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Finnish Collections

The Finnish collections of the British Library are the largest in the United Kingdom and probably the most comprehensive anywhere outside Scandinavia. Our aim is to select and acquire, as widely as possible, via purchase, exchange and donation, publications of research value from Finland in the humanities and social sciences. Our holdings are listed in Explore the British Library.

Introduction to the Finnish Collections | Related Finnish material elsewhere in the British Library | Related Finnish Internet resources

Introduction to the Finnish Collections


When the Library of the British Museum opened in 1759, created from the Sloane, Old Royal and other collections, it is estimated that there were already some 1,250 Scandinavian works in the foundation collections of its Department of Printed Books. The bulk of these came from the library of Sir Hans Sloane, largely in the fields of medicine and natural sciences but also in those of antiquities, history, topography, philosophy, theology and law. In the early years of the British Museum there was no regular acquisitions grant and each purchase had to be approved in advance by Trustees. A sizeable addition to the Scandinavian holdings during the beginning of the 19th century, came with the gift of Sir Joseph Banks’s Library, which arrived in the British Museum in 1827. A significant number of Banksian items were Scandinavian, largely on natural history subjects.

The King’s Library, which was acquired in 1823 and finally came to the Museum in 1828, contained over a thousand Scandinavian books and pamphlets dating from before 1801, mostly in the humanities. Scandinavian material in the King’s Library was carefully selected, with particular strengths in history and biography, topography and law. It included a dozen scholarly journals, many university theses, bibliographies and text collections. There were Bibles in most of the northern languages, including the first Finnish Bible printed in Finland at Åbo (Turku) in 1685 (British Library shelfmark 219.h.13). Among the linguistic works was Daniel Juslenius’ Suomalaisen sana-lugun coetus (Stockholm, 1745) the first Finnish dictionary (70.a.5). The King’s Topographical Collection included the first atlases of maps of Finland produced at the end of the 18th century.

In 1892 a large collection of university dissertations was donated by Uppsala University Library. It included dissertations produced at the universities of Åbo (Turku) from the 17th century and Helsinki from 1828. The pre-1801 items have been individually catalogued and the remainder have been entered as uncatalogued collections, shelved in chronological order, under the headings for the universities at which they were presented.

The acquisition of the Grenville Library in 1847 added yet more rare Scandinavian items to the collections (including Bartholdus Vhael’s Grammatica fennica, the first Finnish grammar (G.16840)) but the middle of the nineteenth century onwards saw the adoption of a more deliberate collection policy. In 1837, the new keeper, Antonio Panizzi proposed that the Museum should acquire more standard foreign works, including "literary journals, transactions of learned societies … newspapers and collections of laws". This approach was certainly reflected in the materials purchased from Scandinavia during the next years. In 1844 a copy of the earliest Finnish-language Bible (Stockholm, 1642) was bought for the collections (

In a report to Panizzi in 1861, his assistant, Thomas Watts, expressed the view that the Museum should aim to build up "the best collection of books in every European language outside the countries of origin". That aim certainly appears to have been realised for Finnish material over the next decades and into the 20th century, despite financial cutbacks at various times. From the literature of the 19th century we have various editions of Kalevala, the Finnish national epic compiled by Elias Lönnrot, including the first which was printed in 1835. Significant holdings from the 20th century include Suomen kansan vanhat runot (1908-1948), the monumental standard 33 volume collection of Finnish folk poetry, now very rare. There are two sets of this in the British Library (011350.d.1 and Ac.9080).

Present scope and development

In 1973, the British Library was established: the Finnish Collections, along with the other library collections of the British Museum, became part of the new national library of the United Kingdom. Nowadays, the Library does not generally acquire complete collections, whether from institutions or individual donors. Instead it carries out the systematic selection of newly-published materials on a regular basis.

It is difficult to give exact figures for the total number of Finnish books in the British Library since there is no separate catalogue of Finnish holdings. The Library’s catalogue of items acquired since 1975 shows approximately 11,800 records for titles published in Finland. The present growth rate is somewhere in the order of 250 separately published monographs per annum. We also subscribe to approximately 380 monographic series and periodicals. Selection is carried out systematically from FENNICA, the Finnish national bibliography, produced quarterly on CD-ROM. Present collecting policy is to acquire research level monographs and serials within the humanities and social sciences including bibliographies, reference works, official statistics and reports and a representative collection of significant modern literary works.

We also operate an exchange scheme with major institutions in Finland (including government bodies, libraries, and museums) and currently receive many of their publications, and therefore have major holdings of official and government publications (among these, a wide range of statistical titles from Suomen virallinen tilasto and also, microfiche editions of Finnish parliamentary proceedings). A large proportion of research-level work in Finland is published in series and we are fortunate that many of these are donated.

Occasionally, we do still receive major donations. The Hannås Collection of Scandinavian Linguistic Literature was donated to the Library in 1984 by Torgrim Hannås, a Norwegian-born antiquarian bookseller living in Britain. The collection includes some 710 items, in all the Scandinavian languages, of which about three quarters date from before 1851. Just over half of the collection consists of dictionaries, the rest being divided between textbooks, readers, phrase books etc and linguistic monographs.

Within the Finnish Collections many languages are represented; as well as Finnish, Swedish and Saami as one might expect, material is bought in other European languages, including a significant number of Finnish books published in English. Within the field of Finnish studies, the collection has particular strengths in linguistics, literature and history. However the British Library’s Finnish Collections are not focused exclusively on material relating to Finland; their coverage is international in scope and includes an extensive range of disciplines within the humanities and social sciences.


Hogg, Peter: The Hannås Collection: catalogue of a collection of Scandinavian dictionaries, grammars and linguistic literature presented to the British Library by Torgrim Hannås. London, 1994.

A Scandinavian short title catalogue to 1800, begun in 1992, is now nearing completion.

Related Finnish material elsewhere in the British Library

The Finnish Collections are normally consulted in the Humanities Reading Room at St Pancras, except for pre-1851 books and periodicals which are consulted in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room there. For our extensive collection of Finnish official and government publications, it is also worth consulting the Social Policy Information Service (SPIS) collections - formerly known as the Official Publications Library - which are usually read in the SPIS Reading Room at St Pancras.

Related Finnish material is held in other parts of the British Library:

Recorded sound is held by the Sound Archive. Manuscripts are held by Manuscript Collections. Newspapers are held in the British Library Newspaper Library. Scientific monographs are held by Science Technology & Business (STB). Social sciences and scientific serials and conference proceedings are held by the Document Supply Centre (DSC) in Boston Spa. Other Finnish material is held by Map, Music, and Philatelic Collections.

Related Finnish Internet resources

Library and booktrade




Scandinavian Section
The British Library
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Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7575
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7578