Cultural Goods and Flotsam: Early Thai Manuscripts in Germany and Those Who Collected Them


Finding Thai manuscripts in German museums and libraries is a daunting exercise. There are eight national libraries, twenty-five state libraries, and about eighty university libraries. As for the museums, of the thirty-nine ethnological museums, there are at least fourteen with collections that include objects from Asia. The standard publications on Thai material are both incomplete and out of date.

This paper centers upon the collectors, beginning with August the Strong, who in 1728 acquired a Thai scroll. A century later, there began a steady trickle of acquisitions. Details of how Thai manuscripts came to Germany are presented for the century between 1830 and 1930. The collectors were missionaries, explorers, diplomats, travelers, traders, and Europeans in the employ of the Siamese Government. Altogether, the Thai manuscript material in Germany is a mixed batch indeed: some documents proved to be of great value, but there are also many incomplete items and standard pieces of literature. Hence the title: "Cultural Goods and Flotsam".