One Hundred Merks

Isobel Mitchell’s Gift of One Hundred Merks, Scots
Gifted in 1667

Little is known about Isobel Mitchell. She would have disappeared completely from the pages of history had she not been generously inclined. The wife of John Scott, a merchant and Treasurer to the City of Edinburgh in the mid-17th century, she became the first female donor to the University Library.

All this is recorded in the Library donations register, which describes her as

“A pious and virtuous matron at the time of her decease which was upon the 19th of October 1667. There was left as a token of her great love to the flourishing of piety and Good Learning the sum of a hundred merks scots which was not only well and honestly paid by her husband John Scott, merchant burgess of Edinburgh and late Treasurer thereof after her death but also most generously and freely in compliance with the foresaid design he augmented the said sum to sixteen pounds sterling wherewith was bought these books.”

This was a period of rapid growth and development of the collections. The University used the money to buy Athanasius Kircher’s Oedipus Aegypitiacus – an illustrated antiquarian work on Egyptian hieroglyphics, a set of theological works, as well as a selection of modern editions of classical authors with commentaries, which were soundly useful, and which must have already been on their wishlist.

Story by Elizabeth Quarmby Lawrence, Rare Books Librarian