Andrew Gibson was a Scottish businessman and a highly regarded scholar and bibliophile. He had originally come to Belfast to act as agent for the shipowner G. & J. Burns Ltd. which for many years operated a daylight sailing between Ardrossan and Belfast. They were a very important firm and Gibson was personally responsible for all matters pertaining to their extensive passenger and goods shipping business. Gibson was also agent for the world-famous Cunard line. Gibson’s relocation to Belfast was no short-term business arrangement for he was to spend the rest of his life in the city, and his children all married into the local business community. He remained a deeply attached to Scotland throughout his life and was president of the Belfast Scottish Association and the Belfast Burns association. However, he also involved himself in the wider intellectual and cultural life of Belfast. He was a governor of the Linen Hall Library from 1894 until 1927 and played an active role in the life of the Library. D.J. Owen in his History of Belfast published in 1921 recalls one aspect of Gibson’s practical contribution to the Library:
In the Linenhall Library is a valuable collection of early Belfast printed books and a catalogue of early Belfast printed books 1694 and 1830 was compiled in 1890 by the late John Anderson FGS, then honorary secretary to the Library. Mr Andrew Gibson rendered a greater service in collating and arranging the Linenhall collection.
Gibson was also involved, along with F.J. Bigger and other leading members of the Linen Hall Library in the in the launching of the second series of Ulster Journal of Archaeology in 1894. this sought to:
…provide a ready vehicle for the researches and discoveries of the present race of Historical and Antiquarian Students, of whom there are many residing in Ulster whose literary merits will worthily sustain the ancient reputation of the north.
Today Gibson is chiefly remembered today as a bibliophile and an expert on poetry. He had a magnificent library with splendid collections of Thomas Moore and Allan Ramsay, the Scottish poet on whom he wrote a book entitled New Light on Allan Ramsay. But Gibson was especially famous as a collector of material on Burns; and he was fastidious in the development of this collection. He in fact spent more than twenty years building up this collection which contained no less than 728 distinct editions of the works of Robert Burns, numbering in excess of one thousand volumes, while the Burnsiana also numbered over one thousand volumes. The significance of the collection can be measured by Gibson’s lending hundreds of volumes to the Burns Exhibition that was held in the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts in 1896. The catalogue records Gibson’s:
…extensive and most valuable collection [that] contributed numerous editions both of early and late date, and especially the long series of editions prepared for popular consumption which tell so eloquently of the demand for Burns which exists among the masses.
A selection of Andrew Gibson’s collection of Allan Ramsay’s first and second edition collections of poetry. This small, but world class collection of arguably the second most important Scottish poet of the eighteenth century is one of major collections of Ramsay’s work.