Three of Scotland’s Crafts of the Past

Christmas is a time when fine Scotches are on the minds of aficionados, both for gifting and receiving. When an authentic Scottish whisky-related antique joins the bottle, an unforgettable gift for a whisky drinker is born.

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This Mauchlineware whisky glass holder shows a Welsh mountain scene, as viewed from the small Welsh town of Rhyd Dhu.

In 1820s Mauchline, Scotland, innovative snuff box craftsmen began making superior quality items of everyday use, decorated with scenes of local towns and scenery. In a process much like today’s decoupage, the simple pieces, made from a sycamore-like wood called plane, became wildly popular as souvenirs. Soon, images from all over the world adorned the Mauchlineware.

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Clan names were usually printed in gold, somewhere on the tartanware piece.

Within 20 years, brothers William and Andrew Smith were the largest Mauchlineware manufacturers and had developed a second product called tartanware. Using the same simple plane wood pieces, the Smiths covered the items with hand-applied colors that replicated Scottish tartans. This very laborious process was replaced in 1840 when the brothers invented an ingenious inking machine that created tartan patterns on thin paper.  Items including candle sticks, thimble cases, egg cups and timers, napkin rings, brooches and desk top accessories were all covered with the patterns. Most pieces of tartanware also bore the name of the Scottish tartan somewhere on the piece. Being Scotland, containers to protect whisky glasses during travel, were very popular.

Following Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne, building her summer home in Scotland, and the subsequent popularizing of “all things Scottish”, tartanware became a world-wide sensation. Its production was tragically halted in 1933 when a fire destroyed the bespoke machinery used to create the tartan patterns. Tartanware instantly became a valuable collectible.

Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky is a Scotch that recently earned world-wide headlines. It was blended and bottled by Charles Mackinlay & Sons of Leith and Inverness, Scotland. In 1907, crates of it were shipped to Antarctica by the explorer Ernest Shackleton, for his “Nimrod” expedition, headed for the South Pole. The expedition was thwarted by weather and abandoned. Several wooden crates were discovered a century later, in Shackleton’s frozen hut. Through the diligent work of Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay’s Master Blender, a replica of the original 1907 whisky is now available.

Although implausible that the Shackleton expedition carried tartanware whisky glass holders, it is interesting to muse at the possibility.

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“The Shackleton” whisky – Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky, and a MacPherson tartanware whisky glass holder.

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