Saturday - 01 November 2014

For those who liked to be beside the seaside…

24 October 2003Written by ATG Reporter

Mauchline Ware: A Collector’s Guide by David Trachtenberg and Thomas Keith, published by the Antique Collectors’ Club. ISBN 1851493921. £35 hb

Mauchline’s transfer ware includes 2000-3000 views of Britain alone. Looking through the appendix that lists them gives the reader a special flavour of the Victorians’ and Edwardians’ passionate attachment to The Holidays, following which homes would be overflowing with souvenirs as reminders of places and events with which to impress their friends. The cost of rail travel was increased specifically to “restrict the more rowdy elements of the working class from travelling to the seaside”.

Alongside the piers, churches, lighthouses, esplanades and grand hotels there are links to the Victorian nervousness about health, with the Invalids’ Walk at Bournemouth and convalescent homes across the country, and not a few oddities, including Queen Elizabeth I’s pocket pistols at Dover and the Tower of Refuge on the Isle of Man.

In the south west of Scotland, the small town of Mauchline – pronounced ‘maa klin, not moch lin’ apparently – became known for small and sometimes beautifully made wooden souvenirs. Although more than 50 factories once produced Mauchline ware, many of them snuffbox producers, the largest and most successful manufacturers of these little trinkets was the Mauchline firm of W&A Smith at the Smith Boxworks. The 1830s-1933 saw a massive production by this firm of the ‘Scottish white wood products’ and ‘Scottish fancy goods’, bought as mementos by tourists, with hardly a location in Scotland unrecorded.

These souvenirs included a huge array of objects, many of them sewing tools, but also candlesticks, boxes of every shape and size, stationery items, picture frames and fireplace screens, all in one of the five finishes associated with Mauchline, including mass-produced decorative “pen and ink” transfer ware, plus tartanware, black lacquer ware, photographic ware and the collectable and delicate fossil-like fern ware.

For lovers of Mauchline ware – and this is a big collecting area in the US – there is little published material, save for Shire’s excellent Mauchline Ware, by John Baker, 1985, that is still in print, and the seminal work done by Edward and Eva Pinto who wrote five books on treen and woodware, including Tunbridge and Scottish Souvenir Woodware, published in 1970.

David Trachtenberg is a New Yorker who “operates an architectural code consulting firm”, while Thomas Keith works for a New York City publishing firm. Their book is certainly the first to provide very detailed coverage of American, Canadian and other world views outside the UK – thus the book’s price guide is dollar-led.

The book covers in depth Mauchline ware’s history, its production and distribution, and the finishes, with a long look at transfer ware subjects.

The chapter on the Victorian holiday is revealing in its coverage of the US. Unlike the British who so loved the seaside resort, this sort of vacation had no allure for the Americans, and never developed into an entire industry, or a lucrative trade in transfer-printed seaside scenes. For Americans a holiday was an adventure, an excursion or an expedition into the spectacular and majestic wildernesses to be found inland. We may have the Skegness Herbert Ingram Lifeboat, Southend’s Shrubbery and the Jetty Extension Margate, but America has the Devil’s Oven, the Catskill Mountains and Colorado’s Cave of the Winds.

There is much on the Robert Burns’ connection with Mauchline ware and the book is blessed with excellent colour photography, while its 11 appendices include a product list, a tartan list, lists of every known transfer-ware view, a list of “Made from the Wood of”, which includes bits of Burns relics... “oak walking stick ...made from a rafter of Gavin Hamilton’s House... where Burns was married”.

Excellent value at £35 as a reference work for Mauchline ware collectors and dealers.

Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.

Written by

ATG Reporter

Back to top