The Sven Hedin collections 

Sven Hedin’s expeditions to Asia resulted in collections of material of the most varied kinds, today housed with a number of museums and institutions primarily, in Sweden, but also in other parts of the world. The collections span a range of materials; ethnographic (in a wide sense) and archaeological objects, botanical and zoological specimens, paleontological and paleobotanical collections, geological samples, collections of manuscripts, block-prints and books in Central and East Asian languages. In addition there are collections related to his own work; his personal research library, huge archival collections, collections of newspaper cuts, photographs, films, drawings and watercolours, maps, personal decorations, medals and awards, furniture and portraits from his home. To them are added similar collections related to scientists who worked with Sven Hedin during his last set of expeditions (1927-35)

The idea of this website is to provide a systematic guide to these resources; where they are located, what they contain and how to access them. Such an inventory and list of addresses, websites and databases will take a long time to compile and present, and in a way it will be a never ending task to update and correct it. In this we need the assistance of all users of the web-site; to provide information on resources not noticed, to inform us about mistakes noted, links broken etc.

Such communications should be directed to:

A provisional introduction provided at the time of launching the Sven Hedin website, February 14th 2015, is found below. It will henceforth be continually updated corrected and made more comprehensive.

The idea is also to step by step develop the website to make it easy to find and navigate among the Hedin collections. A priority in this endeavour will be to add links for accessing more detailed information on them, publish data-bases for them and to add addresses to and information on whom to contact for further information and possible access.


Ethnographic Collections 

The Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm owns or controls through depositions sizeable ethnographic collections brought together by Sven Hedin, and during his last expedition by his fellow co-scientists. These collections mainly relate to China, Mongolia, Tibet and Persia, and were either early on donated to the Ethnographic Museum and thus today to the Swedish people by Sven Hedin, his family and his fellow researchers, or later on deposited there. The by far largest collection is the one built during the last expedition (1927-35), in various ways augmented afterwards. It constituted what was called the “Hedin-Bendix Collection” and later the “Sven Hedin Foundation Collection”. Today it is given an accession-number of the Ethnographic Museum (1935.50) and the intention is to formally also transfer it to the Swedish people.

A part of the ethnographic collections from Hedin’s last expedition is, furthermore, kept with the Museum of World Culture (previously the Ethnographic Museum, Gothenburg). Some objects were also exchanged with other ethnographic museums in the world, where they are thus found today. In some cases they may have been further transferred from such museums, in at least one case, the Cranmore Museum, because it does not exist anymore. Since this particular ethnographic collection belonged to the Sven Hedin Foundation it was in a number of cases, up to the end of the 1970:ies, used for exchanges both with private people and antique dealers, rarely to the advantage of the collection itself.

A choice selection from the ethnographic collections acquired during the last Hedin expedition (1927-35) was sent from Beijing to Chicago (for the Century of Progress World Exhibition there, 1933-34). It constituted the furnishing of the “Golden Temple” exhibited there, a copy of the original temple found in Chengde/Jehol, financed by Vincent Bendix, arranged for by Sven Hedin, That part of the collection afterwards remained in the USA, and was again on display with the “Golden Temple”  in New York (during the World Exhibition there in 1939). Some of those objects were kept by the Bendix family and in the early 1940:s they were acquired in an auction by the Jacques Marchais Museum, where they are found today. The temple was after some years’ storage in the NY area transferred to the Oberlin College where it was stored until 1985. Title to it, together with the ethnographic/Buddhist collections was in 1957 again transferred, this time to the Harvard Yenching Institute. Physical transfer of the collections of objects was made to the Institute, but apparently a number of objects had already then, perhaps in New York, for sure in Oberlin been “separated” from it. And further “separations” from it continued to take place in the following years.

Thus, when in 1962 the collection of objects was offered to be returned for free by the Harvard Yenching Institute to the Sven Hedin Foundation, to be merged with the Hedin-Bendix Collections in Stockholm, a substantial number of objects were found missing, and thus “at large” in the USA, and in some cases today elsewhere. The major part of the objects could however be returned to the main collection in Stockholm.

