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Overviews of the Collections

The Hungarian Collections at the Library of Congress

Kenneth Nyirady
Reference Specialist

General Characteristics

A small part of the Library of Congress's Hungarian collection dates back to the original holdings sold by Thomas Jefferson, whose library contained the six volume work Histoire des revolutions de Hongrie (1735), by Domnok Brenner. A sizeable number of Hungarian-related books was added during the period of the Hungarian War of Independence (1848-49), and the visit of its leader, Lajos Kossuth, to the United States in 1851-52. After the Austro-Hungarian Compromise in 1867, organizations in Hungary began sending their publications to their counterparts abroad and the Library of Congress began receiving items from the Library of the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian National Museum. In the first decade of the 20th century, the Library of Congress received sizeable donations of legal, historical, and cultural materials from these institutions. Further expansion of the collection continued with the addition of Hungarian materials transferred from the Smithsonian Institute. But the greatest acceleration in the size of the Hungarian collection occurred after the end of World War II, when the Library of Congress began acquiring private collections, including the well-known Feleky Collection, which previously had belonged to the Hungarian Reference Library of New York. At present the number of works on Hungary and Hungarians or by Hungarian authors has expanded to about 200,000 items, including approfimxately 2,700 journals and magazines and 150 newspapers. The Hungarian collection is well developed in all areas, and its strength is maintained through the systematic purchasing of books from Hungary, as well as the automatic exchange of material with the National Széchényi Library, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and other major Hungarian educational and cultural institutions.

Highlights in the Humanities and Social Sciences

The Hungarian collection in the humanities and social sciences has been systematically developed, and every attempt is made to fill lacunae where they exist. Besides material published in Hungary, the Library of Congress collects the writings of Hungarian minorities living in Transylvania (Romania), Slovakia, Ukraine, and the former Yugoslavia, as well as in Western countries.

The Library of Congress possesses a sizeable collection of first editions of important works of literature and politics, including valuable books by the political thinkers and social reformers who played leading roles in the Hungarian national awakening in the 1820s, the political upheavals of the 1840s, and the Ausgleich of the 1860s. For István Széchenyi (1791-1860), the founder of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Library of Congress possesses first editions of Stadium (1833), A magyar académia korül (1842), Üdvlelde (1843), Adó es két garas (1844), Politikai Program, (1847), and the posthumous Önismeret (1875). Of works by Baron József Eötvös (1813-1871), writer and statesman, the Library possesses first editions of Die Reform in Ungarn (1846), the English-language translation The Village Notary (1850); Gondolatok (1864), and Die Nationalitäten-Frage (1865). LC also has a first edition of Lajos Kossuth's Felelet Gróf Széchenyi Istvánnak (1841), as well as his speeches in English and biographical works about him published during and immediately after his visit to the United States in 1851-1852. Also from this period, but belonging more to literature than politics, is the first collection of verse by the Hungarian national poet, Sándor Petõfi (1823-1849).

Other valuable first editions dating to this time but in a completely different field are A Grammar of the Tibetan Language in English and Essay Towards a Dictionary: Tibetan and English, by the Hungarian Sándor Csoma de Kõrös, the founder of Tibetan studies in western Europe in the last century, and both published in Calcutta in 1834.

Interesting works of more recent vintage are two registries (1925 and 1937) of land ownership in Hungary published between the two World Wars. These are especially valuable to those who have returned to Hungary to reclaim land that had been confiscated by the communist government in the late 1940s. Also of interest is the collection of Hungarian samizdat (underground/unofficial literature) on microfiche. Most of this material dates from the 1980s, the last decade of Communist rule in Hungary.

Highlights in Science and Technology

The contributions that Hungarian and especially Hungarian- American scientists have made to the world is well known. The Library of Congress' Manuscript Division holds some of the papers and correspondence of physicist Georg von Békésy (1899-1972), aerodynamicist Theodore von Kármán (1881-1963), mathematician John von Neumann(1903-1957), biochemist Albert Szent-Györgyi (1893-1986), psychologist David Rapaport (1911-1960), physicist Leó Szilárd (1898-1964), Edward Teller (1908-2003), and Sándor Ferenczi (1873-1933).

