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The 'Amen' glasses are among the most valuable 18th century drinking glasses. We know of 37 genuine 'Amen' glasses and it has been established that they are all the work of a single engraver. (1. Seddon, Geoffrey B., The Glass Circle Journal Number 5, 'The Engraving on the 'Amen' Glasses', pp. 17.)
You cannot look at these glasses for very long before starting to ponder upon who could have been responsible for engraving them. It is possible to get some clues to the profile of the engraver by studying the photographs of the known 'Amen' glasses. We have no detailed photographs of 3 of the 37 known glasses, but it is interesting to arrange the remaining 34 glasses according to the quality of the engraving. There is a small group of 4 glasses, all with engraving on the bowl which is considered to be of 'poor' quality. The engraver is clearly struggling with the curved surface of the bowl. Three of the glasses are engraved with the second half of the first verse of the Jacobite anthem and one of the three, the Steuart 'Amen' glass, also has a dedication to the Bank of Scotland and to David Drummond. He was a loyal Jacobite and had been the highly respected Treasurer of the bank for forty years. He died in 1741.
The Steuart 'Amen' glass.
The glass is engraved with the date 1743, so this is probably the date when the glass was engraved. When we look at the engraving on the flat surface of the foot, this is very good and you get the feeling this is someone with professional calligraphic skills who is having difficulty on an unfamiliar surface which is not flat. The fourth glass, the Ogilvy 'Amen' glass, is more ambitious than the other three. It has three verses of the anthem, two on the bowl and the third verse on top of the foot. Again, the engraving on the foot is good but on the bowl the engraver has run out of space and has had difficulty fitting everything in.
One other point to note is that there is some kind of French connection with the 'Amen' glasses. Albert Hartshorne knew of six 'Amen' glasses when he was writing his book in 1897, and believed they could all have been engraved in France. Certainly, three of the six glasses do have some association with France. One glass, the Vaillant, is known to have been in France since the 18th century. When Hartshorne was writing it was in Boulogne but nothing is known of its subsequent whereabouts. The glass is dedicated to a devoted Jacobite, George Earle Marischal, Earl Marshal of Scotland, who was in France during the '45 and was there when Prince Charles returned. The second glass, the Keith Douglas 'Amen' glass, is also dedicated to the Earl Marshal and with the third glass, the Murray Threipland 'Amen' glass, it is known that Sir Stuart Threipland, another Jacobite exile, was in Rouen in 1748.
We also need to consider where the engraver might have been working. Charleston believed the engraver might have been a traveling glass-seller but the distances seem too great for one man with a horse and cart. (2 Charleston, R.J., The Glass Circle Journal Number 5, 'Amen' Glasses', p. 8.) Peter Lole has established that, where the provenance suggests a particular location, most of the 'Amen' glasses are within a 50 mile radius of Edinburgh. (3 Lole, F. Peter., The Glass Circle News, Issue 121, December 2009, pp. 8-9.) Another reason for Edinburgh being the engraver's centre is the Dunvegan 'Amen' glass. This carries a dedication to Donald MacCleod the old Skye boatman who piloted The boat that carried Prince Charles through the Western Isles after Culloden. Donald was sent to prison in London in 1746 but he was released in June the following year. On his release he was met by John Walkinshaw who presented him with a silver snuff-box. Donald then made his way back to Scotland arriving in Edinburgh in August 1747 And staying until October. In Edinburgh, Donald was a hero and he enjoyed showing people his snuff-box. The box was engraved with exactly the same inscription as that on the foot of the 'Amen' glass; the only difference being that the date, 1747, on the glass and the age of Donald, 69, are a year ahead of the dates on the snuff-box. Whoever engraved the 'Amen' glass must have been in Edinburgh to see the snuff-box before Donald returned home to Skye.
Dunvegan 'Amen' glass.
Now, there is someone who fits this profile very closely indeed and for this research we have to thank a friend of mine, Ian McKenzie. who is a professional glass engraver working in Australia. We have communicated by e-mail but met for the first time at the conference to celebrate 400 years of glass-making in Scotland. For a number of years Ian has been researching the 18th century glass engravers and he has come to the conclusion that the engraver of the 'Amen' glasses was the famous Scottish artist Sir Robert Strange. If you Google 'Robert Strange' he is described as 'the father of line-engraving in Britain'. In the 18th century line-engraving of polished copper plates was a very important art form because it was the only means of illustrating a book or making any kind of print. A fine V shaped chisel or burin is used to cut the grooves which retain the ink when printing. To create shading or very fine detail a tool called a 'hard point' is used. In the 18th century this was a diamond point and it was the use of the diamond point to make superbly detailed prints which made Robert Strange famous.
He was born in Orkney in 1721. When he was 11 years old he was working in an attorney's office copying documents. A year later his father died and to ease the pressure on the family finances Robert was sent to Edinburgh to be under the care of a half-brother who worked as a writer. Before long he was copying documents for his brother but in his spare time he enjoyed doing drawings. One day in 1735 his brother, while looking for some document, came across some of these drawings and immediately recognized that they showed talent. Unbeknown to Robert, his brother took the drawings to Mr Richard Cooper, an established line-engraver practicing in Edinburgh. Mr Cooper also saw the potential talent and took Robert into his house on a six-year apprenticeship. Strange loved the work and at the end of his apprenticeship in 1741, he set-up on his own in Edinburgh. He was 20 years of age.
