Scottish Antiques: A Quick Guide
A country recognised for its rich heritage, culture and traditions, Scotland’s antiques market is also home to a vast bazaar of collectible pieces – displayed in both public and private collections.
Spanning many different eras and regions of the country, Scottish antiques are fertile ‘hunting ground’ for antiquarians.
Because the market is so eclectic, the range of specimens on offer is likewise wide-ranging: encompassing Georgian silverware, Jacobite engraved glassware, fine porcelain and china, military equipment and highland leather sporrans, all the way through to furniture (e.g. Victorian shield-back chairs, an Edwardian Art Deco writing desk) and works of art.
This versatility extends to the decorative styles represented, examples of which include designs that are highly diffuse, such as the classic oak-carved ‘farmhouse’ furniture of the sixteenth century Jacobean period on the one hand and the naturalistic texture with whiplash curves in paintings by the ‘Glasgow School’ of Art Nouveau from the late nineteenth century, on the other
Private and public collections
Growing up in an old Glasgow townhouse (designed by the Stirlingshire-born architect Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson (1817 – 1875)), some of my own earliest memories are of the heirlooms displayed in this Victorian home.
Our private collection consisted almost entirely of Scottish antiques and vintage pieces, passed down from one generation of my family to the next. Each individual piece – ranging from a mahogany long-case grandfather clock (made by G. Lawrence of Keith) and a walnut lift-top cabinet (by Whytock & Reid of Edinburgh) to vintage chairs, sofas and dressing tables (from makers like Morris of Glasgow) – was a unique item of interest to me, all with their own story to tell or awaiting discovery.
This house did much to impress the love of all things Scottish and antique in my mind from a very young age, due to its charming ‘old-fashioned’ aesthetics and the objects it contained.
As my parents had such a keen interest in antique and vintage objects, we were also in the habit of taking regular visits to different galleries. Such galleries are testament to the breadth of the Scottish antique landscape, insofar as public collections are concerned: from the magnificence of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, which displays everything from Scottish fine art and military armaments to dinosaur bones; the Transport Museum and its niche collection of vintage cars, buses and model ships, through to the Peoples Palace at Glasgow Green (which details the lives of the people of Glasgow – how they lived, worked and played – through tangible objects, images and video).
One could equally draw attention to The Burrell collection, situated in Pollok Country Park, for containing an array of antique objects not only Scottish in provenance but amassed from around the world.
Glasgow wouldn’t be Glasgow without a mention of designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his world-famous furniture, including his much sought-after high back chairs and cabinets, watercolours, artwork and architecture. Unfortunately, one of the main buildings he designed for the Glasgow School of Art, the Mackintosh Building, was destroyed in two fires (2014, 2018) and is currently set to be painstakingly restored over time to its former glory.
Regardless of which part of Scotland you visit, each city and many larger towns have their own museums, filled with unique and historical Scottish antiques.
Edinburgh, the capital, is itself home to the National Museum of Scotland as well as numerous other smaller museums and galleries, like the Museum of Edinburgh situated on the royal mile with its iconic items, decorative art, beautiful cut and engraved glass, antique silver, 1760 porcelain and longcase clocks (accompanied by some gruesome historical tales, along with the more pleasant sight of the collar and bowl of the faithful hound Greyfriars Bobby!).
It is worth noting that many of Scotland’s museums are free at point of entry.
Whether online via a platform like Hunt Vintage or at auction houses such as Great Western Auctions (run by the Scottish antiques expert, auctioneer and TV personality Anita Manning), interested buyers also have a great many avenues and options available for viewing and purchasing Scottish antiques from a host of professional Dealers
Tips for the beginner
When wading into this online marketplace of Scottish antiques for the first time, there are a few things budding antiquarians may want to keep in mind.
For both residents and travellers to Scotland, it is useful to remember that independent Scottish antiques’ dealers can be found scattered across the length and breadth of the country, from the borders’ region to major urban settlements like the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, as well as the towns and surrounding countryside of the highlands and islands.
Notwithstanding the current lockdown restrictions (owing to the Covid-19 pandemic), in normal times most dealers’ shops can be visited at any time. However, it is also important to note that not all dealers have a physical dealership you can just pop into at a moment’s notice. Some sell from their own home, via online platforms like Hunt Vintage and it is therefore important to contact these dealers in advance to view any antiques you may be interested in (as viewing in this instance is always by appointment only).
Prices vary enormously and most dealers are willing to negotiate. However, it is always good to remember when bartering with a professional antiques dealer, that he or she has already valued the item appropriately in context with other similarly priced objects on the wider market. So do not expect large discounts: 5%, 10% or possibly 15% may be available but only at the dealers’ discretion. Nevertheless, because price is so variable, there is a corresponding high likelihood that you will be able to find an item within your own budget.
Therefore, if you are making an offer to a professional dealer: be realistic. You are in negotiation with someone highly knowledgeable and skilled in their particular area of antique expertise.
Start the Hunt for Scottish antiques
Now that you’ve learned the basics on the Scottish antiques’ market, the range of possibilities for budding antiquarians and our best tips for newbies, we encourage you to visit the various public galleries and browse online through the many collections held by professional dealers.