Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Scottish Stationery of Old

I wouldn't have given the few samples of stationery exhibited in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh a third look, elaborate though their letterheads have been, if they were not remnants of the once thriving stationery manufacturing in the Scottish capital. Were have all the stationers gone? The Edinburgh City of Print is working towards collecting under one digital roof all that remains from the golden era of printing - objects and images interspersed in various museums and collections. But a Printing Museum remains elusive. And while Ghost Tours in the city's underground vaults and cemeteries are popular, there is no City of Print tour advertised along Edinburgh's Royal Mile. People are happy with Ryman. No time for George Waterston.  

Printing began in Scotland already in the 16th century and Edinburgh has been a thriving printing centre with stationery manufacturing rivalling the book trade. Not only had the Scots the machinery to print the stationery the legal, financial and educational establishments needed but also the paper mills to produce the very paper the stationery was made of. Papermaking began in Scotland in 1590 and in the 1800s the Water of Leigh had no less than 80 paper mills in operation. Waterston started a stationery business in 1752 that lasted until 2004 - no mean feat. 

William Waterston was an East Lothian schoolmaster who in 1752 dealt in flambeaux or wax torches and later produced sealing wax, wafers and ink. In 1828 the family opened a retail stationery shop and by the second half of the 19th century Waterston was thriving producing paper products, social and domestic stationery and art books. In 1864 it won a contract to print banknotes and in 1865 introduced a lithographic printing shop. Edinburgh City of Print has a useful list of other printing houses operating at that time and you can see their collection of photographs related to George Waterston on Flickr.

The room dedicated to the printing industry in the National Museum of Scotland has printing presses, a huge paper making machine, paper scales and samples and it is a delight to be able to see these old marvels of printing technology. However it hardly does justice to the vibrant printing centre that was Edinburgh. 

List of paper mills in Scotland, 1832. National Museum of Scotland.

Quadrant paper scales calibrated to show the weight of a ream of paper. National Museum of Scotland.

Book of paper samples 1840s-1880s by Cowan & Sons paper mills. National Museum of Scotland

model of paper guillotine at the National Museum of Scotland

The world's first successful rotary printing press was made in Edinburgh, Scotland, by the printer Thomas Nelson ca. 1850. National Museum of Scotland


  1. Scotland still makes some of the world's greatest notebooks: the Alwyn and the Denbigh!

  2. Nice Post. Thank you for sharing....