The Henry Dyer Collection

A collection of over 6000 volumes and 172 Japanese art works from Henry Dyer (1848-1918), engineer, educationalist and writer.

Henry Dyer

Portrait of Henry Dyer

Portrait of Henry Dyer

Born in Bellshill in 1848, Henry Dyer served an apprenticeship with James Aitken & Co. in Cranstonhill before attending Glasgow University. At the age of 24 - having just completed his studies - he was invited to become the Principal of the new Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo and spent the next 10 years turning it into the most advanced institute of its kind in the world.

He received the Order of the Rising Sun (Third Class) from the Emperor before returning to Glasgow, where he was elected as chairman of the School Board of Glasgow and received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Glasgow. 

A biography of Henry Dyer is available on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography website.

About the collection

Detail from Kabuki actors in a scene from the play Sawa murasaki iro no minakami. 1849.


Bequeathed by Dyer's family to The Mitchell Library in the 1920s, most of the 6,000 items have been added to library stock. These items have a special emphasis on Glasgow, Scotland and Japanese life. The Japanese scrolls and albums have been kept together to form a special collection in their own right.

Japanese prints and scrolls

Detail from Festival of the First Horse Day at Oji Inari Shrine. UtagawaToyokuni. Colour woodblock print. 1847-52.


The Japanese scrolls and albums were seen as being especially unique and have been kept together to form a special collection in their own right.

Japanese pictorial arts was founded on the Chinese, and evolved into two main groups: the aristocratic Kano or Tosa schools of painting and the Ukiyoye School. The scrolls and illustrated albums of the Dyer collection belong, in the main, to the latter.

Literally Ukiyoye means “pictures for the multitude”. The artists associated with this school, e.g. Toyokuni, Kunisada and Kuniyoshi, were, with few exceptions, of the people themselves. They confined their illustrations to subjects of common interest, with scenes and incidents taken from everyday life.

Theatrical scenes and portraits of Kabuki actors were particularly popular, as well as historical and legendary events. In the latter days of the School an interest in landscapes developed, particularly mountains, rivers and other topographical features of the countryside. Apart from their intrinsic artistic value, the scenes depicted have also provided future generations with a vivid insight into the manners and customs of the past.

The prints in the Dyer collection are in various formats, and show why Japan gained universal recognition as being a world leader in the art of colour printing. As well as the illustrated albums, there are horizontal reading scrolls and Kakemono or hanging scroll pictures, providing illustrations of traditional subjects such as flowers, birds, Kabuki actors and Japanese warlords

Henry Dyer: Japanese prints and scrolls in The Mitchell (PDF, 1.6MB).

Finding aid

Please contact Special Collections or 0141 287 2988 if you would like to access this collection.

Image gallery

cross-section from gallery

Kabuki Actors: taken from a bound volume of 16 prints. Kabuki is a traditional Japanese theatre form with its origins in early 1600s. It combines acting, dancing, music to create a fantastic theatrical spectacle.


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