Studio photograph of a set of Highland Bagpipes

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commissioned by J. and R. Glen, Bagpipe Makers, Edinburgh

Postcard of Studio photograph of a set of Highland Bagpipes.
© National Museums Scotland

Studio photograph of a set of Highland Bagpipes

The photograph is of a set of Highland Bagpipes turned from a native hardwood, silver-mounted and finished in an 'antique' style. The style of turning and of drone tops and the decorative finish of bands and panels of interlace on the drone sections and ferrules evokes Gaelic society of the early 18th and 17th centuries. The base drone bears a heraldic sheild of the Arms of the Campbells of Argyll. The reproduction of older styles of turning and finishing Highland bagpipes is associated with Robert Glen of the pipe making business of J. and R. Glen of Edinburgh. One or two of these sets survive such as an example in the National Museums of Scotland (H.LT 138) and the 'set of Highland Bagpipes with Celtic ornamentation, and bearing the initials RMcD over a Highland galley and the date MCCCCIX carved in relief on the drone stock'.

John and Robert Glen were the proprietors of a bagpipe-making and musical instrument repair business in Edinburgh in the late 19th century. The business was founded in 1827 in the Cowgate, moving later to North Bank Street, Edinburgh, by their father, Thomas McBean Glen (1804-1873), who in 1833 described himself in the business directories of the city as 'pipe and flute maker'. His sons, John (1833-1904) and Robert (1835-1911), took over the business in 1866. In 1911, the premises moved to 497 Lawnmarket where it survived as 'J & R Glen, Highland Bagpipe Makers' until 1978.

The Highland bagpipe may have been made from native hardwoods such as laburnum or elder, either in the Highlands or in the Lowland burghs. We know little of this trade until the 18th century; from the 1760s we learn about one or two professional makers in Edinburgh and Glasgow such as Hugh Robertson. Their businesses were well situated to obtain raw materials coming off ships trading into the Clyde and Forth, and tropical hardwoods from the Caribbean and African Continent, suitable for turning into musical instruments, came to be preferred for bagpipe making. The number of makers grew significantly in the second half of the 19th century, supplying particularly a demand from pipers in the army and pipe bands. The use of the Great Highland Bagpipe in the army, the development of civilian pipe bands and the growing significance of competition meant that the instrument began to take on a fixed and standard form and proportions, for example with its wide bored chanter and bass and two tenor drones. Skilled craftsmen, often wood turners by profession, began to make the instrument more or less to a fixed pattern and added their decoration of 'beading' and 'combing' which was adopted probably by the late 18th century and has remained unchanged since then.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-000-579-869-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0869: The Bagpipe Collection
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  K.2002.1797
Who: John and Robert Glen (commissioner of photograph and maker of pipes)
Where: Scotland, Edinburgh (place of manufacture of pipes)
Description: Studio photograph of a set of Highland Bagpipes.
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