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Finding Aid to the Swift Family Collection of Palm Leaf Manuscripts, 1782-1898, undated
ff 4MS PL4251  
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • General Description of the Collection

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Swift Family Collection of Palm Leaf Manuscripts
    Date (inclusive): 1782-1898
    Date: undated
    Collection Number: ff 4MS PL4251
    Creator: Swift family
    Extent: 23 boxes
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    University of California, Berkeley
    Berkeley, CA 94720-6000
    Phone: (510) 642-6481
    Fax: (510) 642-7589
    Email: bancref@library.berkeley.edu
    Abstract: Collection includes 19 manuscripts written on palm leaves and 4 written on folded paper. Fifteen of the manuscripts are written in variants of scripts belonging to the family of Laos Tham or Northern Thai scripts; three manuscripts are written in Devenagari script, two in Khmer, and one each in Burmese, Tamil, and Thai. The texts represent a wide range of samples from the Buddhist Tripitaka as well as from the Hindu scriptures. A number of manuscripts from the Abhidhamma Pitaka and the Vinaya (the Mahavagga and Cullavagga sections), as well as Sutta Pitaka (Majjhima-nikaya, Anguttara-nikaya, and Jatakas) represent the Buddhist canonical texts. The Hindu scriptures are represented by, for example, the Visnupurana.
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in Thai tib Tibetan

    Information for Researchers

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Swift Family Collection of Palm Leaf Manuscripts, ff 4MS PL4251, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog
    Palm-leaf manuscripts--California--Berkeley
    Palm-leaf manuscripts--Specimens
    Palm leaf.

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    Lloyd Wesley Swift, a 1930 graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, donated a collection of 16 sets of palm leaf manuscripts and one paper manuscript.


    Lloyd Wesley Swift wrote a Master thesis titled Factors influencing the succession of brush and grass communities in a delimited habitat, dated August 1930, stored at the Bioscience Library with a call number: SD8.S977. His gift letter dated 3 June 1976 has a letterhead saying that he is a Consulting Biologist. According to this letter, the gift was addressed to Dr. Henry D. Ginsburg, who was at the time a visiting scholar in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies of the University of California at Berkeley. The origin of the Swift Family Collection manuscripts described in the following paragraphs is taken from this letter.
    This gift is generally known as The Swift Family Collection. Some of this collection of Buddhist palm leaf manuscripts from the mainland Southeast Asia figured prominently in "The Written Word Remains". This exhibition was a display of manuscripts and rare printed books from South and Southeast Asia assembled from libraries, faculty and private collectors. The exhibition was carried out in the Main Library from March to June 1977. After the exhibition, the collection of totally 23 manuscripts was eventually stored at the South and Southeast Asia Library. In 1997, some of them were displayed again in "A Hundred Harvests: The History of Asian Studies at Berkeley" Exhibition. The whole collection was sent to the Library Preservation Department in 2001 to be individually treated and boxed. The process of identification of each manuscript for the purpose of cataloging started in October 2002 and the results are presented here.

    The Origin of Swift Family Collection

    The manuscripts were originally in the estate of Josephine Hall Bishop (1841?-1917) of San Francisco, wife of Thomas Benton Bishop (1840-1906), a well known and very successful attorney. Mrs. Bishop, a world traveler, collected and maintained her own private museum on Washington Street in San Francisco. Her father, Professor James Hall (1811-1898), an outstanding geologist and paleontologist, directed the New York Geological Survey and was the first director of the New York State Museum at Albany. After his death, Mrs. Bishop brought much of his papers and personal property to San Francisco. In due time part of the Hall and Bishop material went to Mrs. Edward Bishop (1887-1951), widow of Edward Bishop, son of Josephine and Thomas, and then to Clara Bishop Swift (1905-1964), wife of Lloyd Wesley Swift, and upon Mrs. Swift's death to Lloyd Wesley Swift.
    It is likely that Rev. Samuel R. House sent several manuscripts to Professor James Hall directly from Siam, via his friend Rev. Stephen Bush when the latter went back to New York in 1853.