In due course it is the intention to publish a list of these “missing” objects, in most cases also with a photo, which have in one way or the other been separated from the Hedin-Bendix collection. The intention is on the one hand to find the whereabouts of these objects today, but also to alert present keepers of such objects that interesting information on them, their provenance and original acquisition, is available in the Hedin archives. In many cases there are also analytical texts on them available, not the least in what is called the Hedin-Lessing-Wayman archives.

In due course bibliographical references will be added to all collections, primarily on where they have been published, but also to descriptions how they have been acquired.


Archaeological Collections 

Sven Hedin’s early archaeological collections, which by international standards are fairly small, were acquired or gathered in Khotan, Dandan Uiliq (1896) and Lou lan (1901) in the Tarim Basin, Xinjiang. They were almost immediately donated to the Ethnographic Museum.

Archaeological collections excavated or collected during Sven Hedin’s last expedition to Chinese Central Asia (1927-1935), “the Sino-Swedish Expedition”, were however managed differently, in accordance with the agreement governing such finds. They were allowed to be brought for analysis and publication to Sweden, but were then to be repatriated to China. This indeed took place in a number of consignments packed and dispatched in the beginning of the 1950:ies. Most of the Neolithic finds made were also brought to Sweden. They were allowed to remain there. Some collections of Neolithic finds were, however, already in the 1930:ies retained in China – today unknown where.  The collections repatriated in the 1950:ies are today found in the National Museum in Beijing (previously the National Historic Museum). Some minor finds of an archaeological kind were allowed to remain in Sweden, today with the Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm.

As a sub-project of the Sino-Swedish Expedition, the Swedish archaeologist Ture J. Arne conducted an archaeological excavation of a tepe in Iran. The materials from that excavation is today found with the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm.

Ref: Arne, T.J.  1942

Excavations of Shah Tepé, Iran

Reports from the Scientific Expedition to the North-Western Provinces of China under the Leadership of Dr. Sven Hedin. Publication 27  VII:5  Stockholm


Collections of human remains.

Collections of human remains constitute a very small proportion of the the total collections.

In 1890 Hedin, at the request of a Swedish craniologist, secured three “Parsee” skulls from a Tower of Silence outside Teheran. They are today kept with the Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm. They have never been subjected to research or publication, though their strange, and to most people objectionable and macabre history of acquisition is well documented by Hedin himself.

Ref: Sven Hedin 1925

My Life an Explorer   New York

During the Sino-Swedish Expedition (1927-35) its Swedish archaeologist Folke Bergman, as well as Sven Hedin himself together with the Chinese scientist Parker Chen, examined and researched a number of graves in Xinjiang, related to five different sites. Eleven skulls and some other skeletal parts were brought to Sweden, some of them from the site today known as Xiaohe Mudi. They were subjected to physical anthropological studies at the Institute of Anatomical Studies in Lund. Their whereabouts today, though they have been searched for, has not been possible to establish.

Ref: Hjortsjö, Carl-Herman und Anders Walander 1942

Das Schädel- und Skelettgut der Archäologischen Untersuchungen in Ost-Turkestan.

Reports from the Scientific Expedition to the North-Western Provinces of China under the Leadership of Dr. Sven Hedin. Publication 19 VII:3  Stockholm


Collections of written materials on wood and paper. 

Sven Hedin’s early expeditions to Central Asia resulted in the acquisition of written documents on paper and wood. The ones acquired in Khotan in 1896 have turned out to be “vintage” forgeries of Saka/Khotanese texts from Islam Akhun’s workshop. They are kept with the Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm.

A document in Sanskrit simultaneously acquired has, on the other hand, been proven genuine. It is today to be found in the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, St. Petersburg.

The cash of both paper and wooden documents or fragments in Chinese, struck upon in Loulan in 1901, have, turned out to be of remaining value, apart from the historical fact that the finds were the earliest made of its kind. They are kept in the Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm.

