Hunterian Collection

Hunterian Collection

Probably the best known of the Library’s rare book collections, the Hunterian Library contains some 10,000 printed books and 650 manuscripts and forms one of the finest 18th-century libraries to survive intact. It was assembled by Dr William Hunter (1718-83), anatomist, teacher of medicine, Physician Extraordinary to Queen Charlotte, and collector of coins, medals, paintings, shells, minerals, and anatomical and natural history specimens, as well as of books and manuscripts. Under the terms of Hunter’s will, his library and other collections remained in London for several years after his death - for the use of his nephew, Dr Matthew Baillie (1761-1823) - and finally came to the University in 1807.

Manuscripts

Of the 650 manuscripts, around two thirds are medieval or Renaissance in origin and over 100 of the remainder are oriental - largely Persian and Arabic with some important Sinological materials collected originally by T.S. Bayer.

Printed Books

The printed books include 532 incunabula (amongst them ten Caxtons) and over 2,300 volumes with 16th-century imprints - Hunter was especially keen on the products of the scholar-printers of Venice, Florence and Paris. Despite the 18th-century predilection for rebinding, not a few of Hunter’s 15th- and 16th-century volumes are still in their original bindings, including four examples from Grolier’s library.

Medicine

About one third of Hunter’s books - not unnaturally - are to do with medicine, with a good balance struck between the great historical texts (such as editions of Hippocrates, Galen, Vesalius, Harvey) and the writings of his own contemporaries (men like Smellie, the Monros, Albinus, Haller). Anatomy and obstetrics - the two fields in which Hunter made his fame and fortune - are particularly well represented, though an interest in other topics, e.g. naval medicine, the deficiency diseases, inoculation against smallpox, is also evident.

General

The non-medical section of Hunter’s library reflects interests both deep and wide: fine topography, botany, zoology, astronomy, numismatics, fine art, and certain aspects of vernacular literature, e.g. important editions of Rabelais, Cervantes, Chaucer and Shakespeare. A strong section of books on exploration and travel contains a wealth of Americana as well as important materials on the East Indies and on contemporary voyages to the South Seas.

Working papers

A group of early bibliographies, histories of printing and book sale catalogues no doubt aided Hunter in the development of his collection. Hunter’s library includes the working papers of his mentor, James Douglas and also a large corpus of Hunter’s own papers representing his research in anatomy and medicine and including a series of drawings by Jan van Rymsdyk for Hunter’s major work, The anatomy of the human gravid uterus (1774). Hunter’s papers also contain valuable materials relating to the formation of his library and his other collections. Additional printed and manuscript material is purchased to supplement the Hunterian Collection, but only in those fields on which Hunter’s professional reputation rests, i.e. in anatomy and obstetrics.

See also the Hunterian Museum and Hunterian Art Gallery.

How to find material from the Hunterian Collection

Records for items:

Digital versions/facsimiles of books:

  • Chaucer: Romaunt of the Rose: digital version, with transcript, of MS Hunter 409 (V.3.7)     
  • Hunterian Psalter web exhibition: a selection of images from MS Hunter 229
  • The Hunterian Psalter : Glasgow University Library MS. Hunter 229, with two introductory essays ... by Jane Hetherington Brown ... [and] Nicholas Pickwoad, edited by Nigel Thorp (Glasgow: 1983). Microfiches. Copy available in Special Collections reading room.

Overviews of collection/exhibitions based on Hunterian Library material:

 Book of the month articles featuring items from the Hunterian collection: