The National Library of Scotland has acquired the first stand-alone publication of Sylvia Plath's work — which was printed in Edinburgh.
No more than 60 copies of the poem 'A Winter Ship' were made by Tragara Press, Scotland's leading private press of the 20th century. Its founder and sole operator, Alan Anderson, came across the poem through correspondence with Plath's husband Ted Hughes.
Rare Books Curator Graham Hogg said:
'Anderson was impressed with a short story by Hughes and asked if he had anything else that he could print. It was then that Hughes suggested a poem by his wife, Sylvia Plath.
'Like the rest of the public, Anderson had never heard of her before. He printed off two proof copies of the poem and Plath chose the one she liked best and sent it back to him with some corrections, and kept the other for herself. Anderson printed around 60 copies, which were gratefully received by Plath in July 1960. In a letter to her mother in December of that year she mentioned that she had been writing lots of Christmas cards and in many of them she has enclosed copies of the leaflet poem. Now we have one of them in our collections.'
The addition of 'A Winter Ship' also brings the Library closer to achieving a complete set of Tragara Press publications. From 1954 to 2012, Anderson printed almost 300 works on his own printing press — many of them literature and articles by authors from the 1890s, as well as contemporary 20th-century poets.
Graham Hogg added:
'Among book collectors, Anderson was renowned for the quality of his printing, his impeccable taste and his scholarship. His printing was elegant and understated — for him, the text itself was what was most important, and the high quality of the printing was merely an aid to appreciating it.
'It was a labour of love — Anderson wasn't in it for the money. He enjoyed almost six decades of printing what he wanted when he wanted. And he was clearly astute enough to know back in 1960 that Ted Hughes and his hitherto unknown wife would be influential figures in the world of English-language poetry for decades to come.'
The Library bought 'A Winter Ship' from a London-based bookseller last month, which was added to the Tragara Press Collection. The collection is available for viewing at the National Library of Scotland's Special Collections Reading Room.
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17 December 2018