Alexander Smith Cochran was the heir and principal owner of the Alexander Smith & Sons carpet mills of Yonkers, New York, which by the time of his death in 1929 was the largest carpet manufacturer in the world. He was also an enthusiastic yachtsman and engaged philanthropist, who as a young man had demonstrated a particular interest in literature. Cochran graduated from Yale University in 1896, where he had regretted the lack of a congenial atmosphere in which to discuss literature and the arts with classmates and faculty. In the last fifteen years of his life Cochran suffered from tuberculosis and divided his time between cruising and vacationing. Nevertheless, he continued to take an interest in various philanthropies. In 1911, he founded Yale's Elizabethan Club, purchasing a clubhouse, providing the club with an endowment of $100,000, and donating a substantial collection of rare Elizabethan and Jacobean books. He was also an art collector who supported the Met with various gifts.
A lover of literature, Cochran collected books and other works on paper, as well as seventeenth- to eighteenth-century European tapestries and furniture, which he gave the Museum in 1911. He was particularly fond of Persian manuscripts. This rather uncommon interest for the time is explained by his friendship with A. V. Williams Jackson, a scholar and professor of Persian literature at Columbia University, who guided Cochran through the Middle East. In 1907 they traveled together to Iran. Jackson also prepared the catalogue of manuscripts that Cochran donated to the Met in 1913. The gift contained twenty-four mainly Persian manuscripts, thirty single-page paintings, and one bookbinding. The Museum's collection, which until then included few Persian codices, was suddenly enriched with examples of various periods, handsomely illuminated or adorned with beautiful paintings. Among these gifts were two sixteenth-century Khamsas (Quintets), each a masterpiece: one of Nizami composed in Safavid Herat; the other of Amir Khusrau Dihlavi at the Mughal court in India.