During the Sino-Swedish Expedition (1927-35) minor collections of Saka/Khotanese, Uighur, and Xixia/Tangut documents, often fragments, were acquired, and are today kept in the Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm.

The substantial find of wooden slips in Chinese, from the Han-dynasty, made by Folke Bergman in Edsin Gol/Edsina during the Sino-Swedish Expedition was, however, not allowed to be moved to Sweden. It was evacuated to Nanjing from Beijing and then to Washington, from where it was repatriated to China, but in that case to Taiwan, where this important collection from the Han dynasty today is found with the Chinese Academy of Science in Taipei.


Paleontological and paleobotanical collections

The same agreement with the Chinese authorities of those days regulated the analysis, publication and repatriation of paleontological and paleobotanical materials collected during the Sino-Swedish Expedition. They were repatriated in the early 1950:ies, and allegedly also during the period of the Cultural Revolution, and today at least the early consignments are found in the Museum of Paleontology in Beijing. Parts of the collections are, however, still found in Sweden, where these collections were allowed to remain; today with the Museum of Natural History, Stockholm.


Geological Collections 

Sven Hedin himself collected some 2500 geological samples along his routes during his three early expeditions, which were later identified and in some cases also plotted on maps by specialists in Sweden. The samples are kept with the Museum of Natural History, Stockholm.

Geological work was of primary concern during the Sino-Swedish expedition, which contained a number of well-trained geologists. It is yet to find out where the resultant collections are kept today.


Botanical, zoological, and entomological collections

Sven Hedin made collections of these kinds during his early expeditions, and as is the case with the far more substantial collections brought together during the Sino-Swedish expedition they are kept in the Museum of Natural History, Stockholm.


The Sven Hedin Library

In the Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm the Foundation keeps the scientific library built by Sven Hedin (the remaining part, which unfortunately cannot be fit into the limited premises of the Museum (on European history and politics, literature etc. is deposited with the Stockholm University Library). The scientific library is particularly strong on early Western research on Central Asia and Persia. Hedin’s complete own publications are also kept in the Museum. A complete database for it exists, but is not yet available for the public. Questions about books may however be put to the the Keeper of the Foundation:

A special collection, a more or less complete set of Sven Hedin’s own publications, is kept in the Kanton Library, Zürich. It was collected and donated by Willy Hess, who compiled the bibliography of Hedin’s published works. The ‘Hess’ collection is very strong on publications by Sven Hedin, but also contains a sizeable correspondence related to the compilation of the bibliography.


The Hedin collection of books, block-prints and manuscripts.

During the Sino-Swedish expedition books, block-prints and manuscripts in Chinese, Mongolian and Tibetan were acquired by the Sino-Swedish Expedition. The intention was to support the expedition’s work on history, archaeology and not the least Buddhology. There is a hand-list of the Chinese thread bound books, Professor Helmuth Eimer compiled and published a hand-list on the Tibetan material and Professor Pentti Aalto did the same for materials in Mongolian. Those lists will be made available, also for additions and updating.


The Hedin collection of News-paper cuts

Sven Hedin figured almost daily, at least for periods, in the press, the world around. It could be his own texts or communiques from the field, his political texts, or texts about him and his activities. These volumes also contain valuable cuts related to developments in Central Asia of interest to Sven Hedin, such as the Younghusband “Mission” to Lhasa 1904. This collection is kept in the Ethnographic Museum, Stockholm

The family subscribed to newspaper cuts from early on carefully annotating and gluing them into a great number of huge, well bound volumes. They run from the 1880:ies to 1947. Cuts from his last few years were never bound, but are found spread in other files.


The Hedin collection of photographs

The collections of photographs in the Hedin collections are huge and varied. They contain family albums and albums presented to him, an extensive collection of portraits of the family and people with whom the family and Sven Hedin maintained contacts. There are early sets of photographs from Istanbul, Caucasus, Persia, Russian Central Asia and elsewhere acquired by or presented to Hedin.