Strange had Jacobite sympathies but in 1743/44 (date on the foot of the Steuart 'Amen' glass) his life changed when he met the girl who was later to become his wife, Isabella Lumisden. Isabella and her brother Andrew were passionate, dedicated, Jacobites and in 1745, when the rebel army was in Edinburgh, Andrew Lumisden became Prince Charles's private secretary. Robert Strange wanted to marry Isabella but she made it a condition of their betrothal that he should join the Prince's army and support the cause. He joined the Life Guards and was with the army throughout the rebellion. Two weeks before the Battle of Culloden the Prince commissioned Strange to engrave some plates to print bank notes to pay the troops. He engraved the plates but the battle intervened and the notes were never used. Robert Strange was present at the Battle of Culloden and after the battle went into hiding in the Highlands. Later in 1746, when the Act of Attainder for High Treason was passed, Strange was very fortunate because his name was not mentioned, unlike his future brother-in-law, Andrew Lumisden, who was forced to flee into exile in France. It might have been a different story if the bank notes he had printed had been used.
Strange came out of hiding and ventured back to Edinburgh early in 1747. He secretly married Isabella but he was still under suspicion and had to be careful. He could not return to work as a line-engraver yet he had to earn some money. He painted and sold miniature paintings of the Jacobite leaders of the '45. This could be when he felt compelled to return to the much more risky pursuit of engraving 'Amen' glasses. His absence from Edinburgh between 1745 and 1747 could account for the gap between the 'poor' group and the 'fair' group of 'Amen' engravings.
The situation eased in June 1747 with the amnesty when the Act of Grace was passed. Strange was in Edinburgh in the summer when Donald MacCleod was there displaying his snuff-box. He remained in Edinburgh until September 1748 when, feeling the need to improve and develop his art, he went to France. He spent several months in Rouen studying drawing. Here he met the exile Jacobite, Sir Stuart Threipland. Could this be the origin of the Murray-Threipland 'Amen' glass? He then went to Paris to study fine line-engraving under the French master, Le Bas, where he would have met a number of other exiles.
In the 1750s some of the exiles, like Sir Stuart Threipland, realizing the Stuart cause was lost, took advantage of the amnesty and returned to Scotland. Other diehards such as Strange's brother-in-law, Andrew Lumisden, considered it their duty to stay and support the Stuarts. Lumisden journeyed to Rome where he was employed at the court of the Old Pretender, James, as his secretary. Robert Strange was rapidly becoming a recognized artist. In 1750 he left France but he did not return to Edinburgh. Putting the past behind them the family settled in London. Here he mixed with the aristocracy, eventually gaining royal patronage.
Samples of Robert Strange's hand-writing have been obtained from his archives in the National Library of Scotland but attempts to compare these with the engravings have not been successful. Having discussed this with five forensic hand-writing analysts, it transpires that it is difficult, if not impossible, to make a satisfactory comparison between the slow, deliberate, writing of a diamond-point on glass and the free-flowing writing of a pen on paper. Another problem is that there is evidence from the engraving that the engraver was left handed. This raises the possibility that the writing of pen on paper might be right handed because left handed people were often encouraged as children to use a pen in their right hand.
Having hoped for some positive proof, this was disappointing. But, we may have to accept that positive proof will not be possible and the compelling circumstantial evidence of Robert Strange's life may have to suffice. I recall the difficulties we had 15 years ago when Peter Francis from Belfast University questioned the authenticity of the whole genre of wheel-engraved Jacobite glasses resulting in a symposium at the V&A. (4 The Glass Circle Journal 9, 'Judging Jacobite Glass', June 2001, pp. 60-81.) We suddenly realized that we had no evidence whatever that Jacobite wheel-engraved glasses ever existed in the middle of the 18th century. But for the help of a Jacobite historian, Eirwen Nicholson, who discovered two pieces of contemporary written evidence referring to portrait glasses, we might still be trying to completely refute the allegations. (5 Eirwen E.C.Nicholson, The Burlington Magazine 'Evidence for the authenticity of portrait-engraved Jacobite drinking-glasses'. pp. 396-397.) So, this situation with the 'Amen' glasses is nothing new and I am not hopeful of finding any contemporary written evidence. It was hard enough with the wheel-engraved glasses which are far more numerous and were produced over a much longer period than the 'Amen' glasses. They were also far less explicitly treasonable. The 'Amen' glasses were too shrouded in treason and secrecy to have given rise to much in the way of written evidence as witnessed by the fact that the arch-chronicler of all Jacobite activities, the inquisitive Bishop Robert Forbes, makes no mention of any 'Amen' glass in any of his journals. I think we have to make-up our minds on the evidence we have:
The 'Amen' glasses first appear about the time that Robert Strange meets his future wife, Isabella Lumisden, a dedicated Jacobite. The gap between the 'poor' group and the 'fair' group of 'Amen' engravings coincides with his service in the Prince's army. The 'Amen' glasses reappear around the time when he returns from hiding. Once married he needed to earn a living and the next two years are when most of the 'Amen' glasses were engraved. He was in Edinburgh when Donald MacCleod was displaying his snuff-box and his period in France explains the French connection with the 'Amen' glasses. He returns from France a recognized artist and he applies himself to his art. The family settles in London and the 'Amen' glasses come to an end.
I hope you will agree with me that Ian McKenzie, who is here with us today, has shown that on the balance of probabilities it is likely that the famous Scottish artist, Sir Robert Strange, was the engraver of the 'Amen' glasses.
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