Inspiration and Instruction: The Wilbour Library of Egyptology at 80

  • Posted on Sep 09, 2014 by

A library is a living thing – and a first rate-research facility is set-up to not only answer questions, but to help stimulate new ones. This kind of give and take between resources and researchers has been a hallmark of The Brooklyn Museum’s Wilbour Library of Egyptology for all of its 80 years. Since its inception, the Wilbour has nurtured a family of scholars, seekers and enthusiasts who’ve let the library lead them to wonderful discoveries in the fields of Egyptology and the Ancient world.

When the Wilbour first opened its doors in 1934, it’s likely that the first research request was a letter from a researcher from afar as most correspondence was by letter writing in those days. Now with email, electronic catalogs, and other modern methods of communication, requests for information and materials come in every format, and from every corner of the globe. It’s no longer always necessary to visit in person—yet the lure of the stacks is strong and, for many, there’s no substitute for a hands-on experience for those who are lucky enough to be able to visit.  The library’s rich resources are accessible to all and every request is treated with the same seriousness, responsiveness and tact. Over the years, world-class scholars, museum curators, creative writers and even classrooms full of curious school kids have sought information and inspiration in the stacks.

Some examples:

Oxford trained Egyptologist; Tom Hardwick used one of the Library’s rare treasures as the basis for his research. Dr. Hardwick’s recent work focuses on early auction sales records and uses unique Wilbour-owned documents to shed light on the history of Egyptian art and antiquities collecting. His published work on the subject Five months before Tut: purchasers and prices at the MacGregor sale, 1922 and The Obsidian King's Origins: further light on purchasers and prices at the MacGregor sale, 1922 can be found at the Wilbour Library. Although the manuscript that inspired this important work has been digitized in full, Dr. Hardwick worked with the original material. In his opinion, the Wilbour's unique collections are essential:

"The Wilbour Library remains one of Egyptology's greatest … resources. As the history of Egyptology and the history of collecting and studying Egyptian art becomes more popular, the Wilbour's collections will become increasingly valued and better known."


Excerpta hieroglyphica; Exact copies of various hieroglyphical inscriptions and sculpture monuments still existing in Egypt and Nubia and at Mount Sinai

Page from James Burton, Excerpta hieroglyphica; Exact copies of various hieroglyphical inscriptions and sculpture monuments still existing in Egypt and Nubia and at Mount Sinai (Qahirah: s.n., 1825-1829). Photo by: Roberta Munoz


Other recent inquiries include a request from a prominent scholar and professor of Egyptology to examine the Excerpta hieroglyphica, a rare volume from the early 19th century containing hieroglyphical inscriptions complied by James Burton an important, early British Egyptologist.  The volume is exceptionally rare and the Wilbour has one of the few copies available for reference.

Creative writers have also allowed the library and its many treasures to spark their imaginations. The novelist Elizabeth Peters is the author of the “Amelia Peabody” series of historical mysteries and she includes the Wilbour library in her written acknowledgements at the end of her books. The series features an intrepid Egyptologist based on a real figure, Amelia Blanford Edwards. The Wilbour owns multiple copies of Edwards’ classic works, as well as a one-of-a-kind handwritten manuscript of a lecture that she delivered in Brooklyn in 1890.

Literature and religion of Ancient Egypt, by Amelia Ann Blandford Edwards.

Page from Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards, "Literature and religion of Ancient Egypt." Lecture, n.d. Photo by: Roberta Munoz


Collaboration between users, librarians and resources make the library, and history, come alive. So stop by and make some discoveries of your own!

Roberta Munoz, Librarian/Cataloger, Brooklyn Museum Wilbour Library of Egyptology

Banner Image: Tre soggetti di transporto e accompagnemento funebre, in I monumenti dell'Egitto e della Nubia, disegnati dalla spedizione scientifico-letteraria toscana in Egitto by Ippolito Rosellini (Pisa : Presso N. Capurro e c., 1832-44), CXXVII. Brooklyn Museum Libraries. Wilbour Library of Egyptology. Special Collections.

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