The initiative to a papyrus collection in Oslo was taken by professor Samson Eitrem, who went to Egypt in 1910 and acquired 11 papyrus fragments and 5 ostraca for his private collection. These items were later (in the 1930s) donated to the Oslo collection. The First World War put a temporary end to Eitrem´s plans for a papyrus collection in Oslo, and not until 1920 was he able to make a second trip to Egypt. This time he had raised funds from various sources (The University Jubilee Fund, The Nansen Fund) for the acquisition of papyri for the University of Oslo, to be housed in the University Library. The 1920 purchases, from antiquity dealers and natives in Cairo and Fayûm, numbered 483 papyri, mostly fragments, but among them was also the roll of magical texts with illustrations, in 1925 published by Eitrem as P. Oslo 1.
Through joint acquisitions with other institutions (British Museum, the Michigan, Columbia and Princeton universities) in the 1920s, more items were added to the collection. (More substantial information about how this consortium aquired papyri is given in the article "From Egypt to Ann Arbor: the Building of the Papyrus Collection" by Arthur E.R.Boak, www.lib.umich.edu/pap/introduction/from_egypt_1.html)
In the meantime Leiv Amundsen, later professor of classical philology at the University of Oslo, had become Eitrem´s assistant and helped him in the building of the collection. In 1925 Amundsen received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and went to Egypt to study the Greek gymnasiums in ancient Egypt. In Cairo he made the acquaintance of Professor Francis Kelsey of the University of Michigan and through him was allowed to participate in the excavations of Karanis for the seasons 1927/28 and 1928/29.
During his stay in Egypt Amundsen acquired several papyri for the collection, purchased through various dealers in Cairo and the Fayum. In 1936 Eitrem was in Egypt and bought various collections of papyri for the Oslo collection, and except for a small number of items bought from Nahman junior by Professor H.Ludin Janssen in 1954, Eitrem's acquisitions of 1936 were the last purchases made for the Oslo collection.
The papyri were inventoried by Leiv Amundsen, and numbered originally 1662 pieces. Later a few more were inventoried, originating from mummy cartonnage. In 1992 professor Knut Kleve and conservator Brynjulv Fosse initiated a project of cleaning and glassing about 1400 papyri which up till then had been kept between double sheets without further protection. During this process, quite a few papyrus fragments which were kept in boxes without any clue as to provenance and contents, and thought to be just worthless scraps, were also cleaned and glassed. They were given inventory numbers, but have as yet not been properly inventoried.
The Oslo papyrus collection now numbers 2.272 papyri. Of these 200 are published in three volumes of Papyri Osloenses (1925-1936), around 80 more in various journals, mostly Symbolae Osloenses. The papyri published up till 1980 have been photographed for the Central Archive of Papyrology in Brussels, the negatives being available from the International Photographic Archive in Copenhagen. The collection consists mainly of Greek documentary texts from the third century B.C. to the Arab conquest of Egypt in the seventh century A.D. There are also some Greek literary and Coptic, Demotic, Latin and Old-Egyptian (The Book of the Dead) papyri.
The collection cannot compete in size and importance with the large collections of Berlin, Paris, University of Michigan, or the vast resources f the Oxyrhynchus papyri. But it consists of quite a few interesting and important papyri, foremost among which is the large magical papyrus P. Oslo 1. In the collection there is also a small NT manuscript, P62, originally a codex containing Matthew 11, 25-30 (P.Oslo inv. 1661, published in SO 24 (1945) 121ff.), a Christian amulet with the Lord´s Prayer and, glued to it, the beginning of Psalm 90 (5 lines) (P..Oslo inv. 1644, published in SO 24 (1945) 141ff.). Recently it was discovered that the latter part of this papyrus is in the Schøyen collection, Oslo.
P.Oslo. inv. 1413 consists of fragments of unknown Greek tragic texts with musical notation, originally published in SO31 (1955) 1-81 by L. Amundsen, S.Eitrem and R.P.Winnington-Ingram, and recently included in Documents of ancient Greek music, by E.Pöhlmann and M.L.West (2001).