Walter Percival Yetts (1878–1957) was born at Reading, England, and was educated at Bradfield College, London University and Lausanne University. He entered the Royal Navy Medical Service in 1903 and retired with the rank of staff surgeon in 1912. He was acting medical officer at the British legation in 1913 and served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War I. From 1920 to 1927 he was a medical officer in the Ministry of Health. In 1930 he made a major career change when he was appointed the first lecturer in Chinese art and archaeology at the School of Oriental Studies at London University. In 1932 he became Professor of Chinese Art and Archaeology at London University and held the post until his retirement in 1946.
Yetts’s special fields of study were the Chinese bronzes and jades of the prehistoric period. He wrote numerous articles, while his books included:
Chinese Bronzes (1925)
The Cull Chinese Bronzes (1939)
In 1929 he contributed three volumes to the monumental catalogue of the collection of Asian art of George Eumorfopoulos.
The Yetts Collection was purchased by the Library from G.M. Yetts, the widow of Yetts, in 1957.
The Yetts Collection comprises 715 Chinese and Japanese books, totalling about 4000 volumes. The Chinese books mostly date from the period 1911–38, but they include five books of the Ming period (1368–1644) and about 150 works of the Qing period (1644–1911). The Japanese books mostly date from 1920 to 1940.
The largest and most important part of the collection relates to Chinese art, epigraphy and archaeology, including works on early bronze and oracle-bone inscriptions and the early history of the Chinese script. Other subjects include late epigraphy, coins, seals and tallies, dictionaries and encyclopaedias, authors’ collected works, classical writings and commentaries, Taoism, Buddhism, myths and legends, painting, porcelain, jade, calligraphy, archaeology, geography and local history.
The collection contains the earliest publication held in the Library: He Xiu, Gongyang zhu shu (5 vols, c. 1400). Generally known as Gongyang zhuan, it is one of the commentaries on the Confucian Spring and Autumn Annals, annotated by He Xiu (129–182). This edition was printed in the early Ming dynasty from the original wood blocks engraved in the Song dynasty (960–1279).
Another very early work is Wang Fu, Xuanhe bog u tu (15 vols, 1528). It is a guide to ancient bronzes, illustrated with woodblocks, and was originally compiled by Wang Fu (1079–1126) during the Xuanhe period.
The books in the Yetts Collection have not been kept together, but have been integrated in the Chinese Collection within the Asian Collections. A handwritten list of the books is available.
The School of Oriental Studies at Durham University in England acquired most of the books in Western languages in the library of Yetts.
Burmester, C.A. and Wang, S., Materials for Asian Studies in the National Library of Australia’, Australian Library Journal, vol. 19 (10), November 1970, pp. 387–94.
Hansford, S. Howard, Dr W.P. Yetts, The Times, 16 May 1957, p. 16.
Obituary of W.P. Yetts, The Times, 15 May 1957, p. 13.