And there are of course Sven Hedin’s own photographs from his expeditions, in most cases matched by glass negatives, ordinary negatives, additional prints, lantern slides…

During the Sino-Swedish expedition Sven Hedin did not take any photographs himself, instead all the photographs taken then by his co-workers are there, Swedish as well as Chinese members. German members are also represented, but in their case they may be found in archives and museums in Germany. The original photos and glass-negatives of the official photographer of the first leg of the expedition (1927-28) Paul Lieberenz, however, are all with the Hedin collections and owned by the Sven Hedin Foundation. Copyright fees are shared with the Ethnographic Museum, where these huge collections are kept.

Over the last few years the Foundation has managed to scan a fair share of the photographs, which will be continuously released via this website and the data base of the Ethnographic Museum, when metadata has been properly added. The Swedish Centenary Fund has supported this work.

Requests for using photographs, from the Hedin archives should be directed to: copy to:


The Hedin collection of films and radio-talks

Hedin did carry a film-camera with him on his early expeditions, and used it at least during the Tibetan part of his Third Expedition. Only a few seconds, however, are known to have survived; from Aksai Chin, NW Tibet.

During the first leg of the Sino-Swedish Expedition (1927-28) the German filmmaker Paul Lieberenz was hired to produce a film on the expedition. And so he did. The film was originally a silent movie, edited into several versions. In 1961 another version was made by Swedish TV. Sounds were added and a speaker, Sven Hedin’s ethnographer Gösta Montell, added comments to it. The original nitrate negatives of the film together with rest-material are kept by the Sven Hedin Foundation who owns the copyright to the film.

Requests for using material from the film, should be directed to:

Sven Hedin every now and then appeared on films screened before films in cinemas, presenting news from around the world, but for the Swedish audience primarily from Sweden. The earliest one featuring him is from 1908. These films are owned by the Swedish TV There are similar films produced and kept in Germany.

Sven Hedin’s voice was not only well known from the podiums, it was also well recognised when he appeared in radio-programs; there are interviews with him and he delivers talks to school-children and grown-ups. These recordings are kept with the Swedish Radio.


The Hedin collection of drawings and water-colours

Hedin complemented his texts and photographs with drawings and water-colours. They were meant to illustrate his texts, especially when he had no photos or was short of photos. Hedin, though, also thoroughly enjoyed using his artistic skills, and to sit down with a model for drawing a portrait presented him with moments of sheer relaxation and enjoyment.

There is a sizeable collection of works with the Sven Hedin Foundation, kept in the Ethnographic Museum. The number has not yet been fully established, but an estimate is that the collection contains more than three thousand numbers. They are of all kinds of sizes, and vary widely in quality.

A number of works by him are privately owned, and do occasionally appear on the market. Hedin offered his works as gifts, and a number of them were sold in conjunction with exhibitions. The drawings he made with ink for “My Life as an Explorer” appear to be mostly outside the collection in the museum.

To the drawings one should also add the exactly executed panoramas (sometimes in colours) that Hedin drew in support of his map-making. They primarily relate to his Third Expedition Some of them are kept in the Ethnographic Museum, while the the main part should be in the National Archives, Stockholm.

Requests for using drawings or water-colours, from the Hedin archives should be directed to: copy to:


The Hedin collection of maps

The Hedin collections of maps are of three different kinds:


Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, one of Sven Hedin’s role-models, apart from “conquering the North-East passage” was also an important scholar of historical cartography. Sven Hedin followed him in those foot-steps, specialising on the history of Tibetan and Asian cartography. This resulted in a large collection of maps, partly antique, in many cases rare because the maps had very restricted circulation. Dr. Philippe Forêt has compiled and published an inventory of more than 400 of these maps, an inventory which should, however, be complemented because further ones have been found or been returned to the Foundation. The atlases in the library, should also be added. This collection is kept in the Ethnographic Museum, Stockholm


