In the years around the turn of the present century, relying on the contacts and expertise of Theophilus Goldridge Pinches, Lord William Amhurst Tyssen-Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst of Hackney (1835–1909), put together what came to be one of the most wide-ranging and important collections of cuneiform tablets to have been assembled in private hands in this country. Since the publication of Volume 1 of The Amherst Tablets in 1908 by Pinches, followed much later by E. Sollberger's The Pinches Manuscript, the Amherst Collection has been familiar enough among Assyriologists, but perhaps less has been known of the collector, and of his other collections. The Museum at the family estate of Didlington Hall, Northwold, Norfolk, contained in its heyday a much broader range of material than cuneiform inscriptions. From the Near Eastern world there were very extensive collections of Egyptian papyri and antiquities, but the Hall also housed remarkable accumulations of incunabula and printed books, porcelain, tapestries, sculpture and other works of art. It is evident that the specific pursuit of cuneiform sources was inspired by a profound interest in the origin and development of writing and printing.
The survival of a group of private letters covering the years 1896–1910, from Lord Amherst to Pinches, with some draft reply letters from Pinches and other relevant documents, has entailed the preservation of unusual information about the process of acquisition and the sources of the tablets themselves. The present paper offers a summary of this information, in the hope of conveying something of the circumstances and motives at play at such a period.