred to the University Library in 2015. Serrurier compiled an auction catalogue in 1887.


Occasional new accessions, no active acquisition policy.

Related Materials

Other old Japanese books and manuscripts in Leiden University Library are kept in the Van Gulik collection, the Verdoorn Collection and the collection of old Japanese books formerly kept in the East Asian Library.

The following manuscripts are kept as part of the Western manuscripts collection:

  1. J. Hoffmann en L. Serrurier, Japansch-Nederlandsch-Engelsch Woordenboek. (BPL 2180)
  2. J. Hoffmann en M.S. Geerts, Nagelaten papieren op het gebied van de Japansche letteren. (BPL 2186)
  3. J.H. Donker Curtius, Proeve eener Japansche spraakkunst. (LTK 593)
  4. Japansche spraakkunst, door een Japannees in het Nederlandsch geschreven. (LTK 1056)

In addition, the Western manuscripts collection also contains 12 letters written by Ph.F. von Siebold and 84 letters written by J. Hoffmann to several correspondents. These letters can be found via the online catalogue.

Separated Materials

Philipp Franz von Siebold is still a key figure in the university and museum collections at Leiden. Parts of his collection of Japanese books and maps can be appreciated even more in combination with his other collections of artefacts and botanical specimens:

Botanical specimens: the Hortus Botanicus of Leiden University, with a Japanese garden in commemoration of Von Siebold

Books (on loan) and plant specimens: Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden

Natural science objects: Museum Naturalis, Leiden

Ethnographical artefacts, prints and books: Museum of Ethnology , Leiden

In 2005 the Von Siebold Huis was opened at Rapenburg 19, Leiden, where Von Siebold once lived and displayed his collections of Japanese artefacts. At the Von Siebold Huis, the above-mentioned institutions and the University Library exhibit treasures from their collections.

Von Siebold's private papers are preserved at the Ruhr-Universität (Bochum) and in the family archives of the Brandenstein-Zeppelin family at Burg-Brandenstein. Parts of his collection are at the Japan-Institut (Berlin) and the Japanologisches Seminar (Universität Bonn). Würzburg has a Von Siebold Museum.


  • Hoffmann, J.J. & L. Serrurier, Verzameling van Japansche boekwerken, door J.H. Donker Curtius op zijne reis naar Yedo in 1858 voor het Rijk ingekocht . [’s-Gravenhage 1882].
  • Kerlen, H., Catalogue of pre-Meiji Japanese books and maps in public collections in The Netherlands = Oranda kokunai shozō Meiji izen Nihon kankei korekushon mokuroku . Amsterdam 1996. (Japonica Neerlandica, 6).
  • Kuiper, K., The Serrurier Collection: Introduction and list of books, manuscripts and maps in the Leiden University Library. Leiden 2016.
  • Ningen Bunka KenkyūeKikō Kokubungaku Kenkyū Shiryōkan [Suzuki Jun and others], Shīboruto Nihon shoseki korekushon : genzonsho mokuroku to kenkyū 人間文化研究機構国文学研究資料館編, シイボルト日本書籍コレクシヨン;現存書目録と研究 = Japanese books in the Von Siebold collection, a catalog and further research. Tōkyō : Bensei shuppan; 東京:勉誠出版, 2014.
  • Serrurier, L., Catalogue des livres japonais de feu M. le dr. A.J.C. Geerts. Leide 1887.
  • Serrurier, L., Bibliothèque japonaise. Catalogue raisonné des livres et des manuscrits japonais enrégistrés à la Bibliothèque de l’Université de Leyde. Leyde 1896.
  • Siebold, Ph. Fr. von & J.J. Hoffmann, Catalogus librorum et manuscriptorum Japonicorum a Ph. Fr. de Siebold collectorum, annexa enumeratione illorum, qui in museo regio Hagano servantur. Lugd. Bat. 1845.
  • Velde, H. van de & J.J. Witkam, Van hout tot steen: de assimilatie van Hollandse wetenschap in het Japan van vòòr 1853 in een tentoonstelling van Japanse boeken in de Universiteitsbibliotheek. Leiden 1994. ( Kleine publikaties van de Leidse Universiteitsbibliotheek , 17).
  • Yonemoto, M., M. Forrer & I. Smits, Staatsgevaar of sierobject. Japanse kaarten uit de Siebold-collectie. Leiden 2000. ( Kleine publicaties van de Leidse Universiteitsbibliotheek, 38).


All items can be requested in the online catalogue. They can be consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Processing Information

In 1896 L. Serrurier published a comprehensive catalogue of the Japanese holdings in his Bibliothèque japonaise. The subtitle, Catalogue raisonné of the Japanese books and manuscripts registered in the Library of Leiden University is, however, a misnomer, since the catalogue also contains the books and manuscripts that are extant in the National Museum of Ethnology and the Nationaal Herbarium Nederland at Leiden.

In 1996, exactly one hundred years later, the Japanese holdings of the Leiden University Library (and the Museum and elsewhere in the Netherlands) dating from before 1868 were incorporated in H. Kerlen’s Catalogue of pre-Meiji Japanese books and maps.

In 1994 the University Library devoted an exhibition to its books on Rangaku or 'Holland-Knowledge': Van hout tot steen , catalogue by Hans van de Velde (1994).

In 2000 the maps in the Japanese collections were the object of an exhibition, Staatsgevaar of sierobject , catalogue by Marcia Yonemoto [et al.].

The Von Siebold Huis at Leiden (est. 2005) has a permanent display of a frequently changing selection of Japanese books and maps from the University Library .

In 2015 the Geerts collection was transferred from the Herbarium to the University Library.

In the same year all items became accessible in the Leiden University Library online catalogue.

Items from the Leiden University Library Japanese collections are frequently loaned to exhibitions on the history and culture of Japan, both in the Netherlands and abroad.

Collection guide of the Japanese books and maps collection (1592-1954)
Collectie Japanse boeken en handschriften
Arnoud Vrolijk, 2006 ; Koos Kuiper, 2016
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
This finding aid has been written in English .

Revision Statements

  • 5 August 2016: latest update

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857