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Bring the Bards Home

The remarkable Honresfield Library – a private collection almost entirely inaccessible to scholars and the general public since the 1930s – has come up for auction at Sotheby’s. Many of the works in the library are of deep significance to Scotland’s literary and cultural history, and the opportunity to secure such treasures for the nation is extremely rare.

Robert Burns 'First Commonplace Book'

The Honresfield Treasures

Alongside manuscripts by Sir Walter Scott and the Brontë sisters is an early volume of poems by Robert Burns in his own hand, containing some of his earliest recorded literary works. Known as the First Commonplace Book, it was handwritten when Burns was 24, before he found fame on an international stage.

The collection also includes individual autograph poems (‘Cessnock Barges’ and ‘The Brigs of Ayr’), and a group of the poet’s earliest correspondence, including the only surviving letter to his beloved father.

Bring the Bards Home to Scotland

We want these items of unique cultural significance to come home to Scotland, where they can be made accessible to the public. We have therefore joined a consortium of heritage organizations, along with authors’ houses, museums, and libraries, with the express purpose of saving the collection for the United Kingdom. The whole campaign is being coordinated by the Friends of the National Libraries.

The Honresfield Library’s owners have delayed the sale to give our consortium the chance to acquire it. The consortium must raise $21 million (£15 million) by October 30, 2021 to stop the public sale of the library at Sotheby’s. We are already halfway there with gifts of $10.5 million (£7.5 million) secured for the effort.

If the Honresfield Library goes to auction, individual pieces are likely to sell for much higher than their estimated value and will be scattered across collections around the world. Success will mean that uniquely precious works penned by some of the greatest British writers ever, and collected obsessively in the 19th century by the Law brothers, will be made accessible to the public for the first time.

We are proud to be part of the consortium raising the money necessary to save this one-of-a-kind collection of literature for the nation. We’re thrilled to be working in partnership with the National Library of Scotland and Abbotsford (the home of Sir Walter Scott) to highlight the importance of the Scottish books in the collection, to save the library, and to bring these items home, where they will be cared for and made accessible through digital and other means.

This is fundamental to our core purpose of ensuring Scotland’s heritage is valued by everyone and protected now and for the future. We want to bring these precious works home where they belong.

How Americans Can Help

NTUSA is looking to our generous supporters to play a crucial role in the acquisition of this incredibly important piece of British history and culture. If we are successful, this invaluable collection will not only remain intact, but will be made publicly accessible for the first time.

YOU can be part of this unique effort. Americans can help save the library and bring Burns and Scott home by making a tax-deductible donation before October 30, 2021.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the value of the Scottish items in the library?
Sotheby’s and the library’s owners have offered the collection to our consortium for an outright purchase price of $21 million (£15 million). The 40 Scottish items in the library have a combined estimated value of $4 million (£2.75 million).

How much money does the National Trust for Scotland need to raise?
Individual partner organizations do not have individual financial goals. The eight consortium members are working together under the guidance of the Friends of the National Libraries to achieve the $21 million (£15 million) purchase price and ensure the future of this important collection.

What happens if the partner organizations do not raise the entire amount?
If the consortium is unable to raise $21 million (£15 million) by October 30, 2021, the library will go to public auction at Sotheby’s. In this case, it is expected that items will sell for far beyond the estimated value and could be split up, sold to private collectors or sent overseas, and lost to the nation forever.

Donations made to the Honresfield Library appeal via The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA will be returned or reallocated with permission from the donor.

Where will the items be stored?
A curatorial committee made up of representatives from each of the eight partner organizations and outside experts reviewed the collection and made recommendations about which individual pieces should be allocated to which consortium member. These decisions have been made based on the items themselves (that is, Scottish assets should go to Scotland) and each organization’s capacity to care for significant historic material. This innovative partnership approach also helps to ensure that the Honresfield collection will be accessible to the broadest possible audience.

How do you pronounce the library’s name?
Your guess is as good as ours! Around the office, we have been saying HON-ors-feld.

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