by Peter Eslea Macdonald
The stunning late 18th century coat belonging to the Ancient Caledonian Society was recently secured at auction by the Scottish Tartans Aughority with generous support from the Royal Celtic Society and others.
The coat is typical of late 18th century frock coats, and is adorned with 13 brass buttons engraved with a thistle surmounted with a crown and surrounded with the Society's name. The previously unknown taran was almost certainly designed for the Society and is unusual in having a decorative silk motif woven into it. On each of the red squares, there is a white rose and two buds representing James VIII/III and the Princes Charles and Henry. The use of such obvious Jacobite iconography only 33 years after the execution of a Jacobite leader is extraordinary and shows just how safe it had become to make such references without fear of reprisal. The tartan with a secondary design such as the rose motif would have been woven on a Jacquard loom in the Lowlands or outside Scotland.
The coat, or another like it, was loaned by the Banff Museum to the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition where it was described as 'the official dress of the Ancient Caledonian Society of London'.
Little is known of the Society beyond the fact that it was founded in 1786. That was a few years after the Highland Society of London and it is possible that some of its members (the great and the good of Scotland) were the same. Given the rarity of the coat and the fact that relatively few would have been made it may be that this and the Banff coat are one and the same.
It is hoped that further research will identify who was the original owner of the coat and it is expected that it will be part of a major exhibition in 2019.
Peter Macdonald is Head of Research for the Scottish Tartans Authority, Scotland's leading tartan expert and an expert handloom weaver. Hee will be the first of our lecturers in the 2018/19 public lecture series, on Wednesday 12th September.