Glasgow Incunabula Project update (19/9/13)

I have already raised the question of when is a Hunterian book not from Hunter’s collection? Three incunables in this batch now beg the question: how complete is Hunter’s library today?

binding

Suetonius: diced brown russia binding

Exhibit A in this slightly disconcerting line of enquiry is the 1470 edition of Suetonius’ lives of the Caesars. This is the only copy of this edition in the Hunterian Library today. But according to the ‘Dessain-Hunter correspondence’ (University of Glasgow Library, MS Gen. 36, f.24v), Hunter purchased two copies of this edition at the Gaignat sale in 1769 – lots 2921 & 2922, for which he paid 240 livres 3 sous and 96 livres respectively.  But even more intriguing is the fact that the 18th century binding of the copy now in Hunter’s collection is diced brown russia, while the bindings of the two copies  found in the Gaignat sale catalogue are described as as “mar. r.” i.e. red morocco and “mar. bl.” i.e. blue morocco. The present copy also has an 18th-century price “10.10.0” in sterling in pencil on the first front flyleaf – making it improbable that this is one of the Gaignat copies, even in the unlikely event of it having been rebound. So what has happened? Where are the Gaignat sale copies?  Did Hunter originally own three copies of this book? Is the present copy really Hunter’s copy even? It is in the Hunterian collection, but we have already seen that this is no guarantee that Hunter originally owned the book, and there are no other clues of provenance except an early but (as usual) unidentified coat of arms.

binding

Alphonsus de Spina: red morocco binding

There is further evidence of books coming and going in exhibit B. This is the Fortalitium fidei by Alphonsus de Spira. As far as we can tell (because, suddenly, nothing seems entirely straightforward!), Hunter purchased this via his agent Jean-Baptiste Dessain at the sale of the library of Louis César de La Baume le Blanc, (1708-1780), duc de La Vallière;  it is described in the sale catalogue as being in a red morocco binding which matches the book today, and the Dessain-Hunter correspondence records that Hunter paid 85 livres 15 sous for it. So far, so good. However, the correspondence also reveals that Hunter also bought a copy of this edition at the Gaignat sale; described as a copy bound in citron morocco, this book is no longer in the Hunterian Library.

The same thing is going on with exhibit C. In this case, an edition of Strabo’s Geography. This time the only surviving copy we find in the Hunterian collection today (in an 18th century blue morocco binding) matches the description of the copy Hunter bought at the Gaignat sale for 120 livres 1 sou. But, again, at one point he seemingly had another copy of this edition (in a red morocco binding), which he purchased through his agent, Peter Molini, for 48 livres at the Brancas de Lauraguais sale,

binding

Strabo: blue morocco binding

We know that Hunter lent books out and presumably, like all lenders of books, he might not always have got them back, but is it likely that all these books were borrowed and not returned? So what is going on here? We have come across a tenuous reference to a duplicate sale of Hunter’s books, so it is more likely that, in his lifetime, his collection was quite fluid; but if he did jettison his “duplicates” and possibly other unwanted acquisitions in one go,  we have not been able to find any trace of a bookseller’s or sales catalogue for this. And if this did happen, other interesting questions occur (such as – how how did Hunter choose which copies to sell?  Might it be possible to trace these copies today in other libraries?). Certainly this underlines the importance of taking into account as much detail as possible (such as bindings information) before jumping to conclusions of provenance based on scanty records …

And going back to my original question: how complete is Hunter’s library today?  Until the entire Hunterian collection is catalogued and investigated in more depth, and sources such as the earliest manuscript catalogues thoroughly researched, we can’t really say!

The latest ten records to be fully described and indexed on the project website are:



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  1. Glasgow Incunabula Project update (3/6/14) « University of Glasgow Library

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