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
Go to William Hunter website for more information and background in Hunter's collections across the University: this site provides a search for all Hunter-related collections.
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 additions to the Hunterian collection (ie. not books owned by William Hunter himself) - these books will not have Hunter added as a provenance.
- The 2017 project 'William Hunter's Library: a transcription of the early catalogues' sought to resolve which books belonged to Hunter at the time of his death: see project page to find out more and Enlighten page for links to spreadsheets of the transcribed early catalogues
- 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 records 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).
- David Weston: Chinese and Manchu books in the Hunterian Library University of Glasgow (2023)
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:
- William Hunter and the Anatomy of the Modern Museum. Exhibition 2018-19, featuring ca. 100 items from Hunter's Library, with exhibition catalogue published by YAle University Press.
- 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.
Book of the month articles featuring items from the Hunterian collection:
- Ludolph of Saxony The Life of Christ (Vita Christi) Paris: 1490s (Book of the month: December 2009)
- The Curious Case of Mary Toft London: 1726 (Book of the month: August 2009)
- Homer The Iliad Venice: 1640 (Book of the month: March 2009)
- Laurence de Premierfait's French translation of BoccaccioDe Casibus Virorum Illustrium Paris: 1467 (Book of the month: February 2009)
- 14th century manuscript compendium of Devotional and Philosophical Writings London: c. 1325-1335 (Book of the month: June 2008)
- Copernicus De Revolutionibus Nuremberg: 1543 (Book of the month: April 2008)
- John Duns Scotus Quaestiones in quattuor libros sententiarum Venice: 1477 (Book of the month: January 2008)
- Sir William Hamilton Campi Phlegraei Naples: 1776 (Book of the month: October 2007)
- William Harvey De Motu Cordis Frankfurt: 1628 (Book of the month: June 2007)
- The Hunterian PsalterEngland: c.1170 (Book of the month: May 2007)
- William Caxon The Golden Legend Westminster: c.1483-1484 (Book of the month: January 2007)
- John of Arderne Medical Treatises England: c.1475-1500 (Book of the month: May 2006)
- Greek Gospels Southern Italy/Sicily:Twelfth Century (Book of the month: April 2006)
- Livy Third Decade of the Roman History Milan: c.1450 (Book of the month: October 2005)
- William CaxtonThe Mirror of the World Westminster: 1490 (Book of the month: August 2005)
- Blockbook Apocalypse Netherlands: 1430s-1440s (Book of the month: April 2005)
- Maximilian I/Melchior Pfintzing Teuerdank Nuremberg: 1517 (Book of the month: February 2005)
- Bartolo da Sassoferrato Lectura Super Infortiato Italy: c.1400 (Book of the month: January 2005)
- Benjamin Wilkes The English Moths and Butterflies London: 1749 (Book of the month: July 2004)
- Geoffrey Chaucer The Canterbury TalesLondon: 1492 (Book of the month: May 2004)
- Hypnerotomachia Poliphili Venice: 1499 (Book of the month: February 2004)
- Abū Alī Yahyā Ibn ‘Isā Ibn Jazla Taqwīm al-abdān fī tadbīr al-insān (The arrangement of bodies for treatment) Mesopotamia: 15th century? (Book of the month: June 2003)
- Gaius Valerius Flaccus Argonautica Paris: 1519 (Book of the month: May 2003)
- Diego Muñoz Camargo Historia de Tlaxcala Mexico: 1585 (Book of the month: January 2003)
- Leonhart Fuchs De Historia Stirpium Basel: 1542 (Book of the month: October 2002)
- Andreas Vesalius De Humani Corporis Fabrica Librorum Epitome Basel: 1543 (Book of the month: September 2002)
- The Aldgate Cartulary London: 1425-1427 (Book of the month: August 2002)
- Christopher Saxton Atlas of the Counties of England & Wales London: c.1579 (Book of the month: June 2002)
- Jenson'sBreviary Venice: 1478 (Book of the month: April 2002)
- Louis Renard Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabes Amsterdam: 1754 (Book of the month: January 2002)
- The Chronicles of England St. Albans: c.1483 (Book of the month: September 2001)
- Bede Writings on the Calendar Durham: twelfth century (Book of the month: January 2001)
- Miroir de l'humaine salvation Manuscript, Bruges: 1455: (Book of the month: September 2000)
- Caxton's The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ Westminster: c.1490 (Book of the month: July 2000)
- Roman de la Rose Paris: c.1505 (Book of the month: February 2000)