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Heritage Collections


The Heritage Collections are largely arts-based collections connected to the University’s history.  They include:

Fine art

The fine art collections of the University of St Andrews contain over 100 portraits; over 300 other oils, watercolours, prints and drawings; and around 40 sculptures and busts. 

The portrait collection was established in 1765, with the gift of a portrait of alumnus David Stewart Erskine, Lord Cardross (later 11th Earl of Buchan), after Sir Joshua Reynolds.  It has grown steadily since that time and encompasses images, mainly oils, of University Chancellors, Principals, Professors, Rectors, alumni and benefactors, many of whom are recognised figures in the social, cultural, intellectual, scientific or political development of Scotland.  For example Samuel Rutherford (political theorist), James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose (Captain General of the Royalist forces in Scotland during the Civil War), Andrew Carnegie (the industrialist and philanthropist), Adam Ferguson (the philosopher), Francis Nicoll (the social reformer), John Fleming (the geologist and zoologist), John Stuart Mill (the philosopher and economist) and Sir D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (the polymath and father of biomathematics). 

Particular highlights of the portrait collection include:  Francis Nicoll by Sir Henry Raeburn, 1814; Archbishop James Sharp by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1666; Robert Saunders Dundas, 2nd Viscount Melville, by David Wilkie, 1831; and George Buchanan by or after Arnold van Brounckhorst, 1580.  There are four portraits by David Martin and five works by Sir John Watson Gordon.  Other artists represented include Thomas Duncan, Robert Herdman, Sir George Reid, John H. Lorimer, Sir James Guthrie, George Fiddes Watt, Beatrice Huntingdon, Alberto Morrocco and Stephen Campbell.  As such, the collection reflects the history and development of Scottish portraiture. 

The University holds the Pilgrim Trust Recording Scotland Collection of over 100 works.  The Recording Scotland project was designed to produce employment for artists during the Second World War, and create a permanent pictorial record of a Scotland thought to be at risk from bombs and growing industrialisation.  The pictures, by artists including Stewart Carmichael, Robert Eadie, Andrew Archer Gamley, Alan Ian Ronald, David Foggie, John Guthrie Spence Smith, James Wright, Charles Oppenheimer and Samuel Peploe, range from castles, churches and the Clyde docks to village streets, fishing ports and cityscapes of Edinburgh and Glasgow.  Collectively, they constitute an important pictorial archive of Scotland c.1940. 

In 1996, the Harry and Margery Boswell Art Collection was established and endowed by the Boswell family, to enable the University to make annual purchases of Scottish art.  Collecting has focused primarily in the field of contemporary Scottish paintings, prints and photographs, which had previously been under-represented in the collections.  The artists selected are all leading figures, including Alan Davie, Ken Currie, Calum Colvin, John Bellany, Steven Campbell, Will Maclean, Alison Watt, Callum Innes, John Byrne and Adrian Wisniewski.  The early part of the twentieth century is represented by works by William McCance and JD Fergusson.

The University's fine art holdings also contain works by artists including Sir William Quiller Orchardson, WE Lockhart, Sam Bough, Elizabeth Blackadder and Robin Gillanders, and others of national import.  Highlights of the sculpture collection include a marble bust of Laura, after Canova, and a bronze statuette of Peter Pan by Sir George Frampton, after the Kensington Park figure, gifted by JM Barrie. There is also a group of three sculptures, Three Samurai (1983), by Czech artist Jan Koblasa; and a bronze of Vulcan bequeathed by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.


The silver collection contains material ranging from the 15th century to the present.  It includes the University’s three medieval maces, the Mace of the Faculty of Arts (commissioned 1416), Mace of the Faculty of Canon Law (mid-15th century) and Mace of St Salvator’s College (1461).  There are two 16th century college mazers (communal drinking vessels); a Communion cup presented by Anne Murray, Lady Halkett, in 1681; a ‘Capstan’ salt of the mid-17th century, made in St Andrews by Patrick Gardyne;  and college spoons from the 18th century, among other important items.  Relics of the University’s Silver Arrow archery competition include 70 medals, dating from 1618 to c.1754 and three silver arrows.  Later material includes 20th century Communion plate by Omar Ramsden and silver used on formal occasions in halls of residence.


