The UK drinks industry is going through tough times and corporate collections of fine art and antiques are suffering as a result. First, Allied Domecq, makers of Harveys Bristol Cream sherry, auctioned off the contents of its renowned museum in Bristol city centre and now word reaches me that the makers of Drambuie are about to do the same.
This is not necessarily all bad news. When any collection is dispersed, it means collectors get the chance to bid for and buy objects that might otherwise have never come on to the market.
The downside is that those same collectors, researchers and simply people who are interested in the subject are denied the opportunity to see groups of objects together in one place that tell a story or shed more light on a particular facet of our lives.
Wisely, or perhaps fortunately, the suits behind the Drambuie sale have realised that part of their corporate collection is sacrosanct and should never be split up, namely objects directly related to Drambuie’s historic links with the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion.
Tradition has it that when Prince Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, was defeated in his bid to regain the British throne from the Hanoverians, he was saved by the MacKinnon family.
The grateful Prince rewarded them with the only thing in his possession: a secret recipe for the drink we now know as Drambuie.
As a result, over the years the company has collected an important group of Jacobite art and memorabilia which hopefully will end up in a Scottish museum.
In the meantime, an exhibition of the pick of the Jacobite collection has just completed a tour of the US.
The same exhibition has opened in London, the only place it will be seen in Britain, at the Fleming Collection in Berkeley Street. It runs until December 17.
Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Royal House of Stuart, 1688-1788, consists of more than 100 works, including portraits, miniatures, ceramics, silver and gold medals and, appropriately, engraved drinking glasses. It is the glasses that are most fascinating.
First, a quick history lesson. James, the Roman Catholic son of Charles I, was crowned James II in 1685 but his Catholic policies were opposed by the Protestants,
After three years of unrest, they forced him to flee for his life to France, replacing him with the Protestants William III of Orange and his wife, Mary, James II’s daughter who became joint monarchs.
The belief that James was the legitimate ruler became known as Jacobitism (from Jacobus or Iacobus, Latin for “James”) a real stronghold of which was the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
James II spent the remainder of his life under the protection of King Louis XIV of France, but his son James Francis Edward Stuart and grandson Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) attempted to restore the Jacobite line.
In 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie raised the Jacobite standard at Glenfinnan in a last desperate bid to overthrow the reigning Hanoverian family but was defeated by the Duke of Cumberland at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Having fled with a few loyal supporters to the Isle of Skye, he was sheltered by Captain John MacKinnon of Strathaird, a loyal Jacobite who clearly saved his life.
Before leaving for France, the prince rewarded MacKinnon with his secret recipe for his personal liqueur which the MacKinnon family continued to brew for their own consumption throughout the 19th century.
The treasured recipe was handed down over the generations until 1893 when the brew went on sale at the Broadford Inn on Skye with the name Drambuie or in the Gaelic “An Dram Buidheach” meaning “the drink that satisfies”.
The rest is history, as they say, and the liqueur – marketed with the slogan “Gift of the Prince” – became the required after-dinner tipple with coffee and cigars.
By their nature, Jacobite societies were officially outlawed and meetings had to be held in secret with discovery resulting in imprisonment and ultimately execution for treason.
Despite this, supporters met often, the meeting always ending with a toast over a bowl of water, signifying the “King o’er the sea,” or James III, as James Edward Stuart styled himself.
As a result of the need for absolute secrecy, the Jacobites signalled their support with objects that were either small and easy to conceal, or decorated with intentionally obscure symbolic designs and allusive inscriptions.
Robin Nicholson, curator of the Drambuie collection, said: “These works demonstrate how the Jacobites, in creating an abiding tartan-clad iconography, invented a myth so large that it came to eclipse the reality of their adored leader, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ while he was still alive”.
The most common symbol of Jacobite support is the rose, shown in full bloom to represent the English throne, and often with two buds on the stem representing the two Stuart sons of James III – Prince Charles Edward and Prince Henry, the Cardinal Duke of York.
These devices are most often found on Jacobite glasses which are sometimes also engraved with the word “Fiat” (meaning “let it be”) or “Redeat”, “Redi”, or “Revirescit” (suggesting hope that the Prince will return).
The bowls of some Jacobite glasses are engraved with a likeness of Bonnie Prince Charlie, but the rarest and most important are those known as “Amen” glasses, so called because they are engraved with two to four verses of the Jacobite hymn ending with the word Amen.
Fewer than 40 such glasses are known to exist, some examples have been dismissed as copies over the years as knowledge of the subject has increased.
The forgeries surfaced as prices for Jacobite glasses spiralled to heady heights. They were principally executed on genuine Georgian glasses and were so convincing that doubt has been cast on the authenticity of a number of genuine examples.
The tour-de-force among a group of 58 engraved drinking glasses in the London exhibition is the Spottiswoode “Amen” Glass, c. 1745, (pictured) an unequalled example of free-hand engraving, drawn trumpet bowl and spiral air twist stem.
The glass takes its name from having spent most of the 19th-century stored in a special box in a cupboard under the stairs of Spottiswoode House in Melrose.
Not surprisingly, the Protestant supporters of William and Mary marked their allegiance with engraved glasses and other objects of their own.
The glasses show William riding a horse, and when George I became king in 1714, glasses decorated with a Hanoverian white horse and a white heraldic rose became popular.
The London exhibition, which is free, is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am-5.30pm.
The Drambuie Collection of Scottish Art will be sold in January 2006 in Edinburgh by city auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull.
Both are something of a must-see for ardent collectors.
Pictures show, top:
The ‘Spottiswoode’ Amen glass, bearing the words of the Jacobite anthem, the motto ‘Amen’ and the crown and cipher of King James III c.1745
Below: A Group of Jacobite Glasses c. 1750; a miniature portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart 1734 by Antonio David and an engraved Jacobite ‘Loving Cup’ for communal toasts c.1750. All pictures courtesy The Drambuie Collection