Sunday 9 October 2011

“Mauchline” Scottish Transfer Ware – An Appreciation

Mauchline [pronounced Moch’lin’] Ware is now the generic term for items of decorative wooden transfer ware produced primarily in Ayrshire Scotland from 1810 through to 1933. 

A well used but early holly root snuff box with engraved and
painted image of a rider atop his horse on the underside,
circa 1850's. Maker : I. Richmond, Cumnock

The top of the above snuff box showing the holly root.

Production initially comprised solely of hand decorated wooden snuff boxes which included a highly ingenious hidden hinge. By the 1820’s over 50 factories in Ayrshire were producing snuff boxes, mainly using sycamore for its pleasing colour and grain. Diversification into small items for personal and domestic use had commenced from as early as the 1830’s. By the 1870’s the declining use of snuff additionally led to the manufacture of all manner of souvenir items.

 The colourful front plates to two religious
 memorial text books (normally used as
 birthday books), purchased in 1881-1882

 The attractive floral back panel of the lower of the above
 two books, purchased in January 1882 as a parting gift
for a friend before he emigrated to New Zealand.

The range of items produced was truly varied, including boxes and card cases, tea caddies, sewing and knitting requisites, birthday book covers, writing requisites, tableware, gaming ware, children’s toys, commemorative ware and much much more. That most items were generally designed with some useful purpose in mind helped ensure the sale of large quantities of “Mauchline Ware”.

Two sycamore wood napkin rings with an engraving of
the Burns Monument at Ayr including the caption
"Made of Wood Grown on the Banks of the Doon".

The main defining difference to other souvenir ware was the trademark transfer applied to most items, being primarily of a Scottish personage of note [Burns and Scott were naturally popular!], a town, building or seaside resort. Transfer printing commenced from at least the early 1850’s. The development of photogravure processes additionally led, from around the mid 1860’s, to the use of real photographic images.

d A Sycamore wood pin cushion including
an engraving of Burns' Cottage at Alloway
 in Ayrshire. A caption printed on the
 reverse includes a verse from Robert
 Burns and the words
"Bought in the [Burns] Monument".

Interestingly, the printing plates for “transfer ware” and “photographic ware” were expensive to produce. Most plates were manufactured prior to 1880 with few, if any, plates being manufactured after 1890. Thus astonishingly many old plates with outdated views continued to be used for another 40 years! Therefore accurately dating some items of “Mauchline Ware” can often be problematic.

A relatively rare coloured fernware jewellery box in sycamore wood.

Other variations of “Mauchline Ware” included an attractive tartan design [which is now highly prized by collectors], ferns, “sea flowers” [seaweed], and [after the death of Prince Albert in 1861] black lacquer ware. Additionally some items included details of their provenance such as [allegedly!] “Made of Wood Grown on the Banks of the Doon” or “Bought in the Cottage [Burns’ Cottage, Alloway]”. A visual – and moreover useful - reminder of a visit to an historic building or seaside town provided a particularly appealing purchase for Victorian and Edwardian visitors.

This miniature Grandfather Clock  is believed
 to be a piece of Mauchline Black Lacquer Ware
 and includes a photographic image of a delivery
cart and men in Kirk Street, Strathaven. On the
door are printed the words and musical score
for "My Grandfather's Clock". The "clock"
itself is provided by a pocket watch.
 Circa 1880's.

 During the heyday of the 1860’s up to 400 people had been employed in the manufacture of “Mauchline Ware”. But by the second decade of the 20th century production and sales had steadily fallen. Finally, two fires at the sole remaining factory in Mauchline in the early 1920’s and again in 1933, with the consequent loss of equipment and printing plates, dealt the final blow effectively ending production after an eventful history of over 120 years. 

A small sycamore wood jewellery box with an engraving of Burns'
Cottage at Alloway, Ayrshire, including the caption
 "Bought in the Cottage" and a verse from Robert Burns.

These now highly collectable and decorative items frequently command high prices attesting to the quality of their manufacture as well as their unique and quintessentially Scottish flavour. Ultimately the attractiveness, condition and rarity of each item will determine its value. The highly collectable “Tartanware” can sell for a premium of up to 50% more than other transfer ware.

Two sycamore wood shot glass holders, one with an image of Burns' Cottage at Alloway and stating "Bought in the Cottage" and
the other with an engraving of "Rothesay [Bay] from the East".

The range of “Mauchline Ware” was not however limited to Scotland, growing to include England, France and the Continent, and many countries within the British Empire. Items for export would normally include a transfer or photographic image of a building or town within the country of sale. 

 An oak snuff box in the "Mauchline" style and made of wood  from the
foundations of the "Auld Brig o' Ayr" [the old bridge, Ayr], Built 1252.
Although unmarked this item may possibly be the work of John Lyall
 of Ayr who is known to have made various souvenir items made
of oak from the Auld Brig o' Ayr.

A range of transfer ware of varying styles and varying condition may still be found today, occasionally in antique stores but mainly on Internet auction sites. For those who enjoy the fun of searching for and adding to their collections “Mauchline Ware” can make for a rewarding and rather addictive hobby!

Bibliography :

- “Mauchline Ware” by John Baker, 2004
- "Mauchline Ware : An Industry that Started by Accident!” by John Baker [Internet]

All items shown are from my own personal collection.