Mauchlineware and Tartanware

“Just talk about something truly Scottish” was the assignment from the historical society. So, where to start? My most creative thoughts are usually enhanced by a nice single malt, so I poured a liberal dose of Talisker 10 year old and began to think.

What could be more Scottish than Ayrshire (home of Robert Burns), tartan design (it’s NOT plaid), inventions and inventors (Scotland claims a disproportionately high number of these)? Thank you, Talisker – I’ll talk about Mauchlineware and Tartanware.

In the early 1800s, craftsmen in the Ayrshire town of Mauchline (“mawk lin”) on the west coast of Scotland’s Lowlands, developed ingeniously hinged boxes made of wood from the plane tree (sycamore in America). The near-airtight boxes were ideal for keeping everything from snuff to everyday household items, and soon became very popular. Merchants began to decorate the Mauchlineware with scenes from the local areas in a process similar to decoupage. Soon, these “souvenirs” spread across the globe.

Enter the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837, and her love all “all things Scottish”. Here’s where the story gets really good! Capitalizing on the new popularity of tartans, brothers William and Andrew Smith developed an inking machine that replicated tartan patterns on paper, which in turn were applied to Mauchlineware and  covered with layers of protective shellac. Tartanware was born.

The most popular items of Tartanware were thread dispensers, egg cups, napkin rings, letter openers, pen trays, stamp boxes, and whisky glass holders – usually for travelling. The production of Tartanware came to an abrupt halt in 1933, when a fire destroyed the machinery used to print the tartan patterns.

I consoled myself with another Talisker, and called it a day. Bring on the historical society.

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