Mauchline Ware is wooden souvenir items which were manufactured in Scotland, primarily in factories in or near Mauchline and predominantly made of sycamore. The items have various finishes in a large variety of applications. Most Mauchline Ware products have transfers or photographs of popular tourist locations. There were also finishes with tartan, fern and black lacquer.
Mauchline Ware owes its origins to an inventive genius, James Sandy (1766-1819), who lived at Alyth, a small town some 10 miles north west of Dundee and about 100 miles (as the crow flies) north east of Mauchline, the town that gives the ware its name. Sandy is generally acknowledged as being the inventor of the integral (or hidden) wooden hinge as applied to snuff boxes and tea caddies. It is unlikely that Sandy produced many snuff boxes himself, but his invention was certainly exploited by Charles Stiven from Laurencekirk, a town roughly half-way between Dundee and Aberdeen. Snuff boxes and tea caddies carrying the 'Stiven' stamp are amongst the finest made anywhere. It is probable that most were made to individual order. Many were hand painted whilst others were beautifully decorated in penwork. All received numerous coats of protective copal varnish, something common to all articles now referred to as Mauchline Ware.
In the early years of the 19th century, an unknown French nobleman was staying at the Old Cumnock home of Sir Alexander Boswell, son of Dr. Johnson's biographer. The nobleman had the misfortune to accidentally break his snuff box, probably one made by Stiven in far away Laurencekirk. His host suggested the damaged box be taken to the local blacksmith, William Crawford, for repair. It is unlikely that the blacksmith had experience of repairing anything quite so intricate as an integral hinge wooden snuff box. His initial attempts at repair were disastrous. Solder seeped into the hinge, hardened, and rendered the box quite useless. Undaunted, Crawford managed to produce some delicate tools in order to file out the solder and in so doing, discovered exactly how this amazing hinge was made. The first Ayrshire snuff boxes can therefore be attributed, with reasonable certainty, to William Crawford of Cumnock. The secret eventually spread to other Ayrshire locations, including Mauchline. It was from these beginnings that the vast range of products now known as Mauchline Ware owe their origin.
Mauchline ware examples date from about 1880 to 1900. It should be noted that Scottish souvenir ware, now avidly collected, also includes tartan-ware bookmarks made of sycamore and covered with varnished plaid paper representing Scottish clans.
There is a Mauchline Ware Collectors' Club who have their own web site.