In the Ethnographic Museum complete sets of the maps produced as the results of Hedin’s journeys and expeditions are kept. The ones from the First Expedition were produced by Bruno Hassenstein in Gotha, and further material should be found in the archives of Justus Perthes Geographiche Anstalt, there. The ones from the second and third expeditions were produced by Colonel Byström and his staff in the Swedish Army Map Service. Those archives are with the Military Archives in Stockholm, which also keep other collections related to Sven Hedin see:

The maps produced for the Sino-Swedish Expedition have a more complicated history. The first four sheets were produced in Gotha while the remaining ones, including further work on the Gotha maps, were produced by the American Army Map Service. They were eventually published in 1967. Swedish co-ordinator for the work was Hedin’s principal geologist and cartographer Professor Erik Norin. Material related to this work is found in the National Archives, see below, and most likely in the USA.


The whereabouts of the original maps from the First Expedition is yet to be in every cases ascertained.  A set of second generation drawings by Bruno Hassenstein of the maps from the First Expedition is kept in the Ethnographic Museum. The original maps by Hedin’s hand might be in Gotha? The original maps from the Second Expedition are kept in the Royal Library, Stockholm. Second generation maps could be in the Military Archives. The position of the original maps from the Third Expedition are yet to be established. Second generation maps, again, could be in the Military Archives. The original maps from the Fourth Expedition, as well as subsequent generations, were kept with Professor Norin in Uppsala. Upon his death they were transferred to the National Archives, where they are have been registered into what is called the Hedin Map Collection. Further material could be in the USA.


The Sven Hedin Archives

During his lifetime Sven Hedin, greatly assisted by his family amassed a huge personal archive, belonging to the Sven Hedin Foundation. It contains correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, cashbooks and much more, not only related to Sven Hedin and his work, but also to the Hedin family generations back. It is so huge that it is deposited in the National Archives. Upon Professor Erik Norin’s death the material he had under his control in Uppsala was as well transferred to the National Archives, where it constitutes the Hedin-Norin Collection. It contains materials of a kind that is also archived in the Hedin Archives, thus there is an overlap. However, it also contains material from Professor Norin’s research not related to his collaboration with Sven Hedin.

The correspondence consist  of an estimated 50.000 letters which have been indexed, while there allegedly are some 30.000 more, from schoolchildren and private people approaching Sven Hedin for an autograph, photo, book or other favour. Though they in almost every case probably were answered by Sven Hedin they have not been individually filed.

Only towards the latter part of his career does the the archive contain copies of his letters (unless they were sent to his family), the reason being that Sven Hedin’s poor eyesight made it necessary to type his drafts. Then copies could be made. Thus in most cases Hedin’s own letters from the first part of his life should be found in other archives, i.e. if they have been kept. In due course it is the intention of this website to start listing such archives with Hedin-resources.

The Hedin Archives continuously grows through donations and through work with material that had not previously been properly put in order. Some years ago a substantial archive was returned to the Hedin Archives; what has become known as the Hedin-Lessing-Wayman Archives. It is currently being put in order at the same time as it is scanned. A part of the individual items will them go into other files, from which they had ones been removed, while the rest will form a new Archive. Right now new donations, material previously not attended to and the HLWA are all kept in the Ethnographic Museum, where a fair share of those resources will remain, while the rest will be transferred to the National Archives.


The Sven Hedin Collection of Scientific Instruments

This collection primarily consists of instruments used by Sven Hedin in the field. Most of them are kept in the Ethnographic Museum, but some of them should also be with the Royal Academy of Sciences.


The Sven Hedin Collection of furniture, portraits etc.

In Sven Hedin’s will his furniture and other belongings were divided up, between his family and the Foundation to be created in his name. The items belonging to the Foundation are partly used in the library of the Museum of Ethnography or kept in its stores. A number of furniture are used by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, where portraits of Sven Hedin’s family, in previous generations are also used.