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Scottish Pewter Ware and Pewterers
By L. Ingleby Wood


Scottish Pkwter Ware and Pewterers. By L. Inglcby Wood. Pp. xii. 223. With 36 full-page plates. 4to. Edinburgh : G. A. Morton, 1904. 15s. nett.

This is an admirable book of its kind, well arranged, and excellently illustrated. The subject has a peculiar interest as a historical description of the rise and progress of an important industry, which, though now-obsolete, was once a recognised craft in all the principal towns of Scotland* Its applications in the domestic economy of our forefathers were many and various, and it had also a very considerable vogue in the ecclesiastical furnishings of Scottish churches. In these circumstances it is not surprising to find that the pewterers’ art had a development in Scotland which is of distinctively Scottish character and interest. For, as Mr. Wood says, * There is some truth in the idea that a race shows its character in the design which it imparts to articles of everyday use, and the Scottish pewter ware is, in a measure, characteristic of the people who made it, strong of line, and entirely devoid of any superfluous ornament.' Prior to the sixteenth century, however, the use of pewter ware must have been more or less of a luxury confined to the wealthier classes, the common people contenting themselves with eating and drinking vessels of wood, leather, or horn. Probably the earliest pieces of pewter remaining in Scotland are a chalice and paten of fifteenth-century work buried with an ecclesiastic at Bervie, and now preserved in the National Museum of Antiquities at Edinburgh. A pair of candlesticks are noted among the furnishings of the high altar of St. Giles in 1559. In a domestic inventory of somewhat earlier date pewter dishes and salt-cellars, a basin and laver, candlesticks and pint-pots are enumerated, but the oldest domestic pewter now known to exist is at Slains Castle, and is probably of sixteenth-century date. Wear and tear, and the natural desire for the renewal of old furnishings, are of course responsible for the disappearance of much of the earlier domestic pewter; but during the civil wars of the seventeenth century it was freely requisitioned by the forces on both sides for musket and pistol bullets. Montrose's troops ransacked the country houses for their pewter, and in the plunder of the house of Torrie by the other side in 1654, pewter vessels are enumerated to the amount of £230 (Scots), and valued at 18s. (Scots) the pound. The ecclesiastical pewter was also subjected to various vicissitudes in consequence of the frequent changes of ecclesiastical authority and custody. Thus anything earlier than eighteenth ccntury in domestic pewter, or earlier than the middle of the seventeenth century in ecclesiatical pewter, is now rarely to be met with. It is curious that so much of the oldest ecclesiastical pewter still surviving should owe its preservation to the Episcopal churches. Mr. Wood's chapters on church pewter show the prevalence of the use of this material for ecclesiastical purposes, including communion cups of various shapes, flagons and plates; lavers and basins for baptism, collection plates, and occasionally small cups and quaichs for collecting the tokens, and the tokens themselves. An interesting chapter on tokens is followed by one on beggars* badges, which were sometimes issued by the ecclesiastical authority of the parish, and sometimes by the municipality. The only other piece of pewter that can be called municipal is the Dundee ‘pirley-pig,' a money-box for the fines exacted from absentees, dated 1602, and engraved with ornamental scrolls and shields of arms. The list of marks on Scottish pewter, and lists of freemen pewterers with their dates, as well as the lists of pewter pieces now preserved in museums, or belonging to the Episcopal churches, will be of special advantage to collectors. What may be called the historical part of Mr. Wood’s book, as distinguished from the technical and descriptive part, is also very well done. Beginning with a general statement of the early relations of the Crafts with the Merchant Guilds and the municipalities, he describes the causes which led to the separate incorporation of the Hammermen’s Craft, and gives a short sketch of that incorporation, which included the pewterers, in each of the principal burghs. This section of the work is the result of considerable research among the records of the various bodies, and will be found useful for historical purposes, whether of merely local or of more general interest. A word of commendation must be given to the illustrations, which are by photography, the best medium for this material.

Joseph Anderson.

You can download a copy of this book here in pdf format


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