Until the latter half of the nineteenth century no separate department of Oriental books or manuscripts existed in the British Museum. Such works as had been acquired in the foundation collections of the Museum, the Old Royal, Sloane, Harleian, and Cottonian Collections, and those acquired subsequently by donation and purchase, were comparatively few in number and were administered by the two departments of Printed Books and of Manuscripts. By 1867, however, the growing number of acquisitions and a growing sense of the importance of the Oriental manuscript collections led the Trustees to set up a separate Department of Oriental Manuscripts. Printed books continued to be housed and administered along with the Western collections, and it was not until 1891 that a new Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts was formed, incorporating all the Oriental material under one Keeper, Sir Robert K. Douglas.

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