The papyrus collection of Hamburg contains about 1.000 papyri of different languages: The group of Greek papyri comprises 851 shelf marks, the Arabic ones 135, the Demotic 53, the Coptic 16 shelfmarks partly with further subdivisions. Thus, as far as known by divers cataloguing projects in the early 20th century and 1980s, fragments of different text genres as poetic texts, letters, medical writings, accounts and transcripts of deeds, census petitions, notarial, contract or administrative texts, etc., were preserved.
Most of the papyri came into the collection of the SUB in the beginning of the 20th century. Since 1906 the library was a member of the so-called "Papyrus Kartell", a "Commission zur Erwerbung griechischer-litterarischer Papyri aus Egypten" founded in 1902. The cartel got a considerable amount of money from Berlin and Strasburg in order to purchase papyri in the Fayyum. Under the leadership of the Egyptologist Dr. Otto Rubensohn numerous findings were acquired en bloc until 1910. This prevented the loss to the antiquity market and the scattering of the findings.
In this way the Hamburg library acquired some important documents, e.g. the "libelli libellactici". Those declarations of pagan sacrifice are evidence of the first systematic persecution of Christians in the whole Roman Empire. In 1927 the SUB acquired 27 sheets of a book made from papyrus, among them 11 pages, which are one of the largest textual witness of the textual tradition of the important apocryphal "Acta Pauli".
One third of the papyri are catalogued up to now. All of the papyri are digitized.