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Hungarian Collections

This page provides an overview of the Hungarian Collections, illustrated by examples. We acquire material across the spectrum of the humanities and social sciences


The exact size of the Hungarian holdings is not known since, like other country/language holdings, they have no separate catalogue and are dispersed within the rest of the collections. There are approximately 35,000 titles in Hungarian in the current catalogue (which covers items acquired/catalogued since 1975).

King Matthias of Hungary

King Matthias of Hungary, from János Thuróczy's Chronica Hungarorum, printed in Augsburg by Erhard Ratdolt in 1488 [BL shelfmark I.B.6663]. Copyright © The British Library Board


The systematic collection of Hungarian books in the British Library started in the early 19th century and although at times restricted by inadequate funds, the acquisition of Hungarian material has continued ever since that time.

Although overshadowed by Panizzi, the man more closely responsible for Hungarica in the British Museum Library was his assistant, Thomas Watts (1811-1869). He was intimately acquainted with the Hungarian language and culture. For his critical articles on Hungarian literature and language, Watts was elected an Honorary Member of the Hungarian Academy. The Hungarian collection which took shape under his keepership was one of which he was particularly proud. His successors have since tried to emulate and maintain Watt's tradition of intelligent selection.

With the acquisition of the István Nagy Collection in May 1870, the purchase of the largest number of Hungarian books ever to enter the Library at one time was completed. The collection contains 60 16th-, 98 17th-century imprints and many other works on Hungarian ecclesiastical and local history, geography, genealogy, medicine, natural history, literature, linguistics and publishing history. Eleven of these are still the only recorded copies. The British Library's earliest printed book with an entirely Hungarian text is a partial translation of the New Testament: Epistolae Pauli lingua donatae (Cracow, 1533) [BL shelfmark C.37.b.22]. Among the unique works is a narrative poem by the 16th century Hungarian dramatist Mihály Sztárai, celebrating the life and martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, printed in Debrecen in 1582 [BL shelfmark C.38.e.14].

In 1873 a second large collection of Hungarian material was acquired. It was the library of László Waltherr (1788-1865), enthusiastic collector of books and ephemera. It consisted of some 4000 miscellaneous folio, quarto and octavo pamphlets, broadsides, playbills and manuscripts, dated mainly from 1770 to 1863. The larger, printed section is kept together under the special shelfmark starting with the letters Hung.

Since the acquisition of the main collections listed above, where resources have allowed, the Library has endeavoured to build on these solid foundations and has aimed to reflect the ideals of comprehensiveness of the 19th century. Its holdings of the publications of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the National Museum and Library are very nearly complete. Most Hungarian authors are represented by their standard collected edition and many of the first edition of their single works.

Coverage in the first half of the 20th century - a lean period of acquisitions, disrupted by world wars and a shortage of funds - was rather patchy. From the 1950s however, Hungarian publications of research value in the humanities and social sciences and the history of sciences have been received on a broad scale through purchase, or exchanges with principal Hungarian libraries. The 1956 Revolution caused another temporary disruption in our acquisitions programme. In difficult circumstances, the Library nevertheless succeeded in adding many contemporary publications relating to events in Hungary in the Autumn of 1956. Some of these were issued by the Forradalmi Bizottmány. The publications of The Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, comprising a reappraisal and full documentation of the 1956 anti-Communist revolution are also finding their way into the Collections. The British Library is a unique repository of the literature of the Hungarian Diaspora, represented by outstanding authors like Gyõzõ Határ, László Cs. Szabó, György Faludy, Béla Szász as well as younger members of the generation '56.

One of our major literary acquisitions pays tribute to Endre Ady, with the purchase of 25 first editions of his works. In the 1990s the complete published work of the poet János Pilinszky was donated to the Library. This includes monographs of poetry and prose works in Hungarian or in translation as well as critical and biographical material.

Rising book prices and a shrinking budget in the 1980s has forced a reduction in antiquarian acquisitions in favour of current material. Through contacts with the antiquarian book trade in Budapest we have, however, been able to add a number of significant early imprints to the Collections.

Since the political changes of the late 1980s, additions to the Library's collections have included printed ephemera, independent-spirited popular journals such as Hitel, Reform, Liget, Kapu, Hungarian Observer, as well as works in Hungarian or of Hungarian interest published in neighbouring Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Ukraine. We are also striving to acquire all archival sources as they become available in print.

Official publications are also acquired widely. They include The Legislation of the Hungarian Parliament [BL shelfmark S.423/23] in English and extensive runs of statistical and legal material in Hungarian. Our present annual intake consists of approximately 80 periodical titles, 900 monographs and 2 newspapers. Material relating to Hungary is collected in other languages as well.

Catalogues and printed guides

  • Explore the British Library
  • The Hungarian National Bibliography of Books 1976-1991 on CD-ROM can be consulted in the Humanities - Floor 1 Reading Room.
  • Hungary 1956: a catalogue of British Library holdings, compiled by Bridget Guzner and Ildiko Wollner (London: British Library, 1997) [BL shelfmark 2725.g.2748] Updated on-line version
  • The László Waltherr Collection of Hungarian Pamphlets in the British Museum, a catalogue compiled by L.G. Czigány (London: Szepsi Csombor Kör, 1969) [BL shelfmark 2725.g.2318]
  • Short-Title Catalogue of Hungarian Books printed before 1851 in the British Library, compiled by Geoffrey Arnold (London: British Library, 1995) [BL shelfmark 2725.e.2977].

Other resources

Hungarian material available elsewhere in the British Library


Ildi Wollner, Curator, Hungarian Studies
European Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7583