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Javanese and Old Javanese language collections

The British Library’s collection of about 250 Javanese manuscripts is one of the earliest and most important in the world, and has a strong emphasis on literary, historical and legal works. There is a small collection of some 500 printed books in Javanese, including Islamic works in pegon (Arabic) script lithographed in Singapore in the 19th century. The Library also has a small collection of about 20 manuscripts in Old Javanese.


The 250 Javanese manuscript volumes in the British Library were mostly acquired by Colin Mackenzie and John Crawfurd during the British administration of Java (1811-1816), and include manuscripts from the royal court of Yogyakarta captured during the British attack on the palace in 1812.  Among the highlights of the collection are two of the earliest known finely illustrated Javanese manuscripts, Serat Selarasa (MSS.Jav.28) and Serat Panji Jayakusuma (MSS.Jav.68), both dated 1804, and a late 18th century manuscript of Serat Damar Wulan (MSS.Jav.89), perhaps from the north coast of Java, illustrated in an exceptionally lively and humorous manner.

The small collection of manuscripts in Old Javanese comprises two sets of copper charters (Ind.Ch.57 and MSS.Jav.106), some 10 palm leaf manuscripts and a few others on paper, including transcriptions of stone inscriptions. 

The Library’s Javanese and Old Javanese manuscripts are not yet catalogued online.  There are two printed catalogues for the manuscripts (see below), while post-1982 manuscript acquisitions can be accessed through the Oriental Manuscripts register in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room at St Pancras.

Published catalogues and guides:

Ricklefs, M.C. and P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Ricklefs, M.C. and P. Voorhoeve, ‘Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: addenda et corrigenda’.  In: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol.XLV, 1982, Part 2, pp.300-322.

Gaur, Albertine, Indian charters on copper plates in the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books.  London: British Museum Publications, 1975.  [Includes a description of Ind.Ch.57 A & B, two Old Javanese charters.]

Gallop, Annabel Teh with Bernard Arps. Golden Letters: writing traditions of Indonesia.  London: British Library, 1991.  [Includes reproductions of some of the finest illustrated and illuminated Javanese manuscripts in the Library.]

Coster-Wijsman, L.M.  Illustrations in a Javanese manuscript.  Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 1953, 109:153-63.  [A listing of all the illustrated scenes in MSS.Jav.89, Serat Damar Wulan.]

The following two works comprise an edition of the four volumes of Javanese documents originally from the secretarial archive of the court of Yogyakarta (Add.12303, Add.12342, Add.12342 and Add.14397). 

Carey, P. B. R. (ed.)  The archive of Yogyakarta.  Volume I.  Documents relating to politics and internal court affairs.  Oxford: published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 1980.

Carey, Peter and Hoadley, Mason C. (eds.).  The archive of Yogyakarta.  Volume II.  Documents relating to economic and agrarian affairs.  Oxford: published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 2000.

Manuscripts of Javanese interest on the British Library website:

Javanese printed books and periodicals

The Library holds about 500 printed books in Javanese and a couple of periodical titles, of which about 200 books date from the 19th century.

All monographs in Javanese catalogued since 1982 can be accessed through Explore the British Library. Earlier acquisitions are accessed through a card catalogue in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room, with author, title and subject sequences. 

Some 35 Javanese books printed in Singapore before 1920 are listed in:  

Proudfoot, I. Early Malay printed books: a provisional account of materials published in the Singapore-Malaysia area up to 1920, noting holdings in major collections. ([Kuala Lumpur]: Academy of Malay Studies and the Library, University of Malaya, 1993.)

Digital resources

Through the Endangered Archives Programme, the Library has received digital copies of manuscript collections in the libraries of  three Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) in East Java: Pesantren Langitan in Tuban, Pesantren Tarbiyya al-Thalabah in Lamongan, and Pesantren Tegal Sari in Ponorogo. The manuscripts are mostly written in Arabic and Javanese in pegon script.


Reproductions of all collection items can be ordered from the Library’s Imaging Services.


Annabel Gallop
Asian and African Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7661
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641