11 March 2014

A Beautiful Tartanware Book: Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake

Image Copyright Parvum Opus
One of my favorite things: Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake,
published in 1874 by John Ross and Company, Edinburgh.
Images copyright Parvum Opus.

I've had a deep appreciation for exquisitely made objects for as long as I can remember, and among my favorites are books, which I treasure for both the craft and beauty of their bindings as well as the beauty of the ideas within. My Tartanware copy of Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake is a particularly special example.

Image copyright Parvum Opus


As you can see, it features a tooled and gilded leather spine, and papier-mâché Tartanware covers. Throughout the pages, small photographs are pasted in, with lovely views of Scottish lochs and castles. When I first received this wonderful gift (thank you dear husband!), I was especially charmed by tiny mother of pearl bun feet on the back of the book. What a jewel! Given that this book's publication made Scotland's Trossachs an enduring tourist destination, it makes perfect sense that a Tartanware edition would appear.

Image Copyright Parvum Opus
If you look closely, you can see the tiny mother of pearl feet
attached with brass tacks.

Tartanware was designed primarily as souvenir ware, and originated in the early part of the nineteenth century. These small personal goods (boxes, sewing tools, desk accessories, books, etc.)were designed to capitalize on the newly mobile middle class tourist population. You can imagine how popularity of these trinkets soared with Queen Victoria's commission of two new Tartans for the royal family. 


I wish this box was in my collection: a miniature Robertson Tartanware box,
with a hand-painted picture of Balmoral before
Prince Albert made his additions, signed "Lamme Cumnock", c. 1850.
Image courtesy The Telegraph.

The Lady of the Lake is a narrative poem composed of six cantos, and was first published in 1810. It was hugely influential at the time and contributed to the Highland Revival, which culminated in 1822 with a visit by King George IV to Edinburgh for a pageant orchestrated by a vary patriotic Sir Walter Scott. I'm so glad for this confluence of poetry and craft, and that we can still enjoy the lovely books and objects born of it.


A portrait bust of Sir Walter Scott,
in the University of North Carolina collection.
Image courtesy UNC.

10 comments:

  1. This is a very nice work!
    Is the tartan applicated ON the leather spine or between leather and board?
    so did they upholster the board and glue it than onto the leather spine?it looks like.
    Maybe it is a restauration?
    Greetings from a german manor ,bookbinder Katja

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    Replies
    1. Dear Katja,

      Welcome, and thank you for your message. When I first saw this book, with it's leather spine and papier mache covers, I also thought it might be a one-off piece, constructed from a leather book and then altered. However, I've learned that, although rare, there are other examples of these books, all works by Scott. They must have been produced as sets in small quantities... The covers rigid and slightly domed, and do not appear to be laid over a leather or other cover... As you can see from the photos, the edges between the spine and covers are a bit awkward, but this is so on all of the books I've seen. It is an interesting mystery-- if I find anything more about the history of these books, I'll gladly share it!
      Warm regards,
      Erika

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  2. Dear Erika - I really should have some tartan-ware having lived in Scotland for 5 years, but do admire your book. Having the small bun feet on the reverse makes it particularly appealing.
    As far as I can remember tartan-ware was an offshoot developed from Mauchlineware in the town of Mauchline, Ayrshire.

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    Replies
    1. Dear Rosemary,
      Thank you for your message. Having lived in Scotland, I think indeed you're right: a trip to your local antiques dealer is in order! It is true that this type of work is related to Mauchlineware and Tunbridgeware. I only wish the newly-produced souvenirs one finds in faraway places today were as wonderful as these little pieces were!
      Warm regards,
      Erika

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    2. Dear Erika - I think that the front cover is actually made of wood usually sycamore. The earliest books were decorated with skilled hand ruling and pen work applied directly to the wood. However, during the mid 19th century an inking machine was employed to paper which was then stuck to the wood. Numerous coats of varnish were then applied.

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    3. Thank you Rosemary-- as always your input is helpful and most welcome!

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  3. Hello Erika, Old tartanware always catches my eye, and your Lady of the Lake is a very elegant example. I have often noticed how mother of pearl was used to add luxurious touches to 19th century objects, from snuff boxes to daguerreotype cases, and now your tartanware edition of Scott.
    --Jim

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    Replies
    1. Hello Jim,
      Thank you for your message. I'm intrigued by these colorful objects as well. I wonder if the widespread use of mother of pearl had something to do with the ease of carving and forming this material? I'm sure most small buttons, etc. made today are plastic-- not nearly as nice!
      Warm regards,
      Erika

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  4. Dear Erika,

    I've always been attracted to tartanware, and have been sorely tempted to collect it. I'm somewhat of an Anglophile, and between that and the striking graphic design of plaids, I could see a whole shelf of it in my house. But for now, I will satisfy the urge by dropping by to see your lovely examples. Your book is one of the nicest tartanwares I've seen.

    Best wishes, Mark

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    Replies
    1. Hello Mark,
      I have a feeling that, like me, you have a long list of things to avoid out of fear of becoming obsessed! There are so many lovely objects out there-- it's important to maintain focus, isn't it?!
      Warm regards,
      Erika

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