Highlights in the Arts

Two Csardas --Franz Liszt (1884)The Library possesses a modest collection of original materials by Hungarian composers. The most important collection is that of Franz Liszt (1811-1886): over 252 music manuscripts plus variations, including manuscripts written entirely in Liszt's hand, as well as other manuscripts and printed scores with annotations written by Liszt himself. Famous works in the collection include the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in E flat major, No. 1 (S124) and many of the sixteen Hungarian Rhapsodies. The Liszt collection also contains more than 250 first editions of his works and more than 270 items of correspondence. The Library also possesses several musical manuscripts of Béla Bartók (1881-1945), including his Concerto for Orchestra and String Quartet No. 5, as well as a small collection of Bartok correspondence.

Other Hungarian or Hungarian-American composers with collections of musical manuscripts and correspondence at the Library of Congress include Leopold Auer (1845-1930), Ernst (Ernõ) von Dohnányi (1877-1960), Emmerich Kálmán (1882-1953), Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967), and Tibor Serly (1901-1978).

Rare Books

Nekcsei-Lipocz BibleThe Library has acquired over the years a large collection of rare Hungarica. In many cases it has facsimile editions where the originals are lacking. Although LC possesses no rare Corvinas (books that formed the Library of Hungarian King Matthias in the late 15th century that were dispersed throughout the world after the Turkish conquest of Hungary in the 16th century), it does have facsimiles and catalog reconstructions of that famous collection.

The Library's most famous item of rare Hungarica is the beautifully illuminated Nekcsei-Lipócz Bible, a 14th century Latin codex. In 1988 the Library, together with Helikon Publishers of Budapest, co-published a facsimile edition of some of its more lavishly illustrated pages. Other Hungarian incunabula at LC include two editions of the second oldest history of Hungary in print, the Chronica Hungariae (Brünn and Augsburg; both published in 1488), by János Thuróczy, royal judge and historian. A notable 16th century publication is the first edition of István Werbõczi's Tripartitum opus juris consuetudinarii incyti regni Hungariae- (1517), held by the Law Library. Summing up the rights of the Hungarian nobility, which had just recently (1514) brutally suppressed a peasant uprising, it was one of the main sources of Hungarian civil law before 1945.

With the acquisition of the Feleky CollectionExternal link of Hungarica in 1953, the Library of Congress obtained several hundred old and rare books about Hungary in the English language. These books reflect the turbulent history of Hungary beginning with the Turkish conquest in 1526, the wars among the Habsburgs, the Turks, and the independent rulers of Transylvania for the next century and a half, the retaking of Budapest and the expulsion of the Turks from Hungary, and the Rakoczi war of independence against the Habsburgs (1703-1711). Such works include Martin Fumee, The Historie of the Troubles of Hungarie: containing the pitifull losse and ruine of that kingdome, and the warres happened there, in that time betweene the Christians and Turkes (London: 1600), and Letters from the great Turke lately sent unto the Holy Father the Pope and to Rodulphus naming himselfe King of Hungarie and to all the Kinges and Princes of Christendome (London: 1606). The latter book was first translated from Hebrew into Italian, then into French, and lastly into English. Other important historical works include Gidion Pontier's A New Survey of the Present State of Europe, containing remarks upon several soveraign and republican states (London: 1684), and the French-language Histoire du prince Ragotzi ou La guerre des Mescontents (Paris: 1707) by Eustache Lenoble.

Religious currents of the times are also reflected in rare items in LC's possession, for example in the first edition of Assertio vera de Trinitate (Geneva: 1573) by the Hungarian Calvinist István Szegedi Kiss, and the first Hungarian translation of the Vulgate version of the Bible by György Káldi (Vienna: 1626).

Another rare item at LC that concerns Hungary is a well- preserved copy of the second oldest extant newspaper in the English language, the Corant or Weekly News from Italy, Germany, Hungaria, Polonia, Bohemia, France, and the Low Countries, dated October 11, 1621. It consists of a small, single sheet printed on two sides. Until this copy was found in 1913 by Charles Feleky, the earliest issue of this weekly newspaper known was the May 23, 1622 issue in the possession of the British Museum. The second news item, dated Vienna, September 22, 1621, announces that differences between "outlandish" (Spanish) and German generals have been resolved, but until this day "noe imperiall Generall has beene yet named" against the Transylvanian Prince Gabor Bethlen, whom it reports to be in Buda.


