The attractive wooden souvenirs named after the Scottish town of Mauchline combined usefulness with fine craftsmanship, resulting in a wide range of popular goods


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Mauchline Ware


 The attractive wooden souvenirs named after the Scottish town of Mauchline combined usefulness with fine craftsmanship, resulting in a wide range of popular goods.

 Mauchline (pronounced 'Moch'lin) ware was extremely popular in Victorian times. It takes its name from the small coastal town near Ayr that was the main centre of its manufacture, though not the only one.

 The town's most famous factory was the 'Box Works', run by the brothers William and Andrew Smith, which continued in business until closed by a fire in 1933.

 So great was the brothers' repertoire that in 1850 Andrew Smith was able to say that his firm's products consisted of 'almost every article you can conceive it possible to make, from postage-stamp boxes to tea trays'.

 In the 1860s, at the peak of the trade, having taken over most of their competitors, and employing over 400 people, they opened a warehouse and a factory in Birmingham.

 By this time, the Smiths were turning out tens of thousands of pieces in hundreds of styles.

 Items were often decorated with pictures of Scottish heroes like Robert Burns, who was associated with the town of Mauchline, or with illustrations of famous resorts and renowned views.

 There was hardly a town or a view in Scotland that was not immortalized in Mauchline ware, and there was scarcely a place in the British Isles where it could not be bought.

 It was also successfully exported to France, America, Canada and Australia.


 Mauchline ware was usually made of sycamore, which is a creamy-white, close-textured wood, generally free of blemishes.

 Articles were first made up, then decorated. Early 19th-century, hand-drawn illustrations were followed by tartan decoration, which was itself hand-painted onto the pieces.

 Later, a machine was developed that drew the tartan pattern onto paper, which was then stuck on.

 Tartan sewing eggs or etuis were especially attractive. These wooden eggs contained thread, needles and thimble, and were finished with tartan paper.

 Because paper cannot be made to cover a curved surface without creasing, it had to be stuck on in segments. Where the segments met, a fine line was carefully gilded, attractively masking the joint.

 From the middle of the 19th century onwards, transfers were used. These were made from 'Japanese' paper which was laid onto a painted plate and then lifted off and placed on the article to be decorated.

 Actual photographs were also used as decoration, notably by Archibald Brown, a keen photographer and former employee of the Smiths, who set up the Caledonian Box Works at Lanark.


 Now that Mauchline ware has become so collectable, it can be found in many antiques shops and in bric-a-brac shops, though it is still not universally known.

 The pieces are small, easy to store and dust, and easy to display in glass cases or in the open. They should, however, be kept out of bright sunlight which will fade their decoration.

 Because Mauchline ware was manufactured in such huge quantities, using similar techniques for decades on end, pieces ate inevitably difficult to date.

 Look out for commemorative pieces, as their origins are automatically easier to trace. A number of major exhibitions and royal occasions were marked by transfer views. The coronation of King George V in 1910 was probably the last occasion on which they were used.


 Carefully purchased and cared for, Mauchine ware pieces are a source of great interest, and are likely to appreciate in value over the years.
The range of products is so great - including such items as whist markers, parasol handles, lip salve cases and children's money boxes - that some collectors like to specialize in either a type of product or one of several styles of decoration.

 A field of its own is fern ware, which began to appear soon after 1870.  Real ferns were used to produce the surface decoration, and although the pattern was used on a much smaller scale than transfers or tartans, it still appeared on quite a range of articles.


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