James Johnson (engraver)

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James Johnson (1753?–1811) was a Scottish engraver and publisher, now remembered for his connection with the Scots Musical Museum and Robert Burns.


From Ettrick, he became an engraver and music-seller in Edinburgh. He died there on 26 February 1811. A public appeal was made for his widow in March 1819.[1]

He was quite prolific as a music engraver; he made the plates for well over half the music printed in Scotland from 1772 and 1790.[2] He opened a music shop, Johnson & Co., in 1790 in the Lawnmarket. After his death the business was continued by his apprentice John Anderson (as Johnson & Anderson) until 1815.[2]

The Scots Musical Museum[edit]

Main article: Scots Musical Museum

Johnson had a plan for a two-volume collection of Scottish, Irish and English songs, when he met Robert Burns. The nature of the project then changed: its scope was restricted to Scottish songs, and the number of volumes rose to six, produced from 1787 to 1803. The success of the conception was not matched by financial security for Johnson.[3] Burns contributed 184 pieces; some were original, including many of his best-known lyrics, and others were alterations of or derived from old ballads. Prefaces to some of the volumes were by Burns, who in effect edited the work. Johnson tried pewter plates to cut down the production costs.[1]


  1. ^ a b  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1892). "Johnson, James (d.1811)". Dictionary of National Biography 30. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  2. ^ a b Frank Kidson et al.. "James Johnson", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed January 14 2014), grovemusic.com (subscription access).
  3. ^ Hunter, Richard Ian. "Johnson, James". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/14890.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney, ed. (1892). "Johnson, James (d.1811)". Dictionary of National Biography 30. London: Smith, Elder & Co.