Highlight: The legacy of the William Guild bequest

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Following on from our previous Highlight posts, Christine Gascoigne details the history of a very important 17th century Scottish book collector, William Guild.  If you would like to write a Highlights post for us, get in touch!

William Guild’s easily recognizable signature, found here on vol 2. of the 1521 edition of Nicolaus de Lyra’s Bible commentary (Bib BS89.B21).

During George H. Bushnell’s time as librarian (1926-1961), a major re-organisation of the library took place. The whole library was re-classified using the Library of Congress system, and a number of “special collections” were created, reflecting early donations. A surprising omission from these newly created collections was the substantial bequest in 1657 of the library of William Guild, principal of King’s College, Aberdeen.

Title page of Guild’s copy of the 1640 printing of Richard Ward’s commentary on Matthew (TypBL.C40CW).

Guild, born in 1586, son of Matthew Guild, armourer of Dundee, and educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen and St Mary’s College, St Andrews, bequeathed nearly 200 titles to St Andrews, and thanks to the on-line catalogue, it is now possible to bring together a virtual Guild collection. As a minister of the Church of Scotland, first at Kinedward then in Aberdeen, Guild’s library contains the kind of book which would be needed for someone who expounded the scriptures week by week. There are both pre- and post-Reformation texts such as the Bible commentary of the 14th century scholar Nicolaus de Lyra’s (vol 2 only – Bib BS89.B21) in the Lyons 1521 edition through to Richard Ward’s commentary on Matthew’s Gospel. There are also books on natural history (Thomas Moffett’s Insectorum theatrum, London 1634), medicine (James Hart’s The diet of the diseased, London, 1633) as well as on other subjects such as history and topography.

Three moth woodcuts from Guild’s copy of the 1634 edition of Thomas Moffett’s Insectorum sive minimorum animalium theatrum (TypBL.C34CM).

However, the main interest in the collection lies in the patterns on book ownership and transmission revealed by the inscriptions of former owners which are to be found in over 75% of the titles he owned.  Books from the pre-Reformation foundations of North East Scotland – the Cistercian abbey of Kinloss and the Dominican and Franciscan monastic houses of Elgin and Aberdeen – circulated round the area before they found their way into the libraries of a number of ministers from Elgin, Spynie, Llanbryd and other parishes, eventually ending up on Guild’s bookshelves. Notable names from the Elgin area include Alexander Douglas, minister of Spynie, Elgin and then Bishop of Moray, Patrick Auchinleck, St Andrews graduate and minister first of Balmerino then of Alves and Llanbryd, and John Robertson. Two men of this name lived in North east Scotland, one the treasurer of Ross and the other reader in Llanbryd.

Another Guild signature found on the title page of TypBL.C33BH.

Apart from the North East Scotland connection, Guild bought books from book collectors in other parts of Scotland, particularly Edinburgh. One Edinburgh collector was Sir Thomas Henryson, Lord Chesters, Edinburgh judge who died in 1638, left a considerable library, which was dispersed after his death and Guild acquired 42 of his books. The inscriptions in Guild’s books given us a lot of information about what titles were circulating in 16th and 17th century Scotland, but they also pose some questions. Where did Guild buy his books – from auctions, Scottish or English or even Continental booksellers? Did he attend auctions himself, or employ an agent? Why is there no copy of the Bible in English, or any of his own works in the collection? And where is the copy of the 1492 Basle edition of the works of St Ambrose which he is known to have owned? If anyone out there knows where it is, do let us know!

-Christine Gascoigne

Christine moved to St Andrews in 1975, and started working in the Special Collections department in 1977, first of all in the manuscripts department, and then transferring to Rare Books when Geoffrey Hargreaves retired. She became Head of Department on Bob Smart’s retirement and then, in 2004, acting librarian. She retired at the end of  2005

**For detailed information on William Guild’s books see Christine’s article in the Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society (No. 4, 2009), and her accompanying bibliography and list of former owners of Guild’s books.

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1 thoughts on "Highlight: The legacy of the William Guild bequest"

  • 52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 9: Piero Valeriano’s menagerie of symbols (Hieroglyphica, 1556) « Echoes from the Vault
    Monday 20 August 2012, 7.00am

    [...] but also an early 17th century edition from Frankfurt. The first edition was given to St Andrews by William Guild in 1657. The 17th century edition, a smaller, more portable version, still features the same woodcuts as [...]


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