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Max Weisweiler archive

Identifier: ubl147

Scope and Contents

For a general survey of the contents of the archive see the inventory.


  • Creation: 1924-1967

Language of Materials

German, Arabic.

Conditions Governing Use

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

Biographical / Historical

Max Weisweiler, born in Cologne (Germany) on 17 April 1902, studied Oriental languages at the universities of Bonn, Leipzig, Göttingen and Tübingen from 1920 to 1924. He finished his doctoral dissertation in Tübingen under Enno Littmann. After following courses in librarianship he obtained a position as subject librarian, first, in 1926, at the university library in Tübingen, and from 1927 at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. Formally drafted into the army, and apparently for his lack of 'National Socialist fervour,' he was unable to become head of the Oriental department at the Staatsbibliothek. Nevertheless, the management of day-to-day affairs during the Second World War was left in his hands. It was due to his efforts that the Berlin manuscript collections were evacuated to Western Germany instead of Silesia as originally intented, which saved the collections from being confiscated by the Soviet Union after the war.

After the war he pursued his career at the library of the University of Bonn, where he rose to the rank of 'Oberbibliotheksrat (senior library counsellor). He retired in 1967. In 1954 he received an appointment as honorary professor of Arabic, but his teaching duties remained a dead letter. Weisweiler died the year after his retirement in 1968.

Max Weisweiler is best known for his comprehensive study of Islamic bookbindings, to which he devoted thirty years of his active life. His main publication is his monograph Der islamische Bucheinband des Mittelalters (Wiesbaden 1962). He is also known for his German translation of Ibn Hazm’s Tawq al-Hamama, published in Leiden in 1941 under the title Das Halsband der Taube über die Liebe und die Liebenden. A full list of his publications is contained in Wiesmüller (2007), p. 8-10.

Weisweiler’s typology of the ornamentation of bookbindings is still regarded as authoritative by François Déroche in his Manuel de codicologie des manuscrits en écriture arabe (2000), p. 312-319.


4 boxes with archival materials size A4 or folio, 3 boxes with filing cards, 2 microfilms (2 metres)

Abstract in Dutch

Archief van de Duitse arabist Max Weisweiler (1902-1968), voor het merendeel bestaand uit wetenschappelijke aantekeningen over islamitische handschriftenkunde, waaronder talrijke afwrijfsels van boekbanden, en voornamelijk ongepubliceerde vertalingen van Arabische volksvertellingen.

Abstract in English

The archive of the German Arabist Max Weisweiler (1902-1968), for the greater part consisting of scholarly notes on Islamic manuscript science, including a large number of rubbings from manuscript bindings, and mostly unpublished translations of Arabic folktales.


A. Papers on Der islamische Bucheinband des Mittelalters.

1. Literature on the art and technique of oriental bindings.

2. Images of islamic bookbindings.

3. Inventories and descriptions of bookbindings from Berlin, Gotha, Istanbul and Leiden (with rubbings of individual decorative elements).

4. Rubbings of bookbindings from Berlin, Gotha, Istanbul, Leiden and Tübingen, arranged according to type.

5. Draft of a text on the geometrical bookbinding in the Mamluk period.

B. Papers on Book and Library Science.

1. Notebook and Filing cards with descriptions of Berlin Arabic manuscripts not in Ahlwardt’s Verzeichniss, on the Islamic book, writing materials, paleography, the transmission of texts, the composition of the Arabic booktitle, and on public libraries in the Mamluk era.

2. Manuscripts and printed books: some fragments of original manuscripts, two microfilms of Berlin manuscripts, copies of selected pages from Berlin manuscripts, photographs of illuminated pages, copies from printed books etc.

3. Minor publications of Max Weisweiler (newspaper cuttings).

C. Unpublished translations of Arabic folktales and Adab, in typescript.

1.1-2 Thousand and One Nights.

1.3 Anecdotes, legends and jokes.

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

See the inventory by Wiesmüller (2007).

Custodial History

The entire archive consists of Max Weisweiler’s scholarly notes, his rubbings of manuscripts and photos, photocopies or microfilms of manuscripts ordered by him or on his behalf.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

After the death of Max Weisweiler’s widow in 1989 her son and heir Dr Hilger Weisweiler sold the private library of his father to Brill at Leiden. All books were subsequently sold by Brill to the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then under its founding director Prof. Sayyid Muhammad Naqib al-Attas.

Max Weisweiler’s archive was not included in this purchase. It was subsequently acquired by Dr Jan Just Witkam, curator of Oriental Manuscripts at Leiden University Library in the course of 1990 and registered as Cod. Or. 22.307 (Wiesmüller 2007, p. 1).


No future additions are to be expected.

Separated Materials

The book collection of Max Weisweiler is kept at ISTAC, the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


  • Déroche, Fr., Manuel de codicologie des manuscrits en écriture arabe. Paris 2000.
  • Weisweiler, M. (tr.), Das Halsband der Taube über die Liebe und die Liebenden. Leiden 1941.
  • Weisweiler, M., Der islamische Bucheinband des Mittelalters. Wiesbaden 1962.
  • Wiesmüller, B., Das Max Weisweiler-Archiv der Universitätsbibliothek Leiden. Leiden 2007.


The material in this collection can be requested at the Special Collections Reading Room.

Processing Information

In the course of 1998 Dr Beate Wiesmüller prepared an inventory of the Weisweiler archive, which was finally published in 2007 (Wiesmüller 2007).

The archive was repacked an reshelved in two stages between 2007 and 2009.

Collection guide of the Max Weisweiler archive (1924-1967)
Archief van Max Weisweiler
Arnoud Vrolijk en Beate Wiesmüller, 2010
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Beschrijving is in het Engels.

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

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