This collection consists of some 7,500 volumes from the library of John Ferguson (1838-1916), bibliographer and Regius Professor of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow from 1874 to 1915. The main strengths of the collection lie in alchemy, chemistry and related topics such as books of secrets, with important offshoots into the occult sciences and witchcraft, Cabbalism, Rosicrucianism, Free Masonry and Gypsy literature. Whenever possible, the Library fills in gaps in the collection - particularly in the alchemical section.
The collection includes 118 incunabula and 317 manuscripts - almost all of the latter are of alchemical interest and several date back to the 15th century. Ferguson’s own extensive bibliographical notes and papers accompany his alchemical and related books, which the University purchased in 1921 for the sum of £7,000.
Ferguson’s valuable collection of general literature was not included in the purchase and this section of his library was auctioned in Glasgow, 23-25 June 1920 (Morrison, Dick & McChlery) and London, 15-17 November 1920 (Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge). Ferguson is probably best remembered as the author of Bibliotheca chemica: a catalogue of the alchemical, chemical and pharmaceutical books in the collection of the late James Young (Glasgow, 1906).
The Young collection of alchemical literature, which is now in the keeping of the University of Strathclyde Library, is frequently confused with Ferguson’s own collection.
How to find material from the Ferguson collection
- Printed books may be accessed via the rare books search; browse through a list of titles (NB. since there are over 5,000 items listed, more specific searching using the rare books search is recommended)
- Manuscript items have the shelf-mark MS Ferguson: see overview of Ferguson manuscript collection (and follow link 'list collection content' to access individual item records); alternatively, use the manuscripts search to locate specific items
- Catalogue of the Ferguson Collection of books mainly relating to alchemy, chemistry, witchcraft and Gipsies in the University of Glasgow (Glasgow: 1943; Supplement: 1955). An author catalogue with one important exception: pamphlets on witchcraft are all gathered together under that heading, with no cross references from authors or titles.
- The damned art : a web exhibition of books relating to the history of witchcraft and demonology, drawn mainly from the Ferguson Collection (Glasgow: 1985).
- Nigel Thorp The glory of the page: medieval and renaissance illuminated manuscripts from Glasgow University Library (London: 1987). Exhibition catalogue.
- David Weston, Paracelsus: a catalogue of works published 1529-1793 preserved in Glasgow University Library , with an appendix listing manuscripts containing items by or about Paracelsus (Glasgow: 1993).
- David Weston ‘Ferguson, John (1838–1916)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/53857, accessed 21 Nov 2007]
- David Weston ‘A Magus of the North? Professor John Ferguson and his alchemical library’ in The meanings of magic: from the Bible to Buffalo Bill edited by Amy Wygant. New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2006 (Polygons: Cultural diversities and intersections, vol. 11) pp. 161-177.
- Some papers relating to Ferguson (including personal correspondence and diaries) are held by the University Archives (ref. DC251).
See also the following 'book of the month' articles that feature items from the Ferguson collection:
- Edited by W.T. Stead Real Ghost Stories London: 1891 (Book of the month: December 2007)
- A New Orchard and Garden with The Country-Housewifes Garden for Herbs London: 1648 (Book of the month: July 2006)
- John Bate The Mysteries of Nature and Art London: 1635 (Book of the month: November 2003)
- Athanasius Kircher Musurgia Universalis Rome: 1650 (Book of the month: November 2002)
- Ghost Stories London: 1823 (Book of the month: October 2001)
- The Gardener's Labyrinth London: 1594 (Book of the month: May 2001)
- Newes from Scotland London: 1591 (Book of the month: August 2000)
- Rosarium Philosophorum 18th-century (Book of the month: April 2009)