George Chalmers ca.1742-1825

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Gerorge Chalmers ca.1742-1825

Biographical Note

George Chalmers (bap. 1742, d. 1825) was born in Fochabers, Moray, to John Chalmers and Isabella Ruddock. He briefly attended King's College, University of Aberdeen, before studying law at the University of Edinburgh. In 1763, Chalmers travelled to America and practiced law in Maryland for 12 years. Due to his loyalist sympathies, he left for England shortly after the outbreak of the American War of Independence.

In 1786, Chalmers was appointed chief clerk to the committee of the privy council for all matters related to trade and foreign plantations. He was a fellow of the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquarians of London. He never married and died in London in 1825.

During his life, Chalmers published numerous works, including several biographies and various political and historical writings, most notably:

Caledonia [London, 1807-1824]

The Life of Mary, Queen of Scots [London, 1818]


Chalmers died without a will, leaving his nephew James Chalmers to petition for permission to administer his estate. The library was inherited by James who passed away in 1841. Constable (i465) states that it was thought James would bequeath the library to the Faculty of Advocates, but the appointment of Dr. Irving as librarian displeased him. Instead, the library was sold at auction by booksellers, Messrs. Evans in London.

The auction was held in three parts in September 1841, March 1842, and November 1842 and sold for a total sum of £6,190 and 11s. The first auction consisted of 2292 lots, which included 379 folios and 4 incunabula. The second auction had 1514 lots, which included 212 folios and 2 incunabula. The third auction had 1966 lots and contained many Scottish books. It included 201 folios, 343 manuscripts, 16 maps, and 22 paintings and prints.

The library as a whole contained many 16th century books, including several Aldines and books printed by Wynkyn de Worde, Day, Pynson, and Berthelet. It also held many religious and political tracts, books on early American political history and settlement, poetry and plays.

Bookplate of George Chalmers (University of Glasgow Ferguson Af-g.39)

Noteworthy selections:

Shakespeare's Folios (Lots 935-953 March 1842; Lots 1413-1417 Nov 1842)

Knox's History of the Church of Scotland (1584) (Lot 375 Nov 1842)

Gavin Douglas's Palis of Honoure (1553) (Lot 478 Nov 1842)

In addition to printed volumes, the library contained hundreds of letters and notes, as well as newspaper clippings and copies of official documents. It was remarked that copious notes written by Chalmers could be found in the margins of books and manuscripts.

Examples: Glasgow University Library Bf72-e.6; Mu30-c.14; Bh12-f.32; Cambridge University Library SL.5.11-12

Characteristic Markings

Used an armorial bookplate (Franks 5491): Chalmers, Geo., Esq., F.R., S.S.A.; Armorial spade shield

The auction catalogues also note that many volumes were bound in red, blue, or olive morocco.


  • Cockroft, Grace Amelia. The Public Life of George Chalmers, 1939.
  • Constable, Thomas. Archibald Constable and his literary correspondents: A memorial. Edinburgh, 1873.
  • Gambier Howe, E. R. J. Franks bequest: catalogue of British and American book plates bequeathed to the British Museum. London, 1903-4.
  • Chalmers, G. Catalogue of the very curious, valuable, and extensive library of the late George Chalmers which will be sold by auction by Messrs. Evans on Monday, Sept. 27 1841 (Monday March 7...Thursday November 10 1842). London, 1841.
  • Toit, Alexander Du. "Chalmers, George (bap. 1742, d. 1825), antiquary and political writer." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.