27 Nov 2009

Map of the Month Nov 09 - Clan Map of Scotland

Keen followers of this column might remember ‘Unfinishtstan’, a felt-tip politico-physical map of a fictional central Asian landscape, scrawled on the mauled Victorian plaster of my kitchen wall in 2008 by one of my sons (aged 25, with a passing interest in place names). Sadly, eighteen months without proper wall coverings is considered by my dear wife to be stretching it. And so it will not be many days before I am obliged to conceal, forever (sniff sniff) the great artwork above the sink. Maybe we will decide in future years to strip off again the layer of wallpaper which is to come, and replace it with reproductions of world maps or historic Bartholomew street plans of Edinburgh, you never know.

Map wallpapers are possible. Not all that long ago Collins Geo did indeed do a world wallpaper map - for an individual family in that case - but this time I’m going for a plain muted yellow as more relaxing to cook to. I’m sure there’s a wider market out there for map products such as wallpaper, shopping bags etc. It has been done with what we and my Australian friends always call downies (i.e. duvets). Even as we speak, a bed in our house is spread with a downie cover copied from one of Bartholomews’ world maps. The keen eye will spot the USSR, Czechoslovakia, and a united Yugoslavia. And no
Eritrea. It isn’t that we never buy bed linen in our homestead, it’s just that it was good and durable, so why get a revised edition?

I’ve also spoken twice before here about maps on my walls - one a
geological map jigsaw of the British Isles, and the other a small but perfectly formed map of Orkney in marquetry. Now a third one which has been peering down at me patiently for years as I tap away frenetically at Collins Geo’s place names database has been waiting for a mention, forming a pair opposite the geological map. It’s another product made by some bright entrepreneur. It is a jigsaw puzzle of the Bartholomew Clan Map of Scotland, also known as Scotland of Old. I now see from the web that you can get a quite different clan map jigsaw made of wood from somebody else, but that’s far more boring. This one’s vastly more colourful, complementing the also very riotous geology map opposite. In fact what most appeals to me about it is not the academic content but the sheer riot of azure, gules, argent, sable and vert, not to forget ‘or’ of course (gold, or really just yellow). With perhaps a spot of purpure, I don’t know. And a fur or two if I look closely - oh yes, there’s a fess ermine on a ground gules (red to you).

This is a digital copy of the original map, a much better illustration than my poor photographic reproduction of the jigsaw. Click to enlarge

To the aficionado of heraldry, which is one of many things I would have liked to be (given several lifetimes at once), these terms will be very familiar; in fact the chief feature of this bright and energetic product is the serried array of a hundred and seventy heraldic shields all round the map of Scotland, all tilted at the same rakish angle under their crests and mottoes. I could spend ages trying in amateurish and half-informed fashion to blazon some of these, but really blazoning [describing the thing in correct terminology and order] is not for the uninitiated. Heraldry is good fun: you can impress people at parties that you can distinguish your ‘barry wavy of five’ from your ‘argent, a griffon proper’. Well, I’m trying to do that now, amn’t I, as the Scots say. I do it with wine too - I don’t know much about that either, but all you’ve got to do is throw in some superb words like Tempranillo, Gew├╝rtstraminer, and Botrytis.

The coats of arms, lovingly illustrated, form a bigger area in fact than the clan map itself, which attempts to portray - rather less arrestingly - where all the clans’ territories were at some specific time in history. The whole piece was designed by the late
Don Pottinger (d. 1986), who painted it as a single artwork. Therefore it would have been no use discovering that one shield was out of order somehow - the whole thing would have to be painted again. This was not a modular and flexible DTP work, far from it: those days were long in the future. I had the privilege of meeting the excellent Mr. Pottinger once, when he came in to our Edinburgh office for what he endearingly called a ‘mumble’ about some other fine heraldic work that we were commissioning him to do. It was Old School politeness - I think we had omitted to pay him. He is best known for his small book ‘Simple Heraldry, Cheerfully Illustrated’, written with Sir Iain Moncreiffe (Of That Ilk), which I have also had for years, inherited I think from my parents.

On the Clan Map the really important people’s coats are bigger, at the top, though otherwise the charm of the work for an inveterate collector-obsessive is the rank upon rank of identically-shaped family crests. I’ve spotted a nice piece of licensed cheek, though, which few will have noticed: equal precedence has been given to the Queen’s Great Seal for Scotland (motto, ‘Nemo me impune lacessit’, which is Latin for ‘Who are you looking at, Jimmie?’) and the arms of her mere employee, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, the chappie who looks after heraldry in Scotland.

This product is a fine visual break from pure cartography and toponymic databases, what with all its pales, chevrons, and of course bends sinister, which I knew you were going to ask about. Maps come in all sorts of guises. This one made a brilliant jigsaw - there’s not a trace of those tedious zones of white cloud and unrelieved greenery, though there are loads of pieces of sable or argent [black or white] which don’t at all connect with those other pieces of the same colour, thus causing endless merriment, oh yes. Heraldry uses hardly any tinctures [colours], and you are not allowed to bring in any new ones - so considering the restricted range available, this is a gloriously eyecatching item.

The modern edition - Clan and Family Names Map of Scotland may look very different, but all the glorious clan heraldry is still there [click here for map sample].

Roger Pountain, Senior Information Analyst, Collins Geo

Order a framed/unframed print of the Scotland of Old Map through Mapseeker – Historical Maps Online.


Order the new Collins Clan and Family Names Map of Scotland (pub Apr 09) from Amazon.

Order your own personalised world map jigsaw from
Times Atlases Gifts.

1 comment:

  1. An outstanding tribute to a beautiful map. I recently purchased an immaculate example of 'Scotland of Old' from a secondhand store, it cost $0.10! I live in Seattle, WA, U.S., surely it dodged countless puddles making the journey from the islands. I grabbed it for the art, but am excited to learn more, thanks!

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