Collection & Library

Important note: due to restauration activities in the Boerhaave building the library is closed until the 18th of September 2017.
The National Museum of Ethnology originated in two national collections. One of these was the Koninklijk Kabinet van Zeldzaamheden (the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities) in The Hague, established in 1816 by King Willem I. The second large collection purchased by the State in the nineteenth century was that created in Japan by Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), and shown to the public in the 1830s in Leiden. The National Museum of Ethnology is thus the world's oldest ethnographical museum.

Soon, the Leiden collection also included objects from other regions, and in 1864 the Rijks Japansch Museum Von Siebold (the Von Siebold National Museum of Japan) was renamed the National Museum of Ethnology. The contents of the Museum were gradually enlarged with major collections from Indonesia, Oceania, America, Africa and Asia.

In 1883 the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities in The Hague was closed down and its collections were distributed among a number of museums. The ethnographic collections were entrusted to the National Museum of Ethnology. Since then, the collection of the Museum has rapidly expanded to a total of some 200,000 objects, mainly acquired through the fieldwork of its curators. Because of its collections, expertise and public function, the Museum is regarded as the basic ethnological facility for museums in the Netherlands.

Collection profiles

In order to increase the accessibility and outline the acquisition policy, the Museum has drafted a number of collection profiles, for each of the regional departments. Collection profiles as pdf - in Dutch.

Library & collection online

You can search our digitized library or our online collection database.