Tibetan and Himalayan Materials

A Thangka from the collection:

TIB 59.3 recto


The Beinecke’s rich Tibetan collection was orchestrated by its first Tibetan curator, Wesley Needham (1903-1992), whose erudition, vision and persistance shaped an unparalled collection.  Yale’s collection of Tibetan materials began before Needham’s arrival with the 1913 gift of fifty-four Thangkas by Leonard C. Hanna. The collection was significantly augmented in 1950 by the gift made by the fourteenth Dalai Lama of a complete set of the Lhasa Kanjur in one hundred volumes, which had been sought by Needham and were provided through intermediaries. The Yale Kanjur was printed on 48,184 wood blocks in the Lhasa printing house, which was destroyed  by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 1959 and the printing blocks themselves were systematically destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in the early 1960s, making Yale’s Kanjur among the last printed. Unlike Harvard’s Kanjur (the only other Lhasa Kanjur in North America), the Yale Kanjur contains two additional volumes: the index and the hagiographies of the first thirteen Dalai Lamas.

The second component of the Tibetan collections is the unique materials gathered by Theos Bernard (1908–1947).  A gifted and famous practitioner of yoga, Bernard’s talents were attributed to his identity as the reincarnation of Padmasambhava, a Buddhist magician thought to have introduced Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century. As a result of his exalted status, he was given texts forbidden to outsiders and even to some Buddhist priests.  Many of the books in Bernard’s collection are the only copies available in the West.  Like the Lhasa Kanjur, many of these texts cannot be reproduced because of the destruction of the carved blocks in the destructive period 1959-64.  The Bernard Collection was purchased for the library at Neeham’s direction from Bernard’s heirs in 1956.

In the same year, Mrs. G. Glass Davit gave Yale several manuscripts from the Bonpo religion, an indigenous Tibetan religion independent from Buddhism, as well as several rare Buddhist texts.  Yale also received important gifts from Edna Bryner Schwab, Mr. and Mrs. Weiler, Lobsang Lhalungpa, and Tsepon Shakabpa.  In 1991, Wesley Needham gave his personal collection to the Beinecke following his retirement.  His papers are also available for study.

[Information on the history of the collection taken from Paul Dragi's unpublished Report on the Tibetan Collection (1994) and from the articles below.]

Finding Aids

Guide to the Tanka Collection: Tibet MSS 62

Sarah Calhoun’s Tibetan Collection in the Beinecke Page

If you would like to volunteer to assist in identifying and cataloging the Beinecke’s Tibetan collections, please send an email with your qualifications to Ellen Doon (ellen.doon at or Raymond Clemens (raymond.clemens at


Wesley E. Needham, “The Tibetan Collection at Yale,” The Yale University Library Gazette 34:3 (January 1960): 127-133 (JSTOR)

Wesley E. Needham, “Tibetan Books from a ‘Peak Secretary’,” The Yale University Library Gazette 35:3 (January 1961): 126-133 (JSTOR)

Wesley E. Needham, “A Tibetan Painting of the Green Dolma,” The Yale University Library Gazette 36:2 (October, 1961): 57-61 (JSTOR)

Wesley E. Needham, “Edna Bryner Schwab Tibetan Scholar and Yale Benefactor,” The Yale University Library Gazette 44:1 (July, 1969): 21-29 (JSTOR)

Wesley E. Needham, “A New Tibetan Painting,” The Yale University Library Gazette 53:2 (October, 1978): 109-115 (JSTOR)

Wesley E. Needham, “Gifts of Manuscripts and Tankas to the Tibetan Collection,” The Yale University Library Gazette 58: 3/4 (April, 1984): 181-183 (JSTOR)

Wesley E. Needham, “Recent Gifts of Tankas to the Tibetan Collection,” The Yale University Library Gazette 61: 3/4 (April, 1987): 154-163 (JSTOR)

Marjorie G. Wynne, “Wesley E. Needham 1903-1992,” The Yale University Library Gazette 67: 3/4 (April, 1993): 108-109 (JSTOR)


Amy Heller, Word and Image: Sacred Languages of Tibet. Introduction to an exhibition at the Beinecke Library January-March, 1991. (New Haven: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, 1991). (Orbis)

Making Tibetan Books

Tibetan Paper Making



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