Collector saves rare Robert Burns book after barber uses it to clean razors

Unfinished book at Burns Night (25 January) Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Fife Galleries - OnFife/PA

Unfinished book will be on display at Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries in Fife on Burns Night (25 January) – OnFife/PA

A 19th-century Robert Burns memorabilia collector stopped a barber from tearing up the pages of one of the poet’s most precious works to clean razors, the incident came to light Monday.

John Murison, a Glasweg seed trader, saved a precious first edition of Poems Chiefly In The Scottish Dialect after he noticed it in a worn condition as he passed the shop in Shrewsbury.

According to archivists, the unnamed barber tore up about 50 pages to wipe his tools before Murison stepped in to buy the job.

Only 612 copies of Burns’ first collection, commonly known as the Kilmarnock Edition, were printed in 1786, and only 84 are currently thought to have survived worldwide.

It is not known for certain when Mr Murison hid the book, but it is believed to be around the 1880s.

The incomplete book will be on display on Burns Night (25 January) at the Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries in Fife, next to the Abbey Church that Burns visited in 1787.

How the book got to Shropshire is a mystery, said Sara Kelly, local research officer at OnFife, the cultural charity that runs the library.

He said: “The sole owner is an Alexander Dick in 1790, so there is still more research to be done if we want to map the book’s journey to Shrewsbury.

“With so few books out there, it’s great that John Murison was sane enough to step in and save the book.

“Due to its condition and rarity it is not shown very often.”

Mr Murison’s treasure chest has 1,700 artifacts

The book will be on display along with other Burns-related material collected by Murison over the years and will be displayed in the reading room from January 3 to February 5.

Mr Murison’s treasury of 1,700 works, considered one of the world’s finest collections of Burns-related material, was purchased by construction tycoon Sir Alexander Gibb, who gifted it to the Dunfermline Carnegie Library in 1921.

The Murison Kilmarnock Edition was last displayed before the first curfew in 2020 as part of the Tae A Bard exhibit in libraries and galleries.

Due to its fragile condition, the book is kept in a protective box paid for by Dunfermline United Burns Club.

Mainly Poems in Scottish Dialect was published by John Wilson of Kilmarnock and the entire edition was sold out within a month.

The cut print is part of the John Murison Collection managed by OnFife.

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