The Bayer Collection

The latest foyer display in Special Collections on level 12 of the Library features three items from the collection of Theophilus Siegfried Bayer (1694-1738) and continues the focus on William Hunter (1718-1783) and his library in this tercentenary year of his birth.

Theophilus (Gottlieb) Siegfried Bayer (1694-1738) was a Prussian classical scholar from Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia), and a pioneer in the west in the study of Sinology. He was both Sinologist and professor of Greek and Roman Antiquities at St Petersburg Academy of Sciences between 1726 until 1737. Previously he was a Rector of the Königsberg Cathedral from 1721-1726, and a municipal librarian in Königsberg. Bayer amassed a large personal library of manuscripts and books and for several years kept up a fruitful exchange of correspondence with Jesuit missionaries based in Peking (now Beijing). He also published several works of his own.

Perhaps if he had lived longer Bayer’s work may have received greater recognition, but in 1738 he became very sick with a fever and died. After his death his library was sold by his widow to a Lutheran pastor living in London called Heinrich Walter Gerdes (1690-1741).

This collection of approximately 200 Chinese and other oriental books and manuscripts was later purchased from Mrs Gerdes by Dr. William Hunter (1718-1783). 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.

The three documents on display are Museum Sinicum (Hunterian Ee2.1-2), Globus Coelestis Sinicus Explicatus (Ms Hunter 10) and Hunter’s Catalogue of the Bayer Collection (MS Hunter H203).


Opening in Museum Sinicum (Hunterian Ee2.1-2)

Opening in Museum Sinicum volume 1 (Hunterian Ee2.1)

Bayer published Museum Sinicum,  his two volume study of the Chinese language, in 1730. He presented a copy to the Jesuit fathers in Beijing in 1731 and they were very impressed by this first major work on the subject published in the west.


Globus Coelestis Sinicus Explicatus

This Chinese star map is a copper plate engraving which shows the Northern (right) and Southern (left) stellar hemispheres. It was created by Ignatius Koegler, a Jesuit missionary in Peking. The title translates as “Table of the Ecliptic and of all the Stars”. The ecliptic (the apparent path of the sun across the sky) and stars are marked on the map. Bound in the same volume is Bayer’s manuscript in which he transliterates and translates into Latin the Chinese names for the hemispheres, planets and signs of the zodiac.





Star Atlas (MS Hunter 10)

Star Atlas (MS Hunter 10)



Hunter’s Catalogue of the Bayer Collection comprises William Hunter’s original manuscript catalogue of Bayer’s collection of rare books and manuscripts, entitled:

A catalogue of a curious collection of rare books, in the Chinese and other Indian languages; collected by the late learned Theoph. Siegfr. Bayer, Professor of St. Petersburg, and now in the possession of Mrs Gerdes, widow of the late learned Dr. Gerdes. At last in Dr. Hunter’s Library.

The last sentence is in William Hunter’s writing.


Title page of Hunter H203

Title page of Hunter H203


The display was curated by David Weston and Fiona Neale, Archives and Special Collections, and can be viewed in the foyer of Special Collections, University of Glasgow Library, Level 12.

David Weston has recently completed a preliminary catalogue of the Bayer Collection. The collection consists of approximately 200 Chinese and other oriental books and manuscripts, including Chinese and Manchu books, palm leaf books in Tamil and Telugu and other pothi format books, European printed works, notes on oriental history and philology, and correspondence with the Jesuits in Peking.

Related items:

Evenki Vocabulary from MS Hunter 211

Blog posts

Discovered: 18th century vocabulary of endangered Evenki language

Theophilus Siegfried Bayer: pioneer of Chinese studies in the west




Categories: Archives and Special Collections, Library, Reflections, Special Collections

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