The furniture collection provides important evidence of the history and development of furniture in Scotland, and its use in an institutional and domestic context, within the formal rooms, chapels, lecture theatres, laboratories, colleges and halls of residence of Scotland’s oldest University.  It represents the very fabric of University life.  Individual items of particular significance include:-

  • The Parliament Hall Chair, c. 1640s-1660s, thought to have been used as the Speaker’s Chair when the Scottish Parliament met in St Andrews, 1645-6.  This is believed to be the only surviving piece of furniture associated with the original Scottish Parliament.
  • The blackstone.  Stone stool on which students taking the Master of Arts degree sat for the oral examination before the professors, from about 1420 to the 18th centuries.
  • St Andrews cupboard, c. 1500.  Oak cupboard incorporating linenfold carving and decorated with thistle, rose and marguerite motifs.  The design may symbolise the marriage of James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor of England.
  • The pulpit from which John Knox is popularly reputed to have preached in the town kirk, Holy Trinity, in 1559, inciting the destruction of the Cathedral (however, it is probably of a slightly later date).
  • Various charter chests, five probably from the 17th century or earlier.

Costume and textiles

The textile collection consists of around 120 items. These relate mainly to the academic dress of the University of St Andrews, and include costumes worn by prominent staff members and graduates.  Other material includes a Sudanese costume thought to have been worn in the 1920s by an overseas student.  Of particular interest is the Norwegian flag borne by Arctic explorer and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Fridtjof Nansen on the 'Farthest North' Arctic expedition of 1895, in which he came closer to reaching the North Pole than anyone previously.  It was presented to the University by Nansen when he was Rector of the University (1925-1928). 


The archaeology collection consists of two specific groups: the Cypriot collection and prehistoric material. 

The Cypriot material, comprising over 180 artefacts, was donated by Mrs Margaret Bridges in 1994, with further additions in 2003.  It forms a useful teaching collection and is used extensively in the School of Classics.

The prehistoric material, in total around 800 artefacts, represents donations by AD Lacaille, HW Seton-Karr, and D Waterston. Lacaille is internationally renowned as a prehistorian.  The material donated was from his private collection, and represents his academic interests in the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.  It consists of Lower Palaeolithic material from southern England (flint handaxes and other artefacts), and Upper Palaeolithic material from France (including scrapers, burins, flakes and cores).  The Seton-Karr material comprises a small number of Palaeolithic artefacts from Somaliland and southern Africa.  The Waterston donation includes Lower Palaeolithic artefacts from southern England, but is most noteworthy for its series of flints found in the 1880s at Happisburgh, Norfolk.


The numismatic collection consists of around 500 coins, 12,000 Communion tokens and 220 medals. 

The collection of Communion tokens is comprehensive with regard to Scottish and Irish material.  It is one of the largest collections of Communion tokens in the UK and includes two important private collections formed early in the 20th century by two St Andrews alumni, Reverend AA Milne and Reverend AR Taylor, as well as several smaller collections, including that accumulated by St Mary’s College.  The Milne collection includes the tokens that he gathered when compiling his standard reference work on Irish Communion tokens, Communion tokens of the Presbyterian churches in Ireland, 1920.  Otherwise, most of the tokens are Scottish and virtually every known variety of every parish is represented. Several unique specimens are held, including the earliest datable Scottish token, attributed to Alexander Henderson at Leuchars in the early 17th century.  The collection also contains examples from virtually every Scottish emigrant community, thus charting the Scottish diaspora in England, Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas and Australasia. 

The collection of coins is of modest size. It includes nearly 100 classical coins, nearly 400 medieval coins (chiefly Edward I-II pennies from the Aberdeen 1886 hoard), and small numbers of oriental (ancient to modern) and modern western coins.

The collection of medals relates largely to the University of St Andrews. The majority are University class medals, illustrating the achievements of individual students in different subjects, and notably the achievements of women students from an early period after their admission to St Andrews (also recording the LLA scheme, developed in St Andrews before women were legally admitted to Universities).  There are also many medals awarded to academic figures in the University for their achievements, including key figures in the history of the arts or sciences, e.g. Professors D'Arcy Thompson (Natural History) and James Colquhoun Irvine (Chemistry). Some medals relate directly to the history of Scotland's oldest University, for example those given by other institutions for its 500th anniversary.