    Lloyd Wesley Swift himself assumed that "Josephine Hall Bishop collected the Indo-Chinese manuscripts on one of her trips to the Orient." His assumption is stated before the following remarks. "With #14, Sacred Book of Cambodia, however, there is a note to James Hall, dated Bangkok, Siam, November 30, 1852 from Samuel B. House, presenting a manuscript to Hall. There is further reference to this note on an envelope with #7, The Vinaya Pitain, but I suspect the note and envelope were originally together." If the dating of the lifetime of Josephine Hall Bishop is correct, Josephine was only 11 years old by 1852. It was less likely that by that age she was already travelling to Siam. Moreover, the name "Samuel B. House" is a misreading for "Samuel R. House", a prominent American minister cum physician who went to Siam. Then, on the back of the same note where House marks his present to Hall, there is also a note saying that Sacred Book of Cambodia is from Rev. S. Bush. The latter is actually Rev. Stephen Bush, who graduated from the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1848. He was a friend of Rev. Stephen Mattoon, who graduated earlier in 1946. All of them went to Siam. In fact, in 1856 Rev. Stephen Mattoon was the first appointed U.S. Consul to Siam. The more complete history of their missionary works is written by House himself and is available in "Chapter XXI. History of the Missions in Siam and Laos", pages 351-418. It is a chapter in a book edited by Mary Backhus, titled Siam and Laos, as seen by Our American Missionaries, published in 1884. On this account, there are at least two more books published afterward. The first is authored by George Haws Feltus, titled Samuel Reynolds House of Siam; Pioneer Medical Missionary: 1847-1976, published in 1924. Then, Kenneth E. Wells wrote History of Protestant Work in Thailand: 1828-1958, which was published in 1958. In addition, there was also a communication by Rev. Samuel R. House to the US during the time he was in Siam. He sent a letter dated 29 January 1849, to the famous Siamese Twins, Mr. Chang and Eng Bunker, who were already residing in the US. This letter is published in the biography of those twins, written by Judge Jesse Franklin Graves, titled Life of Eng and Chang Bunker, the original Siamese Twins.
    Rev. Samuel R. House (1817-1899) himself was a native of Saratoga, New York and was one of the founders of Christian missionary to Siam and Laos. He went to Siam in 1847 and worked there for thirty years.
    In any event, it appears that Josephine Hall Bishop handled, and perhaps displayed, the manuscripts. The small, red-bordered labels found on some are in her handwriting. Parts of the manuscripts are wrapped in attractively colored handmade mats. Some brown wrapping paper with notes was together with the manuscripts. Descriptive notes on white paper appear on the inside of the panels of some manuscripts. Lloyd Wesley Swift was unable to identify the writer, but the writing in ink on some of the exterior wrapping paper he credited to a scholarly nun in San Francisco, who saw the manuscripts and, apparently, could read the text.

    General Description of the Collection

    From all 23 manuscripts, three manuscripts are written in folded paper. The rest are written in palm leaves. Their complete physical description is yet to be measured and described. Some of those manuscripts have a wooden title marker. This bookmark may or may not have the name or the date of the manuscript.
    There are 15 manuscripts written in a variant of scripts belonged to the family of Laos Tham or Northern Thai scripts. Three manuscripts are written in Devanagari script, two in Khmer, and one each in Burmese, Tamil, and Thai. Those written in Laos Tham or Northern Thai scripts are likely collected from different regions, as their numeric characters belonged to a range of script variants, e.g., Mon, Yuan, and Lu. The scripts are often not easily identified, because they do not exactly match with the regular Northern Thai or Laos Tham scripts available in today's publications.


    For example, Harald Hundius' studies reported in Phonologie und Schrift des Nordthai, Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden, 1990.
    These scripts frequently follow some characteristics akin to the Mon script.
    Some of those manuscripts have a date in their colophons. The earliest identified so far is dated 1782 CE (1144 Culla Sakka) and the latest one is dated 1898 CE (1260 Culla Sakka). However, the provenance and some titles of these manuscripts are yet to be identified.
    The collections have a wide range of textual samples from the Buddhist Tripitaka as well as from the Hindu scriptures. A number of manuscripts from the Abhidhamma Pitaka and the Vinaya (the Mahavagga and Cullavagga sections) as well as Sutta Pitaka (Majjhima-nikaya, Anguttara-nikaya, and Jatakas) represent the Buddhist canonical texts. The Hindu title scriptures are represented by, for example, the Visnupurana.
    Individual Description:
    The Library of Congress subject headings are assigned for all twenty-three pieces of palm leaf or paper manuscripts in consultation with Professor Justin McDaniel at the University of California, Riverside. The South/Southeast Asia Library owes special gratitude to Professor McDaniel for his special efforts.
    Physical Description:
    The following gives a physical description of each manuscript. The number in front of the title of the manuscript is the sequence number of the manuscript. This number is written on top of the archival box, in which the manuscript is stored.