Tracking the Kilmarnock Burns: Allan Young's Census and the Hunt for 'Lost' Copies

Document Type


Subject Area(s)

Scottish literature, rare book librarianship


Presents an overview of the aims and process of Allan Young's project to create a census of all surviving copies of Robert Burns's first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Kilmarnock: John Wilson, 1786), usually called "the Kilmarnock edition;" outlines the way in which earlier and current records describe copies through ownership marks, binding, size, and (in)completeness, to create a profile or DNA for each copy, often allowing its history to be traced in surprising detail; and illustrates the census method with short studies of three copies, the A.C. Lamb-Harry Widener copy, now at Harvard; the Dowager Countess of Glencairn-Gilbert Burns--H. Bradley Martin copy, so far untraced since it was last at auction in 1990; and the badly-damaged Edward Whigham copy, recorded in 1896, and again 1910, and then lost again for a hundred years, till it was identified as a recent acquisition at Princeton. The article concludes with an appeal for information about copies in libraries or private ownership of which the census compilers might be unaware.