I’ve been fascinated with Tartanware for years. I think I first saw these interesting highly collectible pieces at an Armory antique show in New York many years ago. Then in decorative art books and shelter magazine articles. When thinking of this post I wanted to talk with a Tartan expert and that person was Jeffrey Banks, a true Renaissance Man with so much knowledge about so many lifestyle topics. If you follow my blog you have read my interview with Jeffrey as well as a review of his current brilliant monograph NORELL: Master of American Fashion. I also talked about his first book TARTAN: Romancing The Plaid in a Randolph Street Market blog post several years ago and one that I am reprinting this week in this blog. All of Jeffrey’s extraordinary books are must haves in your library.
“Tartanware, was the name given the ‘souvenirs of Scotland’ that were usually small wooden objects covered in miniature tartan paper and then covered with varnish used to publicize a company’s connection with Scotland. These delicate small objects included egg cups, sewing kits, obelisk thermometers and napkin rings. Though never intended to be Collectables, these treasures were, if you will, ‘Cracker Jack‘ prizes for those doing business with Scottish companies. Made chiefly by the Mauchlin Company in Scotland around the turn of the century, these Objects were popularized by the almost fanatic following of anything Scottish loved by Queen Victoria. Never really meant to last for long lengths of time these items are much prized today by collectors as they have become exceedingly rare to find in mint condition. The most prized (and indeed most rare) are the larger Tartanware items like trunks and small pieces of furniture.” Quote from Jeffrey Banks.
When speaking with Jeffrey last week I asked him about the first piece he collected for his now vast collection, he paused, thought about it and said “I think a napkin ring.” This beginning of a carefully curated collection has become quite extensive. Here is a photo of some of his collection and several other photos he shared with me for this post.
The following photos Jeffrey shared with me, not in his collection.
Tartanware was produced in the Scottish town of Mauchline from the early 1800s to 1933. The prime company was William & Andrew Smith of Mauchlin, from 1821 onwards. In 1852, Prince Albert purchased Balmoral estate in the Scottish Highlands for Queen Victoria. The Queen had a passion for Tartan and visitors to Scotland wanted small Tartanware items that were easy to take home, and something the Queen might endorse. Many pieces were what we would call today “gifts with purchase” and used as marketing other products…as Jeffrey mentioned in his quote “like Cracker Jack prizes”. Originally, they were hand painted, in 1853, new machines were invented to speed up the manufacturing process. Tartan designs were applied to paper and then glued to small everyday objects. The items were heavily varnished giving them longevity, thankfully for today’s collectors. In 1933 production of Tartanware came to an end after a fire destroyed the printing machinery.
The following are images I have collected, over time, found on Pinterest photo credits unknown. Some individual pieces and some decorating ideas….enjoy!