The earliest manuscripts the Library of Congress possesses concerning Hungary and Hungarians are service reports and relevant correspondence between George Washington and Colonel Michael de Kovats, Hungarian-born commandant of the Pulaski Legion, dated June 1778. The interest of the United States government in the Hungarian War of Independence (1848-49) and its aftermath is reflected in the various manuscript collections of U.S. political leaders. For example, the Zachary Taylor Papers and the correspondence collections of Daniel Webster, William H. Seward, John M. Clayton, and Hamilton Fish contain many letters and other materials related to the war and the United States' recognition of the Kossuth government. Many papers describe the activities of the Committees for Hungary, formed in the United States in the summer of 1849. Other materials reflect Kossuth's flight to Turkey and his subsequent visit to the United States. Also in the Library's possession is a collection of seven letters written by Louis Kossuth, as well as a bond issued by the Hungarian Fund in New York (1852) and an undated banknote published by the Kossuth government. Later documents include those in the Woodrow Wilson Papers that deal with Hungary and the Paris Peace Conference (1919), as well as documents concerning the refusal of Congress to ratify the peace treaty with Hungary, signed by the other powers in June 1920.


The Library possesses a solid collection of maps of present- day as well as historical Hungary, including the oldest map of Hungary, compiled by a certain Lázár, a secretary to the Prince Primate of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary. This map appeared in Abraham Ortelius's Theatrum orbis terrarum, first published in 1570 and in many subsequent editions. Other notable maps of Hungary include the series published by the Military- Geography Institute in Vienna for the whole Austro-Hungarian empire, at scales of 1:25,000 (1900-) and 1:75:000 (1875-). These maps are highly detailed, and include small villages and geographical features not present on maps with larger scales. At the same time, they provide the Hungarian and German place names for towns and cities that now have Slovak, Ukrainian, Serbian, or Romanian names.

The level of detail and the provision of Hungarian and German place names make these maps especially valuable for historians and genealogists. Also worth mentioning are the colorful Hungarian county maps External link published in the first decade of the 20th century by the Hungarian Geographical Institute. These maps have variable scales, depending on the size of the county, but generally range in scales from 1:300,000 to 1:470,000. Useful in conjunction with the maps are the geographical lexicons, from the early Topographical Lexicon of the Communities in Hungary Compiled Officially in 1773 (published in 1920), to periodic compilations of gazetteers by the Hungarian government this century. Also useful are the gazetteers of Hungary and the successor states published by the United States Board of Geographic Names. Recent historical gazetteers published in Hungary likewise provide useful information for the historian and the genealogist.

Prints and Photographs

Of historical interest here are photographs by Matthew Brady and associates during the Civil War of prominent members of the first Hungarian immigration to the United States, including Major-General Alexander N. Asboth, Major-General Julius X. Stahel, and Major Charles N. Zagonyi. LC also possesses photographs of famous Hungarian musicians: Béla Bartók and his wife, Ditta Pasztory, Georg Solti, and George Szell, plus many drawings of Franz Liszt. Also worth mentioning are the color photographs of Hungarian urban and rural scenes, published as part of the largely uncataloged Photochrom Bibliothek series.

The Library also has more than 400 posters from World War II through the late 1960s, designed by, among others, Mihály Biró, István Farkas, György Konecsni, Tibor Polya, and Marcel Vertes.

Motion Pictures and Recorded Sound

In addition to a small collection of films from Hungary, the Library possesses a number of American motion pictures by Hungarian-born producers and directors, including George Cukor, Adolph Czukor, Michael Curtiz, Alexander Korda, Ivan Tors, as well as movies in which American-Hungarians wrote the musical score (Miklós Rózsa) or played leading roles (Vilma Banky, Ilona Massey, Bela Lugosi, Paul Lukas, and many others).

American Folklife Center

In the Center are to be found 36 10-inch disks of Hungarian folk music and a 7-inch reel tape of Hungarian folk music originally recorded on cylinders by Béla Bartók during the 1910s and duplicated by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Also of interest are the collection of American Hungarian folk songs, consisting of 130 12-inch records made in California by Sydney Robertson Cowell, and 248 12-inch acetate records made in Michigan and Wisconsin by Alan Lomax.

European-Americana and American-Europeana

Many highlights in this section have been mentioned above. Worthy of note are the biographical files of the former Hungarian Reference Library (1937-1942) of New York. Containing 3,600 pages of data on 920 individuals, these files are an important source for studying the history of Hungarian-Americans in the 20th century. The Library also has biographical dictionaries of Hungarian- Americans published in the United States.

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  April 23, 2015
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