Robert Burns is arguably the most celebrated Scottish poet and one of the most renowned figures in the world’s poetry. However, this didn’t stop one barber from using one of his rare books to clean razors.
Scottish museum Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries recently put on display the first edition of Burns’ debut book of poems, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. This particular book is notable not only for its rarity but also for the story that follows it.
The copy of the book was discovered by accident by one British merchant John Murison. Back in the late 19th century, Murison found himself in a small barbershop when he noticed a copy of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect on the counter. The barber was tearing the pages from the book to clean his razors.
Being a Burns enthusiast, Murison knew how valuable the book was and decided to rescue it. He bought it from the barber and kept it in his expansive private collection of Burns’ works. The collection, which has over 1700 books and ephemera, was later gifted to Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries.
The rescued book has three first three poems missing, while only a page and a half remains of the fourth poem.
Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, was originally released in 1786. Only 612 copies were printed, and the run was sold out in less than a month. It is estimated that 84 copies have survived to date.