Special collections

The Bayer Collection

Some of the more exotic material in the library of Dr William Hunter (1718-83) comes from his acquisition of the collection of oriental books and manuscripts of Theophilus Siegfried Bayer (1694-1738).  Born in Königsberg, Bayer at an early age developed an interest in oriental languages, in particular Chinese, which he pursued during a study tour (1716-17) to Berlin, Halle, and Leipzig.  Returning to his native city, he eventually became pro-rector of the Cathedral school in 1721.  Events took an unexpected turn in 1725 when he accepted an invitation to assume a post in the recently founded Academy of Sciences at St Petersburg as Professor of Greek and Roman Antiquities.  While there he published his major work, the Museum Sinicum (1730) a copy of which he sent to the Jesuit missionaries at Beijing.  They were astounded that such a book could have been written by someone in Europe with no direct contact with either China, or Chinese people.  Through regular but infrequent correspondence with them, Bayer was able to advance his understanding of the Chinese language. He was also in receipt of some fifty Chinese books. In 1737, he decided to return to  Königsberg, sending most of his books and papers ahead of him by boat, but by January he had fallen ill with a fever, dying on 10 February 1738, aged only 44.

Finding herself in unforeseen financial straits, Bayer’s widow was obliged to sell off the part of his library that had already reached Königsberg. This collection, which contains much that is of interest for the history of sinological and other oriental studies, was acquired by Heinrich Walther Gerdes, a Lutheran pastor resident in London. It was via Gerdes’ widow, who offered the collection for sale, that Bayer’s collection came to rest in William Hunter’s library.

David Weston, Former Keeper of Special Collections and Assistant Director, University of Glasgow Library.

Further information about the Bayer Collection can be accessed here.

Click here to access the Bayer Catalogue Online.