Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Blog, a Trinket Box and a Mystery Solved!

Little Boxes, little boxes.....
Mauchline Ware Box with transfers of Burns Monument

I wrote a blog recently about a small box which had belonged to my Irish grandmother, which she had given to me many years ago. I knew nothing about the origins of the box or its age, and I hoped that through my blog, I might discover some information. Blogging has connected me with interesting people all around the world, many of with whom I have exchanged information about family history matters. I decided to see whether my blog might connect me with someone who could help me solve the mystery of my little box. I entitled my story, "Family Treasures - where did they come from?"

I was tremendously excited to receive a comment on the blog, almost immediately. Ursula Martin, who is a genealogist and a blogger,in the UK, recognised my box and kindly left a comment on the blog giving me a link to the following site   

My Small Box

  Ursula kindly wrote " I found a similar box with 'Burns Monument' on it. Could be the same maker?"
As soon as I clicked on the link I saw the box pictured at the top of this page and knew at once that it was very similar to mine, except for the picture. My box has a picture of 'Burns Cottage' on the lid. Although the photograph I have taken does not show it, my box is exactly the same colour as the one pictured on the Projects Beyond text website.

Beyond Text is a ' ..program to support a multi-disciplinary community of scholars and practitioners drawn from Higher Education, museums, galleries, libraries and archives, business,  policy. media, technology and the law to explore how human communication is articulated through sound, sight and associated sensory perceptions both the past and the present.'

 Burns Cottage on another box similar to mine.

One of the projects within this program is the Robert Burns inventing Tradition and Securing Memory, 1796 - 1910 project. On the page of images which Ursula's link directed me to, was the picture (above top) of the Mauchaline Ware Box, 'made of wood which grew near to Alloway Kirk on the Banks of the Doon'  

What was of particular significance for me was that the manufacturer of the Box was named as  W & A Smith, Maucheline, Late 18th to early 19th century. I now had a starting place to begin researching my box.

Further investigation into Mauchline Ware, confirmed that  Mauchline, pronounced Moch'lin was souvenir ware made by the Smith family of Mauchline, Ayrshire (now Strathclyde). Mauchline Ware was very popular in the Victorian Era with people who travelled abroad. Souvenirs, in particular, boxes, were decorated with well known scenes of Scottish landmarks. Many towns, villages, churches and landscapes were preserved in photographic images which were transferred onto different forms of Mauchline Ware, including a range of items, from snuff boxes and tea caddies to trinket boxes. The exact date of the first use of transfers is unknown however, it appears that they were used to adorn mauchline Ware from 1850 until 1933. The transfers were applied before a final appilcation of copal varnish was applied by the craftsmen making the souvenirs.

The bottom of a Mauchline Box identical to the bottom of my Box.

A View of Burns Cottage Similar to the transfer on my Box

By far the most popular scenes to be transferred onto Mauchline Ware products were 'Burnsian' scenes such as those on the boxes above.

So popular is Mauchline Ware that there is a Mauchline Collectors Club which has a searchable website.

A photograph of the Mauchline Factory, Mauchline, Ayrshire, in the 1800's. (photo found discovered in 2002).
Having established that my little trinket box was quite likely an example of Mauchline Ware, I became curious to know something about the brothers responsible for manufacturing the popular souvenir ware.

Somewhere around 1852, brothers, William (1795-1847) and Andrew (1795-1869) Smith, established a factory to manufacture Snuff Boxes in their home town of Mauchline, Ayrshire in Scotland. The brothers were the sons of a Mauchline mason named William Smith and his wife Jean Merry. Prior to thier venture into thier own Box works, William and Andrew Smith followed their father into his trade and in the 1820's were running a Hone Stone factory at Milton Mill on the northern bank of the River Ayr.

Their venture into snuff boxes quickly grew into a successful Victorian industry which produced wooden souvenirs adorned with transferred engravings of scenes and buildings mainly representative of the Mauchline area. In the late 1850's the railway expansion in Britain created a boom in tourism. Wooden Souvenir boxes became extremely popular keepsake of one's travels. This also coincided with the growing popularity of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott and the Smith brothers capitalised on both, manufacturing wooden souvenir boxes bearing views of scenery and places, the 'Burnsian' views becoming the most popular of the Mauchline range of products. W & A Smith produced at least 11 different views of the Burns Cottage, Alloway, which is pictures on the souvenir boxes above, including the one on my own box.  Mauchline ware was not limited to boxes however. The brothers produced a vast range of wooden souvenirs and their Mauchline Ware production survived for three generations.

Image of Burns Cottage on my Trinket Box

Another view of Burns Cottage on a Mauchline Box

It remains for me to identify whether my trinket box is a genuine Mauchline Box. My grandmother gave me the box many years ago and I have always believed that it came to Australia either with her parents, Hugh and Sarah White who arrived in Australia from Northern Ireland in 1913, or with my grandfather and his parents, John and Elizabeth McDade who arrived in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, in 1923. It appears very likely that my box is, indeed, a Mauchline Ware souvenir box. I have always been fond of the little box for sentimental reasons and now I have a new respect for it. It has been taken out of the drawer that it was kept in and has pride of place where I can admire it for its historical significance as well as sentiment.

Many thanks to Ursula Martin, for kindly taking the time to provide me with a web link which has taken me on a most interesting journey into the world of Mauchline Ware and most importantly has helped me to solve the mystery of my Little Box's origins.  

1 comment:

  1. I am certainly no expert but there a very recent collection on the Antiques Roadshow, & I would say this is a genuine item. Lovely to have. Things we inherit bring our research to life.