Logo: Silhouette of William Hunter

The Hunterian Museum & Art Gallery
William Hunter's collection: history


Hunter’s collection was an intellectual resource used for research and teaching - a physical extension of his library. The anatomical preparations were central to his own work, but these were collected alongside cultural and other collections which illustrate literally everything to be found all over the world: its geology, flora and fauna, the productions of mankind. His increasing wealth, and his positions as royal physician, and as principal of the leading medical school, meant that he was frequently offered important material as gifts or for purchase by collectors such as Sir William Hamilton and the naturalist Joseph Banks. His natural historical collecting is said to have begun with Lady St Aubyn’s gift in 1764 of a collection of Cornish ores. The coin cabinet, on which Hunter spent vast sums, is the best documented, with a notebook surviving in which Hunter recorded his acquisitions and their cost. Paintings were always an interest, and valuable examples were purchased in the 1770s.

1740 Collecting books and anatomical specimens
1743 Buys prints in Paris for his brother James
1750 Purchases two Rembrandt paintings at auction
1751 Starts to buy engravings from William Hogarth
1754 Purchases books and objects from the sales of Dr Richard Mead’s collection, including an Egyptian Mummy
1768 In letter, Hunter states that he is “collecting in the largest sense of the word”
1769 His purchases of books at the Gaignat sale in Paris totalled 1000 guineas
1770 Starts to collect Coins on large scale, with purchase of William Dawes’s collection
1771 Purchases 17 important paintings from Robert Strange’s sale at Christie’s
1776 Purchased Matthew Duane’s coin collection for £8000
1780 Purchases John Fothergill's collection of shells, corals and insects for £1100