19th Century Clan Catalogue For Sale

A rare 19th century volume of lavishly illustrated clan fashion is set to go under the hammer in Edinburgh tomorrow. Part of auction house Bonham’s Scottish sale, Costume of the Clans is an illustrated guide that shows how tartan trews and kilts were historically worn.

The book, which is numbered 37 of 500 copies, is set to fetch between £500-800 in the sale. It also provides a historical observation on the literature, art, manufactures, and commerce of the Highlands and Western Isles during the middle ages, and on the influence of the sixteenth century, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries upon their present condition.

The books authors have been the subject of much controversy in recent years, and were recently the subject of the BBC documentary Spinning a Yarn: The Dubious History of Scottish Tartan.

Costume of the Clans was published by John and Charles Allen, the sons of a naval officer, who moved to Scotland from England and changed their name to Sobieski Stuart, claiming to be descended from Bonnie Prince Charlie.

When it was first published, the book was celebrated by the gentry, but experts now insist the brothers were fantasists or early marketing geniuses, who invented many of the tartans and traditions themselves.

They also claimed to have discovered a manuscript, Vestiarium Scoticum, or wardrobe of the Scots, which could be traced back to the 1580s.

Vestiarium Scoticum was published in 1842, followed in 1845 by The Costume of the Clans.

Brian Wilton, director of the Scottish Tartans Authority, said: “The Costume of the Clans is amazing, filled with fantastic illustrations. The problem is, one does not know what is fantasy and what might be based on fact.“The Sobieskis produced beautiful tartan designs, and even allocated tartans to families, who had never had a tartan before, particularly in the Lowlands.“Of course, they were only too happy to accept everything the Sobieskis said, because it made them the equal of those in society who were connected to the Highlands.“Much of it was pure fantasy, but they were hugely influential. Following the visit to Scotland of George IV in 1822, the Sobieskis helped establish the importance of tartan.“Most of these are the tartans we have today for the clans.”Henry Baggott of Bonhams said: “This particularly impressive book had an enormous impact when it was originally published in 1845, and lavishly reproduced nearly 50 years later in 1892. It is beautifully bound and the artwork is striking.

“There could be a large market for this book, including perhaps among clan chiefs. There is also a strong market in America for this kind of thing.”


About Nadine Lee

Originally from New Zealand, Nadine is a documentary researcher now based in the north east of Scotland.

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