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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Records for all the printed items may be found by using the the rare books search or browse through a list of titles (Tip! As nearly 7,000 titles are listed here, searching for specific titles by using title, author, or keyword searches is recommended)
- All known provenances have been included in the catalogue records for Hunterian printed books. For example, typing "Gaignat" in the search box of the printers, place and provenance search will bring up a list of items purchased by Hunter in the Gaignat sale. Note that some books prefaced with "Hunterian" in the shelf-mark are later additiond to the Hunterian collection (ie. not books owned by William Hunter himself) - these books will not have Hunter added as a provenance.
- Records for manuscript material are catalogued as MS Hunter: to browse through a list of titles from the entire collection, go to the collection level description on the manuscripts search and click on the link 'list collection content'. Tip! Over 1,500 items are listed here -searching for specific items using the name and document searches on the manuscripts search is recommended
- Mungo Ferguson: The printed books in the library of the Hunterian Museum of the University of Glasgow: a catalogue (Glasgow: 1930). Copy also available for reference in the Special Collections reading room; largely superseded by ecords available via the rare books search
- John Young and P. Henderson Aitken,
A catalogue of the manuscripts in the library of the Hunterian Museum in the University of Glasgow (Glasgow: 1908). Copy available for reference in the Special Collections reading room but largely superseded by records available via the manuscripts search.
- C. Helen Brock: Dr William Hunter’s papers and drawings in the Hunterian Collection of Glasgow University Library: a handlist (Cambridge: 1990).
- C. Helen Brock: Dr James Douglas's papers and drawings in the Hunterian Collection, Glasgow University Library: a handlist (Glasgow: 1994).
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
- Nigel Thorp,
The glory of the page: medieval and renaissance illuminated manuscripts from Glasgow University Library (London, 1987). Exhibition catalogue, drawn chiefly from the Hunterian Collection.
- Americana: a web exhibition of printed books and manuscripts, mainly drawing upon items in the Hunterian Collection, based on an exhibition from 1975 (original exhibition catalogue is available in the Special Collections reading room)
- Jack Baldwin: William Hunter, 1718-1783, book collector: catalogue of an exhibition (Glasgow: 1983). Copy available in Special Collections reading room.
- Jack Baldwin: Treasures of the library: Printed books: the Hunterian Collection College Courant, Vol. Vol. 28, No. 56, Whitsun 1976 (pp. 16-19).
- Neil R. Ker: William Hunter as a collector of medieval manuscripts (Glasgow: 1983).
- The magic of the middle ages: manuscript treasures of Glasgow University Library. Exhibition catalogue in two parts: Part 1: Sacred manuscripts (Glasgow: 1994); Part 2: Secular manuscripts (Glasgow: 1995). Available in Special Collections reading room.
- Perennial pages: flower illustration in books since the Renaissance: web exhibition based on an exhibition from 1995. Exhibition catalogue also available in Special Collections reading room.
- Printing in England from William Caxton to Christopher Barker: web exhibition based on an exhibition from 1976. Exhibition catalogue also available in Special Collections reading room.
- David Weston: ‘William Hunter, zodiac man’ Scottish Book Collector 7:8 Autumn 2003 11-23
- The World of Chaucer: web exhibition featuring many manuscripts and early printed books from the Hunterian collection
- John Young, "Address on the Hunterian Library" in his Essays and addresses (Glasgow: 1904), pp. 119-142.