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Mauchline, We Sing of Thee

Had Robert Burns written a poem about snuff, I would quote it here. Why? Because he is often associated with the Scottish town of Mauchline, and we have a Mauchline Ware binding to show off.

Darn hard thing to photograph, with that high-gloss shellacked wood. Under that board there's a book, titled Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands, from 1848 to 1861. The front board has a photo of Queen Victoria sitting demurely by a spinning wheel, and on the rear board there's a landscape of the towns of Birnam and Dunkeld.

Though it began its life and journey in Scotland as a souvenir, this book has graduated from "trinket" status to "collectible." The industrious souls in Mauchline, Scotland, began turning out distinctive snuff boxes in the early 1800s, but when snuff lost some of its allure due to the availability of filtered cigarettes, they began to make book bindings like this one.

They also made wooden cake boxes, egg-shaped needle holders, pin dishes, whisky-glass holders (of course!) and page turners. Page turners were, most likely, used to do just that — turn the pages of a book. Kind of hard to imagine, like telephone dialing sticks, but these things were manufactured and used, and are now for sale on eBay.

The industrialization of England was a huge factor in establishing a literate middle class, and the families that subsisted from the manufacture and sales of souvenirs owed a debt to this man:

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was an engineer of enormous capability. Best known for the Great Western Railway, his projects included tunnels, bridges, and steamships. Without his ingenuity, travel in the 19th century would have remained limited, and the tourists who clamored for the souvenir snuff box, whisky glass, and bound book would have been few and far between.

Production of the W & A Smith "Mauchline Ware" ended in 1933 after a fire damaged much of the machinery, but collectors all over the world still buy the souvenirs, and Mauchline will always be associated with the Golden Years of poet Robert Burns.

Currently, the town can boast of the only curling stone factory in Scotland, which continues in the Mauchline tradition of manufacturing souvenirs. It's easy to see why the enraptured tourist would have chosen a book as his memento of this town.

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Kirsten Berg has worked as a used book buyer for Powell's for more than 10 years. She is experienced with technical and general reading material, and enjoys working with out-of-print and rare material the most.

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One Response to "Mauchline, We Sing of Thee"

    Carla May 28th, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    Kirsten, you put a new (ummm.. I mean old) spin on the term Hardcover..

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