by Jim McGhee
I knew absolutely nothing
about Mauchline Ware before this talk; now I feel quite well
informed! Jim McGhee gave us a very enjoyable and detailed talk
covering the history, manufacture, development and collection of
Mauchline Ware - a subject he is clearly very enthusiastic about.
My pen was red hot as I tried to take some notes and I can only
give a flavour of Jim's talk, but here goes!
referred to commonly as 'Mauchline Ware', this is a generic term
and the manufacture of small boxes and wooden trinkets was
undertaken in a number of towns in East Ayrshire. Box making
originally started in Cumnock about the 1780s and the Mauchline
firms acquired many of their craftsmen from there. Purists prefer
the term 'Box Ware' rather than 'Mauchline Ware'.
Charles Stivens (of
manufacturing 'classic' snuff boxes between 1780 and 1830 and
Crawford, a jeweller in Cumnock, also started making snuff boxes
copying the techniques used by Stevens.
There were many box companies including:
Caledonian Box Works
Hayes and Howgarth
W & A Smith (in Mauchline 1810-1939, the
Jack Davidson & Son
The manufacture of the
boxes involved many innovative techniques and specialist
wood was kiln dried (very unusual at the time) and the accuracy
of manufacture was amazing. Jim picked up a diamond shaped box
and was able to fit the lid either way round with equal quality
of fit! The wood for the boxes would be cut and prepared to size.
The sides would be glued together then the top and bottom
surfaces glued on and top curved edges routed. The box would then
be cut in two to create the top and bottom parts which were then
finished on a linisher. The box was then lacquered with many
coats to create the beautiful finish.
Much of the specialist
machinery used was designed and built by W & J McDowell which
the high level of craftsmanship used created products that were
not matched anywhere else in the world. At its peek, hundreds of
craftsmen were employed in the industry in Mauchline alone at its
height. Over a million boxes were manufactured. It is important
to remember that these were not exclusive, high cost items but
bulk quantity economy products sold at low cost or even given
away with another companies products.
The boxes were used for an
extraordinary range of purposes: tea caddies, needles and sewing,
snuff, storing games, money boxes, hairpins to name a
tiny few! The companies also developed beyond simple boxes,
creating different shapes, cylinders and turned items, and even
wooden book covers. They were exported across the world.
The companies were always trying to beat
each other for finish and quality which resulted in a constant
evolution of different finishes. Perhaps the most common is the
photographic ware with photos or illustrations of locations or
places of interest on the lid. After this came:
lacquer ware (with Japanese black lacquer
white floral ware,
basket weave wicker ware,
blue willow ware,
mock tortouise ware,
tartan ware, and more!
Many of the patterns were
created on paper first then glued to the wood before lacquering.
ware, a special machine was designed with lots of pens to draw
the tartan patterns. W & A Smith produced a book of
'Authenticated Tartans' which they used
to authenticate there own tartan parts. (19th century spin!).
Imagine trying to glue the paper decorations to some of the
curved objects that were made - how about the wooden eggs?
Most genuine Mauchline Ware
boxes are made from sycamore (but not all!). The industry cleaned
out all the sycamore trees in the region and had to import it
from Ireland. The boxes tend to use a characteristic interlocking
joint and a particular cloth covered base. Look out for items
which can be accurately dated, have special interest (eg: sold by
Harrods or another retailer's name) or have scenes of particular
second half of the meeting was 'hands-on' and it was wonderful to
admire the craftsmanship up close and ask Jim
Many thanks to Jim McGhee
for both a fascinating and informative talk and for letting us
handle and admire his magnificent collection of Mauchline Ware.
Thanks again for a great talk!