Burns first edition sold for £40,000


A FIRST edition copy of Robert Burns poems dating from 1786  has sold for £40,000.

Known as The Kilmarnock Edition it is one of only twelve copies still in private hands .

The book was bought from Lyon & Turnbull auctioneers by an unnamed Scottish institution.

Burns impersonator Chris Tait posed with the Kilmarnock edition earlier this month

A representative, who wishes to remain anonymous, said “This book is the most important work in Scottish literature. We have bought it not only as an investment for the future, but will make it available to any organisation or person who may wish to see it. I am happy it will be staying in Scotland and in particular it shall remain in our offices in Edinburgh.”

Burns’s farming activities at Mossgiel farm, near Mauchline in Ayrshire, were not profitable and his willingness to marry Jean Armour, who was pregnant by him, was opposed by her father, so Burns made plans to emigrate.

It was only the suggestion of a local lawyer, Gavin Hamilton, that he could finance his voyage to Jamaica by publishing some of his poems,that led to him approaching a local printer, John Wilson, in Kilmarnock.

The edition sold for £40,000

Simon Vickers, Book Specialist at Lyon & Turnbull said “After whisky, Scotland’s most famous exports are its authors and intellectuals – Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and R.L. Stevenson spring immediately to mind.

But whereas Scott and R.L. Stevenson are famous for a dozen works or more, Burns’s reputation the world over rests on a single volume and it nearly never saw the light of day.”

Wilson published a slim volume of poetry under the unassuming title Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect, on July 31, 1786 and Scottish literary history came of age.

Selling for three shillings the entire print-run of 612 copies sold out within a month, justifying Burns’s belief in his abilities and the merit of his poems.

The volume contained much of his best writing, including The Twa  Dogs, Address to the Deil, Halloween, The Cotter’s Saturday Night, To a Mouse, Epitaph for James Smith and To a Mountain Daisy, many of which had been written at Mossgiel farm. The success of the work was immediate.

Other Burns items in the sale included an autographed and signed letter, apparently unpublished, from Burns’s lover, Agnes M’Lehose, known by Burns’s epithet ‘Clarinda’, which sold for £7,500.