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Mauchline Ware – The Scottish Souvenirs

Mauchline Ware – The Scottish Souvenirs

By Eliane Pineault-B.

[Fig. 1] Pincushion. Wood, silk & velvet, 4 x 6.5 cm. Craigdarroch Castle 2008.005.128.

Among the many artifacts Craigdarroch Castle has in its collection, some eagle-eyed visitors may have noticed a few small objects made out of wood and adorned with a Scottish landscape throughout the museum. These artifacts, known as Mauchline ware, were named after the Scottish town of Mauchline, in Ayrshire, where they were produced. Coincidentally, Ayrshire was also the birthplace of Robert Dunsmuir, as well as Robert Burns; consequently, many items would be decorated with the bard’s likeness or inspired by the subject of his poems. Along with portraits of celebrated Scotsmen, the country’s landscapes and landmarks were often depicted, tartan was also used, and later, fern and floral transfers were also chosen for decoration. Objects of all kinds, normally made from highly polished sycamore wood, were produced, making the decorative art form in very high demand in the nineteenth century.

The origin of these types of objects can be traced to the late 18th century, when the popularity of snuff, or inhaling tobacco leaves, was at its highest. Materials of all kinds were used to produce snuffboxes and after James Sandy created the hidden wooden hinge, which kept the tobacco leaves airtight and preserved them much longer, decorated wooden snuffboxes became very popular in Scotland. But once snuff declined, producers, such as W&A Smith, Manufacturers of Scotch Snuff Boxes and Fancy Woodware, started to expand their range and create new products.

In the 1820s, objects created included card cases and bracelets and were decorated with hand painted decorations. However, with the Industrial Age and the development of the British railway system, more and more people, especially middle-class people, travelled and wanted to purchase souvenirs of visited places. Therefore, in the 1850s, in an effort to lower the cost of the souvenirs, a more efficient way of decorating Mauchline ware was invented. Instead of hand painting scenes onto the wood, images were transferred from engraved steel or copper plates onto silk paper and applied in the damp wood varnish. Once the ink and varnish were dry, the paper was removed and the item was completed with several more coats of varnish. Whole ranges of wooden items were produced using transfer ware; important tourists’ landmarks, portraits or scenes from Walter Scott and Robert Burns, beautiful landscapes, and family tartans were all used to decorate these Scottish souvenirs. Manufacturers also started to produce other designs, which were exported into the rest of Europe as well as into several foreign countries.

The vast range of products made spoke to the Victorian desire to purchase “useful” souvenirs. As such, cigar cases, vases, plates, stamp boxes, napkin rings, books, sewing tools, and Christmas ware are amongst the type of objects created for tourists.

[Fig. 2] Tatting shuttle. Wood and ink, 7.5 x 1 cm. Craigdarroch Castle 2008.005.279.

Several items from our sewing collection feature Mauchline ware. First, the heart-shaped pincushion [Fig. 1] showcases a transfer ware of St. Peter's Church in Bournemouth on one side as well as a view of Exeter road on the opposite side. The second example is a tatting shuttle [Fig. 2], which illustrates the use of tartan, in this case the tartan of the Clan MacLean. Tatting shuttles were common and practical in Victorian times as they were used to create delicate lace work that would ornate edgings. The last item is a case containing a needlework kit [Fig. 3] that was 'Bought in the Douglas Room of the Royal Palace of Stirling' as inscribed on the top of the case while the bottom of the case shows a view of the city of Stirling. The case itself contains six metal hooks of various sizes that can be screwed into a bone and brass handle. Other Mauchline ware objects in Craigdarroch Castle’s collection include a wooden case, an egg shaped thimble holder as well as a pincushion with a Christmas theme, a thread holder from Little Hampton, and a tatting shuttle with a transfer of Hasting Castle.

The arrival of foreign and bigger manufacturers who flooded the market, along with a declining desire for this type of souvenir, resulted in the closing of Mauchline ware manufactures in Scotland. W&A Smith was the last one to close its doors in the 1930s. In Scotland, Mauchline ware was an industry with, at its peak, more than 60 manufacturers, with big companies employing around 300 to 400 people. On your next visit to Craigdarroch Castle, see if you can spot some of these lovely pieces.

[Fig.3] Needlework kit. Wood, metal & bone. Craigdarroch Castle 2008.005.273a-i.


Bowen, Jane. “Flodden and the Souvenir Industry, Mauchline Ware,” Flodden Ecomuseum. accessed 26 May 2020.

Brown, Bronwen. “Mauchline Ware: A Collector’s Guide,” Reference Reviews, 2003, Vol. 17, No.8, pp.48-49. accessed 19 May 2020.

“Mauchline Ware,” Oxford Reference. accessed 19 May 2020.