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TARTAN - WHYTE, John.

Clan Tartans [spine title] - Coats of Arms, Crests, Clan Tartans &c. Designed for Embroidery …

[caption imprint on the plates].

Edinburgh: John Whyte, 41 Clerk St., [c.1845] Stock Code: 135594
£7,500.00
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Early professional pattern drawings of the Sobieski Stuart Tartans

No other copy recorded institutionally of this fascinating, and enterprising exercise in "pattern drawing", making available the 75 designs published in John Sobieski Stuart's Vesitiarium Scoticum of 1842 in a format enabling their manufacture. This is an important early record of the adoption of the Sobieski Stuart patterns, and an extremely appealing and intriguing object.

In his introduction atop the index Whyte repeats Sobieski's origin myth for these ancient schema; "The Clan Tartans coloured in the Scoto-Berlin Style from the Manuscript found in the Library of the Scots College at Doway and now in the possession of John Sobieski Stuart Esqre. some of the many calamities which scattered the adherents of the House of Stuart and forced them to seek an Asylum in the Catholic seclusions of the Continent was the means of conveying this, and many other papers into the Scots College at Doway in 1749 and 1754. Date of the above manuscript (ain Thousand sax hundred and aucht years)".

John Sobieski Stolberg Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart "were brothers who claimed to be the heirs of Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Chevalier. Mystery surrounds the places and dates of their births, and they sought to surround their ancestry with similar obfuscation" (ODNB). They fortuitously first appeared in Scotland around 1822, at the time of George IV's visit to Edinburgh, and the plaided pageantry staged by Walter Scott to celebrate it, throwing "themselves fervently into the acquisition of Scottish culture". They obtained the patronage of Francis Stuart, the 10th earl of Moray and were frequent visitors to the homes of numerous highland chiefs. In 1829 they revealed to novelist and antiquary Sir Thomas Dick Lauder that they were in the possession of an ancient manuscript that depicted the tartans of Scottish families. Sir Walter Scott dismissed this document as an obvious fraud, but the brothers retreated to Eilean Aigas, a hunting lodge in Inverness-shire granted to them by their new patron, Lord Lovat, and held court in the Celtic manner.

In 1842, they published their manuscript in an edition of fifty, and in 1844 produced another volume, The Costume of the Clans, 'a monumental work', which set out to demonstrate that the Catholic, Celtic Scotland of the mediaeval era had partaken in a rich and sophisticated culture. This was followed in 1847 with Tales of the Century, or, Sketches of the Romance of History between the Years 1746 and 1846, a collection of romantic short stories, "in which they made their most explicit claim to royal blood, through historical fictions which the reader was intended to read as thinly disguised historical facts" (ODNB). Rather than consolidating their position as was the intention, this brought a devastatingly destructive review by Prof. George Skene, published anonymously in the Quarterly. The brothers withdrew to the continent, principally "Prague at and Pressburg", for some 20 years, only returning to Britain shortly before their deaths.

It does appear that many of those who met them saw through the imposture early but out of politeness, or sympathy with the underlying cause, felt it better to leave their doubts unspoken, also rather enjoying their charming, if odd, company. Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus recalled in her memoirs "we had those strange brothers whose real name I can't remember, but they one day announced that they were Stuarts, lineally descended from Prince Charles, out of respect to whose wife, who never had a child, the elder brother assumed the name of John Sobieski... Nobody was more astonished at this assumption than their own father... They always wore the Highland dress, kilt and belted plaid, and looked melancholy, and spoke at times mysteriously. The effect they produced was astonishing; they were 'feted' to their hearts' content; for several years they actually 'reigned' in the north country. At last they made a mistake which finished the farce". In his History of Highland Dress John Telfer Dunbar refers to a manuscript by the Highland authority Campbell of Islay; "Campbell, author of Tales of the West Highlands, refers to his 'old friend John Sobieski Stuart, Count d'Albanie who first caused me to be arrayed in Highland Costume in 1825'. In this volume he wrote, 'I do not believe that the distinctions which are now made as to Clan Tartans ever prevailed at all, till Tartan became an important manufacture in Scotland in the reign of George the 4th.' Eleven years later, in 1882, he underlined this contention. The brothers were his friends but, as a scholar, he could not accept their Vestiarium Scoticum, despite having known them for fifty years".

Nonetheless their work was to form the basis of all modern tartans, and the present publication represents what may be the earliest attempt at the practical dissemination of the designs. John Whyte, perhaps born at Portmoak, Kinross-shire in 1802, is located by the census of 1841 as "John White", a pattern drawer living in Clerk St., Edinburgh. By 1851 he had married and moved with his wife to Nicolson Square, which gives us an approximate date for this publication, later the Edinburgh electoral records for 1870-1 record Whyte, as proprietor of 7 Lady Stair's Close, living at Bank Buildings, Lasswade. Pattern drawing is a little known occupation in the textiles industry; "Almost no direct information survives in business records for the names of the designers... Where information does exist it is simply the fleeting inclusion of a name such as that of 'James Lindsay' who signed one design in an undated Turkey red pattern book. Or, from a rare surviving wage book for 1845, mention of four 'drawers', meaning 'pattern drawers', headed by the highest paid worker in the factory, William Brock, who earned 8 a month. The lack of records in an industry that relied on its designers reflected their relatively low social status for designers were mainly men of working class background their modest levels of training, and the fact that firms relied considerably on the practice of design copying and adaptation, along with purchase of designs from abroad... " (Nenadic, 'Designers in the nineteenth-century Scottish fancy textile industry: Education, employment and exhibition', Journal of Design History, 27: 2, pp. 2-3). That Whyte was one of those who was seeking increased recognition and professionalisation for the craft is shown by his participation as a member in the Scottish Society for the Arts. He received a prize of seven sovereigns for his essay on 'The State of Art, as applied to British Manufactures' read in 1839, and submitted two further papers in 1839-40, 'Descriptions and Drawings of his New Method of Manufacturing Persian Rugs, by which a great saving in material and workmanship is effected... Specimens of Rugs were exhibited', and, particularly germane, 'Outline of a Plan for securing to the Manufacturers of Scotland protection against piracy of patterns' (see The Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, Volume 29, April-October 1840).

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Description

Folio. Contemporary dark red-brown straight-grained roan, dark green moiré boards, title gilt to spine. Housed in a recent plain manila card box with hinged lid, a facsimile of the Index leaf mounted on the front.

Illustrations

Neat calligraphic manuscript index leaf, text recto only, and 75 hand-coloured plates of tartans hand-painted on printed thread grids, original tissue guards throughout, all plates on heavy wove paper, no watermarks, except one which is on thinner coated

Condition

Extensively, skilfully restored on the spine, joints and corners, some rubbing and soiling on the boards, hinges professionally repaired, unfortunately illegible ownership inscription to the front pastedown, another inked to the index, but obliterated, finger-soiling throughout, largely marginal, typical of workshop manuals of the period, light foxing and some paint and ink spatters to the tissues, but overall remains very good and presents well and with character.

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