The al-Sabah collection began to take form in 1975 when Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah purchased the collection’s first object. It was a mid-14th century enameled glass bottle he found in a London art gallery. At that time, the collection started out as a hobby he and his wife Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah were pursuing— it soon grew to a full-fledged collection worthy of a place in a museum. In 1983, as the collection was growing, it had made its way from Sheikh Nasser’s private residence to its new location at the Kuwait National Museum. The building became known as Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI), where Sheikha Hussah became the organization’s director general.
The collection has now grown to more than 20,000 objects representing different chronological and geographical points from the Islamic world. The al-Sabah Collection is regarded by international authorities as one of a small handful of the most comprehensive collections of Islamic art in the world. It has continued to grow since its inception increasing its strengths in all categories (arms and armour, calligraphy, carpets and textiles, coins, glass, hardstones, ivory, jewelry, manuscripts and miniatures, metalwork, stone and stucco, and woodwork).
The collection has long had an active program of the publication of volumes focused on its holdings, which is ongoing. It also has an impressive history in the generation of distinguished special exhibitions, in addition to the loaning of objects to exhibitions organized elsewhere in the world.
The al-Sabah collection does not end with objects, at present the DAI has a research library containing many books on history and the history of art and specialising in the arts of the Islamic world. There is also a collection of rare and old books, many hand stitched with leather bindings. As these books are very fragile and some are damaged there is an ongoing programme to digitise these manuscripts which will make them available to all interested scholars and students.