George IV Bridge – celebrating 50 years

Earliest piece of printing in the National Library: acquired in 1959

A Buddhist prayer scroll is the earliest printed item in the National Library of Scotland's collections.

In AD 764 the Japanese Empress Shotoku commissioned one million scrolls to be made, driven by a belief in the power of the repetition of prayer. The task was completed in AD 770, and each scroll was placed in a wooden pagoda. They were then distributed to 10 temples. By 1937 only 100 scrolls remained in one temple.

This scroll was presented in 1959 by William Lyon Wood, of Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire. His Edinburgh upbringing led him to make a string of donations to the Library, beginning in 1946.

The prayers on the scroll are Sanskrit in origin, but written in Chinese characters. Surviving scrolls have one of four different texts. It is clear that they were printed in some way, but whether each text was engraved on a block of wood or on a sheet of bronze or copper is still a matter of debate.

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