Hunterian museum collections in Scottish top three

Published: 10 July 2002

National Audit reports one million items of national or international importance in University collections.

The University of Glasgow's Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery is one of the top three collections in Scotland according to the Scottish Museums Council's National Audit, published today (Wednesday 10 July).

The University has the third largest collection of natural science material and the third largest number of items of national or international importance.

Among the stars in the collections are:

  • fossil dinosaurs, reptiles and plants
  • rare gold coins of the ancient world
  • Roman gravestones and other material from the Antonine Wall
  • artefacts brought back by Captain Cook's expeditions to the South Seas
  • the Mackintosh House
  • paintings by Rembrandt, Stubbs, Chardin, Whistler, the Scottish Colourists and the Glasgow Boys
Nearly one million items, 87% of the collection, are described as having national or international significance. This places the University of Glasgow's collections only a short way behind those of the Royal Botanical Gardens and the National Museums of Scotland.

The Glasgow City Museums head the table of collections of local and regional significance but here too the University collections feature strongly, in 5th place with some 143,000 items making up12% of the Hunterian collections.

Dr Evelyn Silber, Director of the Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery, commented, "This fascinating and pioneering report shows that Scotland's national cultural and natural heritage is distributed right across the country in museums of all kinds, not just in those officially recognised as national.

"Here at the University in museums and galleries open to everyone, free of charge, six days a week, we have wonderful collections and I hope this report will encourage more people to come and visit.

"Some people may be surprised we have so much of such significance but we have been collecting for 200 years and, being a university collection, a lot of the material has come to us as a result of research projects and collecting by the leading experts in their field, travelling throughout the world as well as working close to home. That leads to high quality as well as quantity!"

The size of the University's collections has much to do with the scale of the natural science collections (nearly a million objects) but the nationally important collections also include art, coins and medals, archaeology, ethnography and the history of science. The Mackintosh House is a high-profile feature of the Hunterian Art Gallery but other parts of the collections such as the zoology specimens are less well known being primarily used as study collections for students and researchers.

"We would love to have the resources to put more of the collections on show," concludes Dr Silber. "We also want to increase our education programmes for people of all ages."

The National Audit is the first attempt to survey the whole museum scene in Scotland and analyse its resources and significance. 170 organisations covering 435 sites participated ranging from the National Museums to small volunteer-run local sites. In 2000-2001 they accounted for 13.5 million visits underlining their value to the economy and tourism.

The audit, which was commissioned by the Scottish Executive, was also intended to reveal the range (and shortage) of resources in the sector. It concludes that there is a major problem of under-capacity throughout and refers to the need for a national funding and policy framework to ensure sustainability and to enable museums to provide good service to the public and proper care for the collections.

Find out more about the Hunterian collections and events at the Museum and Galleries by visiting here.

Media Relations Office (

For further information about the Hunterian Museum & Art Galleries collections or to interview Dr Silber contact the University of Glasgow Press Office on

0141 330 3535

or visit the Hunterian?s website at


For information about the National Audit contact

Carl Watt of the Scottish Museums? Council 0131 229 7465


First published: 10 July 2002

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