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Bass drone top joint for a set of bellows-blown Lowland Scottish bagpipes

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probably Scottish, late 18th century

Bass drone top joint for a set of bellows-blown Lowland Scottish bagpipes
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Bass drone top joint for a set of Lowland Scottish bagpipes, late 18th century, bellows-blown, ivory mounted, showing the highly distinctive style evolved by bagpipe makers for bellows-blown bagpipes in the 18th century. Formerly stock of J. and R. Glen, Edinburgh, or from the collection of the firm's proprietors.

Bellows have long been used as an alternative means of supplying air for playing bagpipes. The dry air is less damaging to the reeds. A small set of bellows with leather stitched to two wooden boards is usually strapped round the player's waist, and the outer board with an inlet valve tied to the player's arm at the elbow is drawn out and compressed slowly to maintain a steady supply of air to the reeds through a connecting pipe into the bag. Bellows had been used to supply air to the organ since the medieval period and we have sure evidence for their use with bagpipes from the early 17th century. Bellows have remained in use for example with French bagpipes, the Uilleann pipe of Ireland, the Northumbrian pipes, Scottish Lowland and small pipes, as well as in bagpipes in Eastern Europe.

This piece comes from the Glen and Ross Collection of musical instruments which were preserved in the shop of 'J & R Glen, Highland Bagpipe Makers' until it closed about 1978. This was the business founded in 1827 by Thomas McBean Glen in the Cowgate in Edinburgh, dealing in and repairing musical instruments. His brother, Alexander Glen, specialized in bagpipe-making and was succeeded by his son David. Thomas' sons, John and Robert Glen, succeeding to the business in 1866, probably did most to collect instruments and their antiquarian interests were carried on by Andrew Ross who acquired the business from the Glens in 1947. The National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland purchased the bagpipe collections from the family in 1983.

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