Browse Collection


The Cuneiform Texts of Free Library of Philadelphia


The Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) was initiated by the efforts of Dr. William Pepper, and was chartered in 1891 as “a general library which shall be free to all.” The Free Library opened in March of 1894. First located in three rooms in City Hall, the Library was moved on February 11, 1895, to the old Concert Hall on Chestnut Street, on December 1, 1910, to the northeast corner of 13th and Locust Streets. The Rare Books Department within the FLP, located at 1901 Vine just off Logan Square, acquired its cuneiform collection through a generous gift of John Frederick Lewis (1860-1932), a Philadelphia maritime lawyer and collector of early writing. The tablets, hand delivered by Lewis in separate lots in the years before his death, were made available for check out by visitors with library cards.

Cataloguing and publication

The biblicist Elmer Smick submitted a PhD dissertation to Dropsie College in 1951 entitled Cuneiform Documents of the Third Millennium in the John F. Lewis Collection in the Public Library of Philadelphia. The collection is best known through the efforts of David I. Owen, Marcel Sigrist and Gordon Young, whose publication of two volumes of Ur III texts accounted for 1280 of the total holdings; 184 artifacts were in part entered into the Toronto RIME series, while, so far as we can see, some 1382 pieces remain unpublished. Some collection cataloging was accomplished in 1978-1980 with a grant (RC-*0087-79) from the NEH—Preservation and Access. Grant Frame, Richard Zettler and Maria DeJong Ellis of the nearby University pf Pennsylvania contributed their expertise in identifying many of the unpublished pieces.

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