Rare Robert Burns book found in a barber shop goes on display | Robert Burns


A rare first edition of Robert Burns’s debut poetry collection, found in a barber shop, has gone on display in Fife, Scotland.

The book, titled Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, is missing its first 50 pages. These were ripped out by the owner of a barber shop in Shrewsbury in Shropshire, who used them to clean his razors.

John Murison, a Burns enthusiast, purchased the book in the late 19th century, after spotting it in the shop. It is not known exactly when he rescued the book, but it is thought to have been in the 1880s or 1890s.

The book, most commonly known as the Kilmarnock Edition, is now on display at Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries in Fife, next to the Abbey Church which Burns visited in 1787. It will be on display until 5 February.

Only 612 copies of Burn’s book were printed in 1786. It is thought that only 84 survive.

Sara Kelly, local studies officer with cultural charity OnFife, which runs the library, said it is unclear how the book made its way to Shropshire.

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“The only noted owner is an Alexander Dick in 1790, so there’s more research to be done if we are to chart the book’s journey to Shrewsbury,” she said. “It’s wonderful that John Murison had the presence of mind to step in and save the book, given that so few of them still exist.

“It doesn’t go on show very often because of its condition and rarity.”

The book has to be housed in a conservation box, which is paid for by the Dunfermline United Burns Club, because of its fragile condition.

The book is part of the Murison Burns Collection, which is in the care of OnFife and consists of pottery, portraits and other items. Murison was born in Glasgow and worked as a travelling seed merchant, a job that took him to Shrewsbury.

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect will be displayed with other material from the collection, which consists of a total of 1,700 artefacts. The collection was bought by Sir Alexander Gibb, whose construction firm was responsible for building Rosyth dockyard. He gifted it to Dunfermline Carnegie Library in 1921.

In 2019, Christie’s sold a copy of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect for £56,250. Last year it was revealed that Burns, who is perhaps most famous for his poem Auld Lang Syne, was advised not to write in Scots by a correspondent, who said it would alienate people in London and limit his audience.



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