K.M. sends me a pretty little Scottish Snuff Mull, with Sheffield Silver Mounts, engraved for 1817.
These were large — over 3 inches, and placed on a table or sideboard to serve “all” who wanted snuff. And that is another story — why anyone would want to be made to sneeze, particularly notable today when sneezing is not a good thing.
But what intrigued me about the Mull was the inscribed date of 1817. We cannot take the object out of its era. Therefore, I have researched the date of 1817 in Scotland to see what the news of the time was, when this gift was given.
In 1817 in Scotland, typhus was spreading in Edinburgh and Glasgow. It was a mini-pandemic. The famous newspaper, The Scotsman, was founded. And in case you needed some whisky (spelled in Scotland without the “e”) to go along with your evening read, two distilleries were established: Bladmoch and Teaninick, in 1817 at the same date.
The first steam locomotive was put on rails in the mountainous area of Scotland. And the poet Robert Burns’ body was “moved” — after many years (he died in 1796) — to Dumfries.
In other literary news, Walter Scott’s “Rob Roy” was published — and that was just the news of the day.
Now we deal with Britain.
Scotland has had a checkered past with English rule, and the king on the throne when K.M.’s Mull was handed to someone, with love and engraved with the date 1817, was George III.
George William Frederick (1738-1820) was a tormented monarch with many credits to his long reign. He defeated France in the Seven Years War, establishing Great Britain as the dominant power in the Americas and India. But then, we fought back during the American War of Independence. So history was not so favorable for George in America. That tormented George too. Read on later for more torment.
But then George had glories to think about. He defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, two years before K.M.’s Mull was inscribed, and to his great credit, George III, 10 years before the Mull was inscribed, had banned all transatlantic slave trade coming into Britain.
George had an interesting life. He was a stalwart husband. Historians say he had a happy marriage, because, as opposed to other kings, there are no records of his mistresses. (Does that necessarily mean a happy, healthy marriage?)
Wait! No; there is a great sign that the marriage was successful. With his wife, Princess Charlotte, George III sired 15 children and oversaw their education. Sight unseen, he married his princess, and they were happy until his mental illness showed itself.
Mental illness today can be given a chemical reason, and indeed in 2005 when pieces of George’s hair was examined, it was found that his blood contained high levels of arsenic. Was it through chemicals in the make-up? The medicines? Or poison?
In any event, in 1817 some powerful Scottish legal minds didn’t mess too much with England and ruled Scotland themselves.
One was Lord Advocate Lord Meadowbank, Alexander Macanochie (1777-1861) — educated at the high school in Edinburgh and later at the University of Edinburgh, where I did my graduate work.
Lord Meadowbank hated those seditious weavers of Glasgow, yet he himself was subjected to the strange and wonderful Scot’s Law. It was a curious blend of common and civil law that is still in place in Scotland, one of the three legal systems of the United Kingdom.
Lord Meadowbank was a patron of the arts, frequenting the Edinburgh Smasher’s Club — a drawing (and drinking) club.
The solicitor general was James Wedderburn when K.M.’s Mull was gifted, a brilliant solicitor advocate, who died at age 39. (He lived from 1782 to 1822).
Interestingly, his daughter Jemima was a fabulous artist who illustrated many books in the style of Audubon. He had many successful sons and a gifted artist’s daughter who, in the tradition of her time, signed with her husband’s name, and who has outlived her brothers in the history of Scottish artists.
Now what is such a Scottish Snuff Mull worth? From the early 19th century with such history around it?
There are collectors, of course, and they will pay $300 for a plain piece, and if there’s a jewel on the top — or a nice Scottish Agate — they will pay $600.
I know, dear reader, you might be thinking, why is Elizabeth Stewart so interested in this?
I have a piece of my own history in Scotland.
After all, I am a Stewart.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.